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LANGUAGE IN SOCIETY

Under the major theme of Language in Society the Museum will address language from the point of view of our everyday experiences with language.  To look at language anew through the windows of Linguistics, Education, Literature, Translation and Interpretation, History, Religion, Law, Commerce, and Diplomacy will give a richer appreciation of the ways in which we use language.

Foreign language radio has been made commonplace by the Internet.  A quick search will uncover hundreds of links to “Internet Radio,” offering countless opportunities to listen to live streaming audio from the far corners of the world.

A unique variation on this theme, Ethnic Community Radio, i.e. radio stations broadcasting in foreign languages to a particular ethnic community in the U.S., is detailed in the following article by Renee Domogauer entitled Ethnic Community Radio; The Voice of Home in America.”

Sometime in the 1980s, Walter Kotaba had a vision.  Poles were pouring out of Poland, forced to leave their country after martial law had been declared.  Although they scattered all over the world, many settled in Chicago where the Polish population eventually swelled to more than 1 million.  Mr. Kotaba, a Chicago businessman bought a local radio station, WNVR, 1030 AM and began to promote his business interests to the Polish community.  His all-Polish language programming began with a modest three hours per day.

Today Mr. Kotaba owns six radio stations, all of which broadcast almost exclusively in foreign languages, as well as a TV station, Pol-Vision, which offers two hours of Polish language programming daily. 

WNVR programming no longer focuses on Mr. Kotaba’s business interests.  Today, the ethnic radio station offers talk shows, community news, national and international news, lots of Polish music and culture and, of course, advertising for the many Polish businesses in the area.  General Manager Camilla Dworska explains that their listeners, many of whom have very poor English language skills, turn to them to “help understand what is going on.”  “For many, it is essentially their only clear link to the world; we are able to explain things to them.”  Listeners call the radio station for answers to the many routine survival questions newcomers are often bewildered by:  insurance issues, school matters, immigration problems, etc.

Ms. Dworska and her staff frequently take calls from homesick Poles who nostalgically express what the station means to them, “You are like a little piece of Poland, right here in Chicago.”  Ms. Dworska calls WNVR a “big experiment.” “Ours are not the usual radio listener,” she explains.

WNVR’s live programming is heard in Chicago and throughout nearby Midwestern states—a total of perhaps 500,000 listeners.  Internet streaming audio is heard by countless others across the country at www.polskieradio.com.  Polish programming is available to New Yorkers on their sister station WRKL, 910 AM, Pomona, NY

Mr. Kotaba’s radio empire offers a comforting voice from home to thousands of others in the Chicago area.  His WKTA, 1330 AM, broadcasts in Russian, Korean and German, each program with its regular time slot.  WEES, 1430 AM, offers Greek and Italian during the week and Romanian, Russian and Syrian on weekends.  In addition, he offers Spanish programming to the Chicago area on two local stations.

Ethnic community radio, broadcasting in the many languages that new Americans bring to this country, is indeed a unique format for a unique audience:  it comforts, informs, entertains, promotes the achievements of fellow countrymen and reminds them of their responsibility to maintain their heritage while enjoying the benefits of life in America.

Mr. Kotaba’s commitment to preserve the language and culture of so many ethnic communities is to be applauded--not only for the comfort it brings its regular listeners but also for the unique insight it affords students of language.

 

 
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