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The Influence of the Island Status of a Community on Its System of Values: On the Identity of the Old Believers in Poland through Their Language

Maxim M. Makartsev


The article considers the identity and system of values of the Old Believers in north-eastern Poland. The data for the article were open interviews eliciting self-generated labels, which are then compared with the typology of other Slavic island communities. Each of the informants was asked the questions: “How would you describe Old Believers? What are they like in your opinion?” The answers can be analyzed from various viewpoints. In the article, the scope of analysis is the structure of the lexical field of the reactions. It is then described in terms of one of the existing universal classifications of values (by J. P. van Oudenhoven and B. de Raad, a bottom-up approach). It is argued that the lexical field of the reactions reflects in a specific way the system of values, thus the analysis of the reactions to the interview questions allows for an assessment of the system of values. The most important factor is spirituality, which defines the majority of the reactions. Among other important factors are benevolence, organization, and achievement. This hierarchy is then compared to the list of the oppositions through which the identity of island communities can be defined (created by Anna Plotnikova, a top-down approach): language, religion, cultural tradition, type of incorporation into the society of the majority (dispersed vs. compact dwelling), and citizenship. From the enumerated parameters, religion seems to be the most important. Cultural tradition and type of incorporation seem to condition some of the reactions. At the same time, language and citizenship do not play any roles in the answers of the informants. Citizenship due to the fact that the group members only have Polish citizenship, so it is not an option to take part in creation of community identity. Language because linguistic shift has already started, so the community includes also Polish speakers whose knowledge of Russian is very limited and passive.


Russian language abroad; Old Believers in Poland; Slavic island communities; identity; system of values


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