— Na nociň seň lehva je na nociň seň kraď —

ŠLEŽAN, na lehva rumana porlata je Šležna (*)

SILESIAN, a Romance language spoken in Silesia

Introdyciň ol popl j ola lehva

The Silesian language is spoken in the historic region of Silesia (Bohemian Šlésijän, Wenedyk Ślęża, Šležan Šležna, German Schlesien), which consists of two provinces in the Bohemian Kingdom and some adjacent territories in the Republic of the Two Crowns. Silesian (or Šležan, as the Silesians call it themselves) is closely related to Wenedyk. Some ardent Venedic nationalists even claim that Šležan is nothing but a dialect of Wenedyk, although nowadays the broadly shared opinion is that it should be considered a separate language of the Slavo-Romance group, along with Wenedyk and Slvanjek (Slevanian). Of course, a language is nothing but a dialect with an army and a navy, and it cannot be denied that Šležan lacks both. Unlike Wenedyk and Slvanjek, it is not affiliated to any national state, nor has it ever been. As a result, its entire history is one of struggle for recognition and denial from the part of the rest of the world.

Another complicating factor is the fact that the speakers of Šležan are scattered over two separate countries: approx. 900,000 speakers live in the Bohemian Kingdom, North of the Ótra in the provinces of Ópär and Nítär Šlésijän (click here for an ethno-linguistic map of Bohemia), while another 450,000 inhabit the RTC, notably the provinces of Grąweneda and Ślęża (which can be seen here). Despite the fact that Bohemia and the RTC have always been on good terms with each other, both Silesian communities have spent most of history isolated from each other.

National awareness has always been low among the Silesians, especially among those in the RTC. Until the second half of the 19th century, Šležan existed on both sides of the frontier only as a spoken language; all writing was done in Bohemian, Wenedyk or Low Saxon. In the 1880s the first efforts were made to introduce Šležan as a written language; several orthographies were proposed: some based on Wenedyk, others on Bohemian, and others on Italian or the Mracian orthography of Slvanjek. But despite all these efforts, the vast majority preferred to continue writing in other languages. The matter is further complicated by the fact that many Silesians consider themselves Veneds rather than a separate people.

During the 20th century, numerous attempts were made to create a unified, standardised version of Šležan. Not an easy task, because Šležan consists of a huge number of dialects, many of which are mutually hardly understandable, while not one dialect can be considered dominant over the others. Most of these early attempts took place in Bohemia; the Silesians of the RTC would follow only during the 1930s. Since then, two different orthographies gained predominance: an orthography based on the Bohemian/Czech alphabet, and one based on the Wenedyk alphabet. Self-evidently this distinction concurs with the RTC-Bohemian border, and it is caused primarily by practical reasons: the Silesians at the Bohemian side of the border had to cope with Bohemian typewriters and printing presses, while those at the other side had to content themselves with Venedic material. Presently, it seems however that the Bohemian approach is gaining terrain also in the RTC; perhaps because it helps the Silesians there stress their distinctness.

With the foundation of the Silesian Language Council (Kouziľ dila Lehva Šležana) in 1976, the attempts to create a standardised, literary Silesian language became finally formalised. The KdLŠ, based in Preslau, consists of prominent members of the Silesian minority from both countries. In 1977 it published the first Silesian grammar in Bohemian, followed by a grammar in Wenedyk (1980), a Šležan-Bohemian dictionary (1983) and a Šležan-Wenedyk dictionary (1988).

In roughly the same period, political awareness of the Silesians grew. In Bohemia, Silesian parties had existed already for a longer time: the social-democratic Partita Šležana de Lovuratuře i Minaři (Silesian Workers' and Miners' Party) was founded as early as the 1870s, but during its entire existence it was always more like a regional party than a national one. The extreme-nationalistic party Šležna Livra (Free Silesia), founded at the beginning of the 20th century, promoted the view of an independent Silesian state, but was the exclusive domain of nationalist intellectuals (mostly students, peasants' sons and some priests). Until recently, the RTC had no such parties; the Uniň de Šležani jela Řepyblika dile Dve Korune (Union of Silesians in the RTC, UŠŘDK), founded in 1955, was merely a socio-cultural body, and the Partita Demokratka Šležana (Silesian Democratic Party, PDŠ), founded in 1962, enjoyed little support even among native Silesians. However, this changed in 1977 with the foundation of the Muvmet Demokratki de Šležani (Democratic Movement of Silesians, MDŠ). The MDŠ became the first Silesian political organisation to operate both in Bohemia and in the RTC; it incorporates the remnants of both the ŠL and the PDŠ, is represented in both parliaments, and in a way it can be seen as the “political arm” of the afore-mentioned KdLŠ. The MDŠ is a moderate party that demands local autonomy for the Silesians. If the Ukrainians in Galicia can enjoy autonomy and the Lithuanians can even have their own half of the Republic, they reason, so why can't the Silesians have the same privilege? It should be pointed out, however, that secession is not an item for the MDŠ at either of the two side of the border. Nor would it have any reason to. Both the RTC and the Bohemian Kingdom are fairly wealthy and stable states, where minorities in general are treated well: they are allowed their own schools, press and institutions, and little more is required from them than knowledge of the state language.

So what are exactly the differences between Šležan and Wenedyk? Bluntly speaking, Šležan is essentially Wenedyk with a Bohemian/Czech phonology and an Italian grammar. To put it in a more sophisticated manner: Šležan is undoubtedly a direct descendant of Old Wenedyk, but while Wenedyk falls outside the realm of the innovations that characterise the rest of the Romance languages, Šležan rather seems to follow the Romance mainstream. On the other hand, phonologically Šležan is far more conservative than Wenedyk, although later it has been thoroughly exposed to Czech (now virtually extinct) and Bohemian influence.

Grammatical differences between Wenedyk and Šležan:

Phonological differences with Wenedyk:

Details about the Šležan's development from Vulgar Latin can be found in the Grand Master Plan.