Frisian languages

Frisian languages

Infobox Language
nativename="Frysk / Fräisk / Frasch /
Fresk / Freesk / Friisk"
caption=Bilingual sign in Frisian in Husum

region= flag|Friesland|Fryslân (Friesland)
flag|Lower Saxony
iso2= fry
ld1=West Frisian
ll1=West Frisian language
ld2=Saterland Frisian
ll2=Saterland Frisian language
ld3=North Frisian
ll3=North Frisian language
fam3=West Germanic
script=Latin alphabet
nation=Netherlands, Germany
agency=NL: Fryske Akademy
D: "no official regulation"

The Frisian languages are a closely related group of Germanic languages, spoken by about 500,000 members of Frisian ethnic groups, who live on the southern fringes of the North Sea in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. Frisian languages are the most closely related living European languages to Old English, but modern English and Frisian are mostly unintelligible to each other. It has been asserted that fishermen from Great Yarmouth could understand fishermen from Harlingen in Friesland. Frisian languages bear similarities to Low German, Dutch (from which many Frisian words have been borrowed) and Danish, and Danish speakers are able to understand some spoken Frisian. Additional shared linguistic characteristics between the Great Yarmouth area, Friesland, and Denmark are likely to have resulted from the close trading relationship these areas maintained during the centuries-long Hanseatic League of the Late Middle Ages.


There are three varieties of Frisian: West Frisian, Saterland Frisian, and North Frisian. Some linguists consider these three varieties, despite their mutual unintelligibility, to be dialects of one single Frisian language, while others consider them to be three separate languages, as do their speakers. Of the three, the North Frisian language especially is further segmented into several strongly diverse dialects. Stadsfries is not Frisian, but a Dutch dialect influenced by Frisian. Frisian is called "Frysk" in West Frisian, "Fräisk" in Saterland Frisian, and "Frasch", "Fresk", "Freesk", and "Friisk" in the dialects of North Frisian.

The situation in the Dutch province of Groningen and the German region of East Frisia is more complex: The local Low Saxon dialects of Gronings and East Frisian Low Saxon are a mixture of Frisian and Low Saxon dialects, though it is believed that Frisian was spoken here at one time and has been gradually replaced by the town language of Groningen City, which in turn is now being replaced by standard Dutch.


Most Frisian speakers live in the Netherlands, primarily in the province of Friesland, since 1997 officially using its West Frisian name of Fryslân, where the number of native speakers is about 350,000. An increasing number of native Dutch speakers in the province are learning Frisian as a second language. In Germany, there are about 2,000 speakers of Saterland Frisian in the Saterland region of Lower Saxony; the Saterland's marshy fringe areas have long protected Frisian speech there from pressure by the surrounding Low German and standard German.

In the Nordfriesland (North Frisia) region of the German province of Schleswig-Holstein, there are 10,000 North Frisian speakers. While many of these Frisians live on the mainland, most are found on the islands, notably Sylt, Föhr, Amrum, and Helgoland. The local corresponding North Frisian dialects are still in use.


Saterland and North Frisian [ - de icon] are officially recognised and protected as minority languages in Germany, and West Frisian is one of the two official languages in the Netherlands, together with Dutch.
ISO 639-1 code fy and ISO 639-2 code fry were assigned to "Frisian", but that was changed in November 2005 to "Western Frisian". According to the ISO 639 Registration Authority the "previous usage of [this] code has been for Western Frisian, although [the] language name was "Frisian"." [cite web |url= |title=Registration Authority Report 2004-2005 |accessdate=2007-11-23 |author=Christian Galinski |coauthors=Rebecca Guenther, Håvard Hjulstad |pages=4 ]

The new ISO 639 code stq is used for the Saterland Frisian language a variety of Eastern Frisian (not to be confused with East Frisian Low Saxon, a West Low German dialect).The new ISO 639 code frr is used for the North Frisian language variants spoken in parts of Schleswig-Holstein.

