Armenian [hayerēn] is an Indo-Germanic language and its alphabet was developed for religious and cultural purposes. It is divided into East Armenian which is spoken in the Republic of Armenia and West Armenian which is the language of the diaspora. According to the 2002 census there were 1,082 persons of Armenian nationality in Poland. Estimates from various sources indicate a total of approx. 1,500 Armenians (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook on Contact Linguistics 1996). In the same census 872 persons declared Armenian as their home language.
As of the 11th century Armenians moved to Galicia, Volhynia and Podolia (called Lehastan in Armenian sources). Galicia became a centre for early Armenian letterpress and literature. In the 17th century the Jesuits founded a seminar in Lwów in order to promote Armenian studies and literature. However, this meant that the Polish secular and ecclesiastic authorities put increasing pressure on people to assimilate (this was true for all non-Catholic religions – in 1596 the Orthodox had to agree to the Union of Brest), which caused numerous conversions. In 1689 the bishop of Lwów acknowledged the reign of the Pope whilst maintaining the Armenian rite. The ecclesiastic union was followed by the linguistic polonisation. Due to these circumstances, but also because of the decreasing economic and political status of the Polish-Lithuanian country, many Armenians chose to emigrate, e.g. to Russia, Constantinople, Persia or Wallachia. The annexing of Podolonia after Russia’s takeover in 1820 and the political division marked the end of the Armenian rite in the East of Lehastan. In Lwów and Galicia the Armenian-Catholic religion survived under Austrian reign. In 1880 the diocese counted about 3,000 Armenian-Catholic Christians. This group within the diaspora was mixed after the Armenian genocide in 1915/16 and the political democratisation of Poland. Therefore, assimilated Armenians in Poland often speak a West Armenian variety which is strongly influenced by a Turkish variation – the Kipchak. This small Armenian community still exists today and has its centre in its church which was built in the 14th century. In Liturgy the Old Armenian language Grabar is used. It was written during the 5th century and is still used in modern times for religious purposes. A comprehensive literature was passed on in this language dealing with theological topics, history, poetry and epic poetry. The Armenian minority culture is based on the Association for Armenian Culture.
The biggest Jewish community lives in Warsaw. Other communities exist in Kraków, Łódź, Szczecin, Gdańsk, Katowice and Wrocław. The first records of Jewish settlements in Poland date back to the 10th century. In the 13th century they obtained their first privileges and rights with the Calisia Statutes. After World War II the formerly lively Jewish community disappeared due to the Holocaust.
The current statistics do not indicate to what extent Yiddish [יידיש] or Hebrew [עברי] is spoken by the Jewish community. In the 2002 census 5,838 persons indicated Hebrew as their home language.
Neither Hebrew nor Yiddish is taught at public schools. However, there are two private schools in Warsaw (where there is also a nursery) and Wrocław offering native language classes. The Jewish community is organised through the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland which was founded in 1950 and now has about 3,000 members. They partly finance their activities themselves and partly receive support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. There is one weekly newspaper (Polish/Yiddish) Dos Jidisze Wort, the quarterly Bleter far Geschichte (Yiddish) and the publication Biuletyn of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw (source: http://www.hagalil.com/). The publication of the weekly newspaper Fołks-Sztyme was stopped recently. In Krakow there is also the Festival of Jewish Culture [Festiwal Kultury Żydowskiej] which takes place annually.
Karaite [karajča] belongs to the Kipchak branch of the Turkish language family. It has been spoken in non-Turkish environments (Poland, Lithuania) for centuries and is thus strongly influenced by Indo-Germanic contact languages. Since the Middle Ages Karaite has been an important language in literature and it is mainly written in Hebrew letters. Its speakers belong to the Karaites; a small religious group which split off from Judaism in around the 8th century and which still has followers in the Baltics, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Israel. The most prominent “non-Turkish” peculiarities of Karaite are morphosyntactic characteristics such as indicating the gender by a suffix (e.g. in qarayqa 'Karaite woman' as compared to qaray 'Karaite man'), the use of demonstrative pronouns as definite articles and the word order: use of former postpositions as prepositions, suffixed genitive attributes, suffixed subordinate clauses with conjunctions, relatively free position of the finite verb etc. On the other hand, Karaite has kept some archaic features.
In the 14th century Karaites (or Karaims) moved from the Crimea to Lithuania and today’s West Ukraine, the former Galicia. After the annexing of Crimea (1783) and the Polish divisions (1772 - 1795) all the Eastern European Karaites settlements and linguistic enclaves belonged to Tsarist Russia. Unlike the Jews, the Karaites were not discriminated against because of their ethnic and religious specificity. Even during the German occupation of their settlements they were considered as a “Tartarian ethnicity” and thus were not persecuted. The city of Trakai in Lithuania is a.religious and historic centre for the Karaites in Eastern Europe. In cooperation with experts for Turkic languages, the Lithuanian state has also made efforts to teach the language to children again. The minority is represented through a Website.
According to the 2002 census 45 persons declared Karaite nationality. Estimates from various sources indicate a total of approximately 150 Karaites (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook of Contact Linguistics 1996). In the 2002 census there were no indications of Karaite being used as a home language. The Karaite language is threatened with extinction and is only used by a few elderly speakers in two small minority communities.
