Dr Joanna Kopaczyk on Polonia Scotorum colonia: Scottish early modern immigrants in a multilingual setting

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by Katharine McCrossan

On Tuesday 19th November, the Centre was delighted to welcome Dr Joanna Kopaczyk (Senior Lecturer in Scots and English, University of Glasgow). Dr Kopaczyk is a historical linguist whose research interests include the medieval and early modern history of the Scots language and the early modern Scots diaspora abroad, specifically in Central Europe and the Baltic. By combining these interests in her fascinating talk ‘Polonia Scotorum colonia: Scottish early modern immigrants in a multilingual setting’, Dr Kopaczyk offered the first contribution to this year’s CSCS seminar theme ‘Furth’, dedicated to providing global perspectives on Scottish and Celtic studies.

Around 5000-7000 Scots are estimated to have lived in Poland during the seventeenth century, with a combination of trade opportunities, mercenary recruitment, and religious tolerance ensuring that the country was an attractive choice for aspiring Scottish emigrants. Recent investigation by Peter Bajer has revealed that the Scottish presence during this time was such that Scottish Brotherhoods existed in no fewer than twelve cities throughout the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. One city where Scots readily congregated was Kraków. A former capital and location of Poland’s first university, Kraków in the seventeenth century was both multi-cultural and multilingual, with the oral use of latin necessary for communication. Existing records from this period, such as legal papers, often documented the occurrence of more than one language coming together in a single communicative event. Through this process of code-switching, or multi-lingual practise, it is possible to uncover the affairs and the language of Scots in Poland as recorded by others and as documented by themselves.

Dr Kopaczyk went on to highlight, however, that the process of analysing these sources is fraught with difficulty. For an understanding of the original documents, knowledge of both Latin and medieval Polish is required, and without this, researchers are reliant on scholarly translations. While helpful to an extent, the accuracy and reliability of such translations remains questionable. In one example, Dr Kopaczyk compared an extract from an original source ‘Quest for Civic Rights’ from the National Archives in Kraków with a direct translation in the 1915 text Papers Relating to the Scots in Poland: 1576-1793 by A. Francis Steuart, Beatrice Baskerville and John Mackay Thomson. Although a relatively short extract, a comparison with the translation yielded ten differences alone. Dr Kopaczyk was keen to point out that while some deviations, such as small differences in place names or word choice, may at first appear trivial, their ability to inform and shape different research questions actually ensures that they are of great importance.

While isolated information has revealed that immigrants from Scotland spoke most frequently in Scots, the code-switching evident in the available legal sources demonstrates that some Scots, at least, were learning to speak Polish. By examining the primary material, it appears unlikely that Scots spoke in Latin in court only for the source author to translate and record the subsequent testimony in Polish. Instead, it is more feasible that some Scots spoke Polish in court, whether through the efforts of a translator or of their own accord. Further evidence of Scots emigrants speaking the local language in Poland was provided through two extracts from ‘The Book of the Scottish Brotherhood at Lublin’, 1680-1731 in which code-switching was especially prominent. Dr Kopaczyk highlighted that the first extract, from 1680, used Scots as the matrix (main) language, with contextual information provided in Polish. By the time the second extract was written (1686), however, the matrix language has switched to Polish, with Scots only used for recording names. In a similar vein to ‘A Quest for Civic Rights’, the Polish in both extracts from ‘The Book of the Scottish Brotherhood at Lublin’ suffers from misspelling and misinterpretation in the direct translation, with some Polish also mis-transcribed or not recorded at all.

By examining such examples of code-switched records, Dr Kopaczyk was able to ascertain that emigrant Scots had a very strong presence in Poland during the seventeenth century and offered three distinct conclusions. Firstly, translations (whatever their quality or accuracy) unavoidably alter the historical reality of primary material in unpredictable and unhelpful ways. Secondly, Scots in Poland during the early modern period learned the local language, even in the first generation of emigration, and finally, multilingualism has always been the historical norm.

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