Polish Studies Bulletin

Article / interview


In the language we can find everything that concerns us - conversation with Dr. Dorota Szagun

Dr. Dorota Szagun performs an important mission - she works with future journalists on their voice and diction. Always smiling and kind. Over the years of working at the Institute of Polish Philology at the University of Zielona Góra, she has discovered many passions, both scientific and private.


You've been working at the university for 21 years. And when you were a high school pupil and later a student, who did you want to become?

Like probably every young man, I wanted to perform a thousand roles. Not necessarily what I do now, although it was also on my list. I really wanted to be a teacher. I am a typical example of a girl who taught teddy bears with a pointer. Earlier my dream was to become a conservator of monuments, a renovator. I dreamed of running on scaffolding, renovating various monuments, but it went the way it was. Not all passions can be realized, but some definitely are.

What influenced your choice of career path?

I think that all the things this this job was giving me.  So this was my vision of teachers, scientists, engaged searchers, researchers tracking some interesting issues, linguistically immersed in books. It has always been my love. Working with people also. This is exactly what fascinating this profession gives. If someone needs silence, he/she goes to the library and buries himself or herself in the beloved antiques. And when they needs any form of contact with people, they have such an age range that they can even rejuvenate and learn something new.

What do you like the most about your work?

It is a difficult question. If I said that my books give me satisfaction, I would probably lie, because as someone matures, he or she becomes to be ashamed of their books very quickly. I think meeting people – that would be the answer. That, over time, students are similar in age to my children. The fact that you can see how the world is changing, that in fact, through contact with young people, you are constantly up to date in a sense with what is happening in the world, what is literature. You can't sit only in your antiques, because to talk to young people you also need to read what's new and what's interesting.

You a charismatic teacher, where did this charisma come from? Have you purchased it or is it a character trait?

I would never say that I am a charismatic teacher, first of all. Although a compliment, even exaggerated, is always nice. I don't know, I just like doing what I do and I think it comes from that. If you like your subject, you like what you do, you just do it with passion. Therefore, I try to work with passion. Sometimes it is not easy, sometimes there is fatigue, sometimes there comes also irritation. It seems to me that I was usually a person who had a glass half full and tried to find good sides in many things that come across me. Everything I do, I just try to do well. I don't know how well it works out, but I hope that I manage to infect my students with such passion and joy. It has been my biggest dream that it would succeed.

Nowadays, when the importance of vocal quality is not so important, is it easy to run an object like diction and voice emission?

Honestly, I wonder if we really do not attach importance to the quality of speaking nowadays. It is increasingly emphasized that the soft competences, like communication skills, are very important. Not necessarily so learned, but definitely important. It seems to me that more and more people realize this. And it is also a joy that diction functions as a practical subject, I hope that students realize the need for studying and practicing this. I am convinced that this is indeed something that remains a necessary skill regardless of which path of professional work they ultimately choose to follow. The second thing - it's probably that people have always complained about the next generation that they are more messy. It is definitely not like that. We don’t attach much importance to speaking. The circumstances of this speaking are different. We talk faster, new media require a little different communication skills from us, but good diction has always been needed and will always be needed.

In your opinion, is there anyone you would now consider as an authority in public space regarding praise and diction?

There’s an another difficult question for me. I don't know such one authority. There are many people who I value for the way they speak, for the timbre of their voices. There’s a lot of such elements that matter. It can also be a substantive layer of what they say. It can be a matter of sound, quality of voice. I think I would gather a lot of people, including actors, whom I value because of their voice. Interestingly, I most often value female voices, especially those that are completely different from mine. I love all kinds of low and deep voices. For example, the voice of the actress Danuta Stenka, not to mention the voice of the lector Krystyna Czubówna. These are very characteristic voices and very pleasant to listen to. However, there is a lot of such voices and authorities (because of the way of speaking), in my field, i.e. linguistics. There are linguists whom I love to listen to, who say fantastic and interesting things, yet speak beautifully both substantively and linguistically. These are still unsurpassed designs for me. There are a lot of such names, but most are not media ones.

