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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fortunate are the Multilingual Readers of the World!

Through a friend from Europe, I learned that yesterday, September 26, was the European Day of Languages, a day designed to encourage people to learn more languages, at any age, in and out of school.  “Being convinced that linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent, the Council of Europe promotes plurilingualism in the whole of Europe” (  Alas, here in Canada, we emphasize only bilingualism.

This got me to thinking about how I once spoke a language which I can no longer speak.  Though born in Canada, as a child I spoke Kashubian, which was once considered a dialect of Polish but is now officially recognized as an ethnic-minority language, the only remnant of the Pomeranian language.   “For Kashubians and the Kashubian language [the European Day of Languages] is of particular importance because it is the only regional language in Poland” (

When I began school, I could speak no English, but of course I became immersed in it and learned it quite quickly, necessity being a great motivator.  Gradually I lost my mother tongue.  Now I understand a few words and phrases, but that is all.  A great irony in my life is that though I could not speak English when I started school, I majored in English literature in university and eventually became a teacher and spent 30 years teaching the literature of my second language.

My husband and I visited Poland in May of 2014 and focused on the region of Kashubia southwest of Gdańsk.  There plaques of place names are in both Kashubian and Polish.  While visiting the region of my ancestors, I purchased a book, Mój słowôrz by Marzena Dembek; its purpose is to help children learn the Kashubian language.  Hopefully it will help me relearn my first language.

Near Leśno in the heart of Kashubia, we stayed at the Zamek Zaborski Guesthouse where one mission is to preserve Kashubian culture and traditions (
Image result for Jasiek, Walek & SzemekIts owner, Stanisław Frymark, is a translator, and he introduced me to some Kashubian literature in translation.  Stanisław has translated some work by Hieronim Jarosz Derdowski, arguably the most famous Kashubian poet.  I was able to bring home a signed copy of Jasiek, Walek & Szemek . . ., a translation of Kashubian tall tales, a rhymed story, and a short story in prose.  Published next to the English versions are the original words of Derdowski, but at this point I am restricted to the translations by Stanisław and his co-translator, Blanche Krbechek.  

What does this rambling have to do with books and reading?  It’s my way of encouraging reading.  Read, read and read some more, and if you are bilingual or multilingual, read in all those languages.  Avoid my situation where I can read in my third language (French) and even a little in a fourth (Dutch) but have to rely on translations of literature written in the language I first spoke.