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Identity and language shift among Vlashki/Zheyanski speakers in Croatia

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Title: Identity and language shift among Vlashki/Zheyanski speakers in Croatia
Authors: Zvjezdana Vrzić
John Victor Singler
Issue Date: Feb 2016
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Citation: Vrzić, Zvjezdana and John Victor Singler. 2016. Identity and language shift among Vlashki/Zheyanski speakers in Croatia. In Vera Ferreira and Peter Bouda (eds.). Language Documentation and Conservation in Europe. 51-68. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Series/Report no.: LD&C Special Publication
Abstract: The language Vlashki/Zheyanski, spoken in two areas – the Šušnjevica area and Žejane – of the multilingual, multiethnic Istrian peninsula of Croatia, evinces strong loyalty on the part of its elderly speakers, yet in both areas a language shift to Croatian is well underway. Vlashki/Zheyanski is a severely endangered Eastern Romance language known in the linguistic literature as Istro-Romanian. In order to study the domains and frequency of use of the language and equally to examine speaker attitudes about language and identity, we administered a questionnaire to speakers in both locations. Our sample included responses from individuals in four age groups. Our discussion here focuses on 16 men and women from the two older groups, 51–70 and 71-and- older. In Žejane, speakers saw knowledge of the language and family lineage as defining components of being a “real” member of the community. The name for the language, Zheyanski, comes from the village name. Hence, someone who speaks the language asserts that village belonging and village affiliation are at the core of speakers’ identity. In terms of national identification, whether Croatian, Italian, and/or Istrian, Zheyanski speakers by and large showed little enthusiasm for any of the three choices. In terms of language use, all respondents continue to use the language on a daily basis but report that they speak mostly Croatian to their grandchildren. In the Šušnjevica area, people used the same criteria, language knowledge and family lineage, to define group membership and feel close affiliation to their home village. Unlike in Žejane, the name of the language, “Vlashki”, does not correspond to a unitary group name accepted and liked by all. In terms of larger identity, villagers em- braced identities that they share with their Croatian-speaking neighbors: Most felt “extremely Istrian”, and at least “fairly Croatian”. The language shift to Croatian is also more advanced here: All the speakers report speaking mostly Croatian to their children. While speakers in both Žejane and the Šušnjevica area endued their language with a critical role in their identity, this attitude toward Vlashki/Zheyanski does not manifest itself in their communication with younger generations where other social forces have caused the shift to the use of Croatian.
Sponsor: National Foreign Language Resource Center
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/24659
ISBN: 978-0-9856211-5-5
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License
Appears in Collections:LD&C Special Publication No. 9: Language Documentation and Conservation in Europe



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