You are also interested in the poetry of romanticism and religious poetry. What captivated you in this type of poetry and from what angle do you examine her?

I dealt with poetry of romanticism and religious poetry at the beginning of my scientific career. And linguistics, which Professor Stanisław Borawski often repeats, gives this amazing opportunity to deal with everything that interests us at the moment, provided that it is expressed in language. And most of things is expressed in language. So there really was a stage in which I was involved in romanticism and religious language in the field of romanticism, but this was due to my interest in the poetry of Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Although, I was only investigating Norwid for my MA thesis – later I went in a different direction: figures such as Kornel Ujejski, Kazimierz Brodziński appeared, some minor names of romantics. It was just a stage. Now I’m dealing with the language of the eighteenth century, what means that from romanticism I go back into the history of the language. This is a completely different language that is not necessarily related to religious style. This is a very juridical, strong, Sarmatian language. In addition, I am also interested in equality discourse. Recently, I have been drawn to the issues of research on the language of intolerance, exclusion, especially in the field of disabled children and the sick. These are topics that touch me hard and it shifts to my research interests every time. The nice thing is that whatever interests me in the world, I can find fantastic language to research it.

Although you are an employee of the Department of History and Pragmatics of the Polish Language, we would also like to ask you about contemporary writers. What authors do you like to read and why do you value them?

Here, perhaps, I am going to surprise you a little bit, because I read very varied literature and I have a huge range of literary interests. This may not coincide with the literature that I value, but with my research curiosity. Not to mention the fact that I read children's literature equally with my children, because it cannot be bypassed. I absorb all 12 volumes of "Scouts" or any other contemporary novels for young adults with great interest. I read very diversified literature: Katarzyna Bonda, although I don't really like detective stories; Elżbieta Cherezińska, although history is only one of the elements of my interests. There was a moment when I also read Jacek Komuda, but because of the language of the novel, not intellectual value, although I would probably distance myself from the author. I reach, of course, and try to reach as far as time allows me, for the latest books in fiction. Especially those that were noticed and awarded. So every year, I consistently review the Nike Awards list and try to choose something for myself. There is not one narrow category of literature that I reach for, apart from the purely professional one associated with the 18th and 19th centuries. I really like to find a springboard and look for something new.

Which piece of literature, perhaps a quote, has become your life motto or you like to use it in your personal life?

I don't think I have a literary motto as such. Sometimes I use different quotes in various situations, usually colloquial. Especially when I look at my children, I have a quote from Ujejski: "A cross and a shovel coming from one tree". This is a dictum that shows that diversity is everywhere. But I don't have any specific life motto. It depends on where we are in life - we just reach for the "supports" that give us strength at the moment we need it.

What happens when the door to the lecture hall closes and you return to your private life? How do you like to spend your free time?

Again, very differently. It depends on my current psychophysical condition. I rest from mental work through physical work. If I need to, I will plant 300 crocuses, if I need to, I start cleaning the house. Normally, like any other human, just ordinarily. Of course, I also read a lot, I try to reach for my passions, in which children help me. As my daughter learned to ride a horse, I studied with her. So it also forced me to try new things. I think I'm very open. There are many things I haven't done yet. Maybe someday I'll be able to fly a glider, who knows?

Finally, what advice would you like to give to the students who are interested in Polish, linguistics and are entering their adult life path? And what would you advise people who are faced with the choice of studies or are already studying?

I think that regardless of what students are interested in, I would advise some courage in trying different things. Sometimes, some decisions stop us from fear, uncertainty, and especially lack of confidence. I think it's worth just trying. And in the field of linguistics? The joy that linguistics gives us with the opportunity to work and be a linguist, but also learn about a thousand other things, is worth experiencing. If I'm interested in horse riding at a given stage, then I can write about the vocabulary associated with it. If I am in pain in current situations that affect disabled children, I can bend over what public discourse looks like, which causes some groups to be excluded or stigmatized. This is probably the greatest joy in the study of language that language speaks about us, about people and that in this language we can find everything that concerns us, what defines us and tells us.

Natalia Grzegorczyk, Anna Romanowska

The students of journalism and social communication at the University of Zielona Góra

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