Saterland Frisian and most dialects of North Frisian are seriously endangered.


Old Frisian

In the early Middle Ages the Frisian lands stretched from the area around Bruges, in what is now Belgium, to the river Weser, in northern Germany. At that time, the Frisian language was spoken along the entire southern North Sea coast. Today this region is sometimes referred to as Great Frisia or Frisia Magna, and many of the areas within it still treasure their Frisian heritage, even though in most places the Frisian languages have been lost.

Frisian is the language most closely related to English apart from Scots, but after at least five hundred years of being subjected to the influence of Dutch, modern Frisian in some aspects bears a greater similarity to Dutch than to English; one must also take into account the centuries-long drift of English away from Frisian. Thus the modern languages are unintelligible to each other today, partly due to the marks which Dutch and Low German have left on Frisian, and partly due to the vast influence some languages (in particular French) have had on English throughout the centuries. Monolingual English-speakers, newly exposed to the language, would not only fail to understand it at all, except for some simple sentences, but would likely mistake it for Dutch.

Old Frisian, however, did bear a striking similarity to Old English. This similarity was reinforced in the late Middle Ages by the Ingaevonic sound shift, which affected Frisian and English, but only affected the other West Germanic varieties slightly, if at all. Historically, both English and Frisian are marked by the suppression of the Germanic nasal in a word like "us" ("ús"), "soft" ("sêft") or "goose" ("goes"): see Anglo-Frisian nasal spirant law. Also, when followed by some vowels, the Germanic "k" softened to a "ch" sound; for example, the Frisian for "cheese" and "church" is "tsiis" and "tsjerke", whereas in Dutch it is "kaas" and "kerk", and in German the respective words are "Käse" and "Kirche". Contrarily, this did not happen for "chin" and (to)"choose", which are "kin" and "kieze" [ [ English to Frisian dictionary ] ] .

One rhyme demonstrates the palpable similarity between Frisian and English: "Butter, bread, and green cheese is good English and good Fries," which is pronounced more or less the same in both languages (Frisian: "Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.")

One major difference between Old Frisian and modern Frisian is that in the Old Frisian period (c.1150-c.1550) grammatical cases still existed. Some of the texts that are preserved from this period are from the twelfth or thirteenth, but most are from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Generally, all these texts are restricted to legalistic writings. Although the earliest definite written examples of Frisian are from approximately the 9th century, there are a few examples of runic inscriptions from the region which are probably older and possibly in the Frisian language. These runic writings however usually do not amount to more than single- or few-word inscriptions, and cannot be said to constitute literature as such. The transition from the Old Frisian to the Middle Frisian period (c.1550-c.1820) in the sixteenth century is based on the fairly abrupt halt in the use of Frisian as a written language.

Middle Frisian

Up until the fifteenth century Frisian was a language widely spoken and written, but from 1500 onwards it became an almost exclusively oral language, mainly used in rural areas. This was in part due to the occupation of its stronghold, the Dutch province of Friesland (Fryslân), in 1498, by Duke Albert of Saxony, who replaced Frisian as the language of government with Dutch.

Afterwards this practice was continued under the Habsburg rulers of the Netherlands (the German Emperor Charles V and his son, the Spanish King Philip II), and even when the Netherlands became independent, in 1585, Frisian did not regain its former status. The reason for this was the rise of Holland as the dominant part of the Netherlands, and its language, Dutch, as the dominant language in judicial, administrative and religious affairs.

In this period the great Frisian poet Gysbert Japiks (1603-66), a schoolteacher and cantor from the city of Bolsward, who largely fathered modern Frisian literature and orthography, was really an exception to the rule.

His example was not followed until the nineteenth century, when entire generations of Frisian authors and poets appeared. This coincided with the introduction of the so-called newer breaking system, a prominent grammatical feature in almost all West Frisian dialects, with the notable exception of Southwest Frisian. Therefore, the Modern Frisian period is considered to have begun at this point in time, around 1820.

