Academic journal article Babel

Patterns of Language Use: Polish Migrants from the 1980s and Their Children in Melbourne

Academic journal article Babel

Patterns of Language Use: Polish Migrants from the 1980s and Their Children in Melbourne

Article excerpt


This paper investigates the retention of Polish language and culture by first generation Polish migrants from the 1980s and their second generation offspring (aged 15-24) from endogamous and exogamous marriages. We examine various domains such as the home, social networks, visits to Poland, institutions of learning, the Polish media, the Polish Catholic Church, and other spheres of Polish activity such as reading Polish books and viewing Polish films, visiting Polish shops, involvement in Polish organizations, and use the Internet. The paper also compares language maintenance/shift in Polish speakers with other language groups. We include some reflections on the future of Polish in Australia as well as some recommendations for the ongoing support of Polish language and culture.


Polish language and culture, domains, language maintenance, language shift, core values, identity



Many migrants face the problem of striking a balance between two cultures, whether it be as individuals, a family, or a group. The Polish community in Melbourne is a case in point and this article sets out to trace their story, the shifts in attitude of one migrating generation to the next, and the retention of language and culture by their children.

The two most significant periods for Polish immigration to Australia were the post-World War Two era (1947-1955) and during the decade of the 1980s. In the years immediately after World War Two, 71,721 Polish immigrants arrived in Australia while in the 1980s 23,741 people arrived. These two groups differ from each other in many ways: in level of education, gender, marital status, place of origin in Poland, English skills, attitudes toward Poland, and Polish language retention. Early post-war Polish migrants wished to maintain the language not only in the home but also by forming Polish organisations. In contrast, the issue of Polish cultural values seems less important for migrants from the 1980s as some spoke English and had a different attitude towards their migration. The earlier migrants had more in common with each other than migrants of the 1980s: two-year work contracts, limited savings, homesickness for the lost country, and no hope of returning to Poland. They wished to maintain the Polish language, religion and traditions. The 1980s' migrants are more educated and independent; they maintain closer contacts with their homeland and with the Polish Consulate in Sydney. They also enjoyed stronger moral and material support from the Australian Government. By 2006, according to the census, there were 163,802 Polish people by ancestry in Australia, 52,255 Polish people by birthplace, and 53,389 Polish people by language spoken at home in Australia (ABS, 2007). If we compare these figures to 2001 census, there were 150,900 Polish people by ancestry in Australia, 58,110 Polish people by birthplace and 59,056 Polish people by language spoken at home. As the figures indicate, there are decreasing numbers of Polish people in terms of birthplace and language spoken at home. Furthermore, there was a drop of approximately 10% between 2001 and 2006 in the use of Polish language at home (Clyne, forthcoming; ABS, 2007).

The current paper addresses sociolinguistic research that is not well represented in Australia, despite the importance and visibility of various ethnic groups, and Government-based work on various aspects of language policy. Issues relating to migration and identity should be important topics for consideration by language teachers, particularly in the light of the 2009 report by Lo Bianco and Slaughter (2009), Second Languages and Australian Schooling. Furthermore, there is only a limited number of publications on this topic, especially in regard to the second wave of Polish migrants, and no publications which explicitly differentiate the second generation in terms of endogamous (i. …

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