Who – if any – are Lower Sorbian ‘authentic’ speakers?

Thematic Section: Biases in research: Who counts as ‘authentic’ bilingual speaker – and how can we tell?

monolingual bias, research practice, bi-/multilingualism research, language ideology, self-reflexivity

Nicole Dołowy-Rybińska, Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

Lower Sorbian is one of the most endangered languages of Europe. Although official data states that there are approximately 4.000 Lower Sorbian speakers, in reality, there may be less than 400 people who can communicate in Lower Sorbian. As the intergenerational communication has been broken between 1930s and 1950s, there is a gap in continuity of language use and knowledge. Therefore, among the Lower Sorbian speakers, there are on the one hand, people of the oldest generation who had Lower Sorbian as the family language, and on the other hand, those who learned this language at school or during courses. The first group often struggles to speak Lower Sorbian due to the long time without language use and forgetting words and grammar. The second group is – to a large extent – the product of the Lower Sorbian language revitalization, strengthened after the political change in Germany with the education system ‘Witaj’ [Welcome]. After 20 years of these efforts, there is a new generation of Lower Sorbian new speakers; however, their number is a few dozen maximum and they are struggling to find opportunities to speak Sorbian. People who are learning Lower Sorbian often do not feel confident when using it and have very few opportunities to do it.
My presentation is based on the fieldwork in Lower Lusatia, and interviews with new speakers of Lower Sorbian, participant observation among ‘traditional’ Lower Sorbian speakers and interviews with language activists. Referring to language ideologies theory, I will discuss the attitudes of Lower Sorbian ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ speakers to one another, as well as different aspects of becoming a new speaker of a minority language, such as motivation to learn and to use the language, sentiment, language engagement, struggling with being recognized as a minority language speaker.