Family tree

Each of the Frisian languages has several dialects. Between some, the differences are such that they rarely hamper understanding; only the number of speakers justifies the denominator of 'dialect'. In other cases, even neighbouring dialects may hardly be mutually intelligible.

It is interesting to identify a migration from German to English via Dutch and Frisian:zurück (German) -> terug (Dutch) -> tebek (Frisian) -> back (English) (Note however that the second element of the Dutch and German words is cognate with English "ridge", so-called due to being the shape of an animal's back);Schafe (German) -> schapen (Dutch) -> skiep (Frisian) -> sheep (English).It is interesting that the plural of "sheep" in Frisian and English (and also several German dialects) is identical to the singular form.

*West Frisian language, spoken in the Netherlands.
** Clay Frisian (Klaaifrysk)
** Wood Frisian (Wâldfrysk)
*** Noardhoeks
** South Frisian (Súdhoeks)
** Southwest Frisian (Súdwesthoeksk)
** Schiermonnikoogs
** Hindeloopers
** Aasters
** Westers
*East Frisian language, spoken in Lower Saxony, Germany.
** Saterland Frisian language
** Several extinct dialects
*North Frisian language, spoken in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.
** Mainland dialects
***Goesharde Frisian
***Wiedingharde Frisian
***Halligen Frisian
***Karrharde Frisian
** Island dialects

Text samples

The Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer in Standard Western Frisian ("Frysk"): :Us Heit, dy't yn de himelen is :jins namme wurde hillige. :Jins keninkryk komme. :Jins wollen barre,:allyk yn 'e himel :sa ek op ierde. :Jou ús hjoed ús deistich brea. :En ferjou ús ús skulden, :allyk ek wy ferjouwe ús skuldners. :En lied ús net yn fersiking, :mar ferlos ús fan 'e kweade. : [Want Jowes is it keninkryk en de krêft :en de hearlikheid oant yn ivichheid.] "Amen"

The English translation in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

:Our Father, which art in Heaven:Hallowed be thy Name.:Thy Kingdom come.:Thy will be done,:in earth as it is in Heaven.:Give us this day our daily bread.:And forgive us our trespasses,:As we forgive them that trespass against us.:And lead us not into temptation;:But deliver us from evil.: [For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,:For ever and ever.] "Amen."

(NB: "Which" was changed to "who", "in earth" to "on earth," and "them" to "those" in the 1928 version of the Church of England prayer book and used in other later Anglican prayer books too. However, the words given here are those of the original 1662 book as stated)

Comparative sentence

;Saterland Frisian: "Die Wänt strookede dät Wucht uum ju Keeuwe un oapede hier ap do Sooken.";North Frisian (Mooring dialect): "Di dreng aide dåt foomen am dåt kan än mäket har aw da siike.";West Frisian: "De jonge streake it famke om it kin en tute har op 'e wangen.";East Frisian Low Saxon: "De Jung straktde dat Wicht um't Kinn to un tuutjede hör up de Wangen.";Danish: "Drengen aede pigen på hagen og kyssede hende på kinderne.";Dutch: "De jongen aaide het meisje rond haar kin en kuste haar op haar wangen.";Dutch Low Saxon: "De jonge strek 't dearntje um de kinne en gaf heur een smok.";German: "Der Junge streichelte das Mädchen ums Kinn und küsste sie auf die Wangen.";English: "The boy stroked the girl on the chin and kissed her on the cheeks.";Scots: "The laddie straikit the lassie oan the chin an gied hir a smouch oan the chouks."


* [ Omniglot links to various Frisian resources]
* [ Tresoar - Frisian Historical and Literary Centre]
*cite web|url=|title=Research|publisher=Fryske Akademy

ee also

*Frisian Islands

External links

* [ The Frisian foundation]
* [ Frisian-English dictionary]
*PDFlink| [ Frisian: Standardisation in Progress of a Language in Decay] |231 KiB
* [ Description of language including audio files]

* [ Frisian radio]

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