The Kashubians are a true ethnic minority, distinct from the Poles in both language and culture. Originally western Slavs with ethnic links to the Poles, the Kashubians are believed to have settled in the area around 1,500 years ago, although the first records date from the 13th century when the Pomeranian Dukes included ‘Duke of Kashubia’ among their illustrious titles. Estimates as to just how many Kashubians and people of Kashubian descent live in Poland today vary wildly. In Poland’s 2011 census 232,547 people declared themselves to be Kashubian but just 16,377 declared Kashubian to be their sole nationality. Similarly while 108,100 people said they spoke Kashubian at home, only 13,800 declared Kashubian to be their native tongue. In both cases of language and nationality, Kashubians would also consider themselves Polish and speak Polish.
Kashubian is a West Slavic language belonging to the Lechitic group of languages of northern Poland, and is thought to be a variation of the original Pomeranian language. Kashubian enjoys legal protection in Poland as a minority language, is taught in Polish schools, and can be found on many street signs in the region. The first notable Kashubian activist was Florian Ceynowa (1817-1881), who devised the Kashubian alphabet, formalised Kashubian grammar and published a collection of historical stories of life among the Kashubians. Other Kashubian activists include the author Hieronim Derdowski (1852-1902) and the physician and the writer Aleksander Majkowski (1876-1938), the leader of the Young Kashubian movement.