The Question of Language, Identity and Biography on the Example of Upper Silesians in Germany.

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Justyna KIJONKA, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland
The main aim of this paper is to present the problem of the language of (Spät-)Aussiedler migrants from Upper Silesia in the context of their identity and biography. The paper is based on research that I carried out between October 2014 and July 2015 on migrants who had come to West Germany from Upper Silesia between 1970 and 2000 and received (Spät-)Aussiedler status. The research was carried out among different generations of migrants.

Although (Spät-)Aussiedler from Upper Silesia migrated to Germany without any acquaintance with the German language in most cases – German was the mother tongue only for the older generations, they wanted to assimilate as quickly as possible so they learned the new language, speaking only German and avoiding speaking Polish. Parents did not teach children their mother tongue, because at that time Polish was considered to be unnecessary. Hence, the second generation of migrants quite often did not speak Polish or possessed only passive knowledge of the language. This situation has changed, because after EU enlargement Polish became another language on one’s CV.

Today, the choice of language is the choice of identity, and therefore Upper Silesians in Germany live in different social worlds depending on whether they speak German, Polish or the Upper Silesian dialect. Sometimes, they live in all three worlds at the same time, which can be seen briefly during the interviews especially when they are using different languages to describe different aspects of their own biographies.

In my paper, I examine how these life strategies – assimilation, speaking only the new language and avoiding speaking their mother tongue and speaking Polish/Upper Silesian dialect once again influenced the professional and private lives of the migrants, their communication with family members who remained in Upper Silesia and with their descendants in Germany.