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Frisian language

This page covers the West Frisian language, spoken in the Netherlands.
For other Frisian languages see Frisian language (disambiguation).

Frisian (Frysk)
Spoken in: Netherlands, Germany
Region: Friesland
Total speakers: between 450,000 and 730,000
Ranking: Not in top 100

  West Germanic
    Western Frisian

Official status
Official language of: Netherlands
Regulated by: --
Language codes
ISO 639-1 FRY
ISO 639-2 FY

Frisian (varyingly Frysk, Frasch, Fresk, or Friisk) is a language spoken by a small ethnic group living in the northwestern part of Europe. In origin, the Frisian language is Germanic, the ancient Frisian community figuring prominently in North European history. They were especially noted as traders and raiders during Viking times.

Frisian consists of several dialects, which are very often mutually unintelligible. At the most basic level, there are 3 dialectal divisions, West Lauwers Frisian 'Frysk', Saterland Frisian 'Seeltersk', and North Frisian. The North Frisian language is, however, further segmented into several additional strongly unique speech forms.

The northern dialects include Mainland dialects, Island Dialects, and the Heligoland dialect; Heligoland or 'Halund' is also an island. There is such a strong difference between the island and mainland forms of the North Frisian language that it has been speculated that the mainland and insular areas may have been originally populated by two separate waves of ancient Frisian colonizers, these migrations occurring in entirely different eras.

Frisian is distinct from East Frisian Low Saxon (see below).

Most Frisian speakers live in the Netherlands, primarily in the province of Friesland (Fryslân in Frisian) where their number is about 440,000. In Germany, there are about 2,000 speakers of Frisian in the Saterland region of Lower Saxony, the Saterland's marshy fringe areas having long protected Frisian speech there from pressure by the surrounding Low German and High German languages.

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

Frisian is officially recognized and protected as a minority language in Germany and the Netherlands.

Old Frisian was highly similar to Old English, and historically, Frisian is classified as the closest existing language to English. For example, the Frisian for "green cheese" is griene tsiis, whereas in Dutch it is "groene kaas".

This similarity was reinforced in the late Middle Ages by the Ingvaeonic sound shift, which affected Frisian and English, but not or hardly the other West Germanic varieties. However, such classifications, where possible, are based on studies of the earliest written forms of languages, so in the case of Frisian and English, they do not take into account the centuries of drift of English away from Frisian norms. Thus the modern languages are completely unintelligible to each other, partly due to the marks Low Franconian languages (such as Netherlandic) and Low Saxon/Low German have left on Frisian.

Indeed, Frisian has itself been brought progressively closer to Dutch as a consequence of the political subordination of Friesland to the ethnic Dutch. The language as it was spoken in northern North Holland (West Friesland) is now completely extinct, while a dialect of Dutch known as Stadtfries (City Frisian) has made massive gains within Friesland itself. Elsewhere in the former area of Frisian, Low Saxon has come to predominate, with dialects of East Frisian Low Saxon now known generically as "Frisian".

The earliest definite written examples of Frisian are from approximately the 9th century. A few examples of runic inscriptions from the region 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. Actual Frisian writings appear a few centuries later, and are generally restricted to legalistic writings -- this the Old Frisian period.

See also: Common phrases in different languages, Wikipedia in Frisian.

External link

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45