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Białystok's Subdialect and Accent

Białystok subdialect as a live depiction of the multicultural history.

The humorous term “śledzikowanie” referring to a softer accent was coined for Białystok subdialect, which is originally related to Vilnius dialect. It bears testimony to the influences which other languages (such as Belorussian, Lithuanian or to a lesser extent Yiddish and Russian) had on Białystok way of speaking. Characteristic features are: long pronunciation of accented vowels with a distinctive descending inflection in cadence which adds to the melodiousness of speech (therefore it is also called a sung dialect).

Białystok's “śledzikowanie” is a part of a wider phenomenon known as the “northern borderland dialect”. The dialect embraces various subdialects (Polish term: gwara) which evolved in the areas inhabited by Lithuanians, Belorussian and Poles. The beginnings date back to the times of Union of Lublin when Polish (originally the language of the Polish nobility) started influencing the territories of today's Lithuania and Belarus. The dialect in many ways seemed inspiring to the literary Polish. Adam Mickiewicz was brought up in these cultural circles. Also Józef Piłsudski spoke the northern borderland dialect. During the inter-war period the city of Vilnius was the most significant centre of the dialect.

Białystok twang has always been an important part of the city culture. “In Młynowa street” - a radio series by Wiesław Janicki transmitted by Radio Białystok had a very wide appeal with 621 weekly instalments broadcast over the period from July 1994 to December 2006. The characters of the serial – Czesiek Tarasewicz and his family speak perfect Białystok gwara (subdialect). Białystok edition of Gazeta Wyborcza made an attempt at publishing a dictionary of the Białystok dialect.

Below chosen terms typical for Białystok subdialect (from the aforementioned dictionary).

Subdialect terms have been highlighted in bold. English translation in brackets.

  • klekotun – bocian (stork),
  • kuryć - palić pierosy (smoke cigarettes),
  • łypa – warga (lip),
  • mogiłki – cmentarz (cemetery),
  • plita -płyta kuchenna, (stove's surface used for cooking),
  • raby - plamisty (spotted, pocked) thus a cow is often called raba,
  • rodyska – rzodkiewka (radish),
  • rubaszka - koszula męska (male shirt),
  • sobaka – pies (dog),
  • swołocz - łobuz, drań (rogue, rascal),

Białystok dialect is symbolised by a herring.

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