Redefining the concept of language – on the example of the Women’s Strike “language” in Poland (2020)

Authors: Iliana Genew-Puhalewa (University of Warsaw, Poland)
Speakers: Iliana Genew-Puhalewa
Topic: Language Ideologies
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2022 General Session


Societal life in Poland at the end of 2020 was dominated by demonstrations and protests (commonly called the Women’s Strike ) in reaction to a ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal which tightened the law on abortion in Poland. The movement was massive and widespread, especially in the large Polish cities, with young people participating, who showed extraordinary creativity in protest slogans – the main ones were imprudent and deliberately offensive. Verbal and non-verbal expression of the Women’s Strike became the object of analyses of various humanists, among which there were fewer linguists – the debate examined the “language” of the demonstrations (pl. język protestów), which included not only the headings on banners, shouted slogans, but also symbolic objects carried by the protesters, colours, body postures and others. Therefore, the paper aims at redefining the concept and (respectively) the term “language” (język) in relation to its traditional dictionary explications, linguistic and semiotic comprehension, taking into account the Women’s Strike discourse and the related debate. Specific examples of the “demonstrations’ language” are analysed in the cultural-linguistics methodological paradigm.

Keywords: Poland, abortion protests, offensive language, definition of language, language ideologies