Just about the time when everyone thought Poland was speaking pretty much one language, and even dialects of Polish had faded away under the pressure from television and education, all of a sudden there came the Internet, Facebook… and Internet memes.
The notion of Internet meme is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Richard Dawkin’s 1976 concept. Dawkins’ memes would be units of ideas that propagate among humans forming the fabric of culture. Internet memes are understood to be small pieces of media (mostly pictures) which traverse the worldwide web.
While up to that point there’d been a wide circulation of Polish language memes, 2012 saw an outbreak of memes labelled in various language varieties from across the country. It all started with memes in the Gorals speech of Skalne Podhale – a mountainous region in southern Poland. Since Skalne Podhale is one of the nationwide top tourist destinations, most of the Polish population has long been aware of its linguistic uniqueness. Traditionalist as they are, Gorals have always been at the core of the Polish identity, and it was already in the 19th century that Henryk Sienkiewicz (the most popular Polish novel writer of the time) used elements of their well-preserved speech to make the Polish of his historical novels more archaic. The most popular stereotype of Gorals claims that they move their tongues to the front, making their fricative SH’s into S’s and CH’s into TS’s but there’s much to it than actors of popular series “Szpilki na Giewoncie” can fake.
Then Silesians struck. The growing awareness of Silesians’ own ethnic and linguistic heritage had recently led to calls for more recognition on the official level, and among other things, the creation of the absolutely official Silesian Wikipedia. Yet the Internet-era Silesian humour combined with the widely stereotyped lingo proved a magnet not only to Silesians but also to everyone else who half-understood their utterances. Silesian “żŏdyn niy wiy” (nobody knows) has become a buzzword, cited all round the country, even in totally non-Silesian contexts.
In December when no one expected anything interesting was to occur that year, we saw a new wave from Podlasie. The language used by Howorymo Po Swojomu is a part of the East Slavic group, which makes their memes more hermetic as they’re difficult to understand for general Polish (West Slavic) speakers. Although the speech has been in place for centuries, it hasn’t even got a name that everyone would agree to use; shortly speaking its names and ethnic narratives attached to it are simply abundant. More often than not, it’s referred to as Podlasie’s own (svoja) simple (prosta) language.
Can Internet humour bring about a revival of local languages and dialects? Ethnic Internet memes gave a breath of fresh air to words long associated only with traditional folk dances and elderly people. Will the Internet followers take a step further and start speaking the indigenous way on an everyday basis. What do you think?