The (mostly Catholic) Roma live scattered all over Poland the highest concentrations being found in cities as Tarnów and Gorzów Wlkp. The minority is historically divided into four groups: Polish Roma, Carpathian Roma (also Bergitka Roma), Kałderaszy (Kalderara) and Lowarzy (Lovara). The first report of Roma in Poland dates back to 1401 in Kraków. In the 16th century many Roma came from German-speaking regions to Poland and called themselves Polish Roma to distinguish themselves from others.
According to the 2002 census there are 12,855 persons of Roma nationality. Estimates from various sources indicate a total of about 20,000 (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook of Contact Linguistics 1996). In the same census 15,788 persons declared Romani [romani ćhib] as their home language.
Most of the Roma children and adolescents attend public schools where there are generally no classes taught in their native language. The private Parish primary school in Suwałki teaches Roma children, 30% of whom do not go to school, for free. Since the minority is very badly institutionalised, the Polish government launched the 2001 Pilot Government Programme for the Roma Community in the Małopolskie Voivodship, which is especially designed to improve the educational situation of Roma. Despite this weak institutionalisation the minority is very lively due to its familial cohesion. However, they also have about 20 own organisations which organise, among other things, cultural events (e.g. International Reunion of Roma Music Groups in Gorzów Wielkopolski), but there seems to be no umbrella organisation. Rrom p-o drom is a monthly periodical in Romani published in Białystok.
The Russian-speakers in Poland belong to the group of the Old Believers and have settled in three or four isolated communities in the Podlaskie province near the towns of Augustów and Suwałki. All Old Believers are bilingual Polish and standard Russian [russkij jazik] or their specific archaic dialect which developed in a religious context. In the Podlaskie province, standard Russian is taught as a foreign language, not as a minority or regional language.
According to the 2002 census there were 6,103 persons of Russian nationality. Estimates from various sources indicate a total of approx. 20,000 Russians (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook of Contact Linguistics 1996). In the same census 15,299 persons indicated Russian as their home language.
The only active organisations of the Russian language community are the Russian Association for Education and Culture [Rosyjskie Towarzystwo Kulturalno-Oświatowe] in Białystok and the Local Church of the Old Believers [Wschodni Kościół Staroobrzędowy] in Suwałki.
The group of Russian speakers is quite small and homogeneous because it is isolated and has a high degree of endogamy. The future development of this group might therefore be relatively positive.
The Slovak minority is mainly concentrated in the Małopolskie Voivodship. It also has settlements in the regions of Spisz and Orawa as well as Nowy Targ and Tatra. The Slovak language in Poland is influenced by the dialects of these regions. According to the 2002 census 2,001 persons declared Slovak nationality. Estimates from various sources indicate a total of about 15,000 Slovaks (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook of Contact Linguistics 1996). In the same census 1,842 persons indicated Slovak [slovenský jazyk / slovenčina] as their home language.
Article 35 of the Constitution guarantees the preservation and development of the Slovak language. In addition, a bilateral agreement on good neighbourhood was concluded with the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic [Traktat między Rzecząpospolitą Polską a Czeską i Słowacką Republiką Federacyjną o dobrym sąsiedztwie, przyjaznych stosunkach i współpracy (6 October 1991)]. The Slovak language is well supported by the local authorities but less so on regional level. Moreover, only a few culturally motivated parents speak the language to their children.
Standard Slovak is taught to 331 pupils at eleven schools. The Slovak minority belongs to the Catholic Church. Život is a monthly periodical in Slovak, which is published in Krakow with a print run of 2,200 copies. Cultural Festivals are: Days of Slovak Culture in Jabłonka Orawska and the Reunion of Folk Music Groups in Krempachy. The Polish Slovaks are organised in the Slovak Union in Poland [Towarzystwo Slowaków w Polsce] and in the Socio-cultural Society of Czechs and Slovaks in Poland [Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Czechów i Słowaków w Polsce] which was founded in 1957. The association Matice Slovenska based in Bratislava supports the Polish Slovaks. Since Slovak does not have any modern fields of application its existence is threatened.
According to the 2002 census there are 495 persons of Tartarian nationality. Estimates from various sources indicate a number of about 2,000 (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook of Contact Linguistics 1996). In the same census there were no declarations of Tatar as a home language. About 300 years ago the Muslim Tatars lost their language and they now speak Polish or a mixture of Polish and Belarusian.
Czech [český jazyk] is nearly only spoken in the city of Zelów in the Bełchatów district of the Łódzkie Voivodship in Central Poland. The members of this minority are descendents of the Hussites, the followers of the Czech theologian and reformer Jan Hus (* around 1370). During the defence wars the Hussites successfully invaded Silesia, Brandenburg, Saxony, Austria, Slovakia and Prussia, nearly as far as Gdansk. Although more Czechs followed during the 16th and 18th century, the descendents lived in enclaves and thus their Czech differs from that spoken in the Czech Republic.
According to the 2002 census there are 831 persons of Czech nationality. Estimates from various sources indicate a total of about 3,000 Czechs (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook of Contact Linguistics 1996). However, in the same census 1,482 persons declared Czech as their home language. The minority has few institutions, e.g. in terms of schools except for one nursery. A second exception are the Calvinist services in the parish of Zélow. The Czechs are organised within the Czech Club [Klub Czeski] which closely cooperates with the Slovak association. The monthly periodical Život also publishes articles in Czech. Overall, the minority’s vigour is weakening as children rarely learn Czech and the language has no institutions.