An inside look: Frisian languages

Does anyoold frisianne remember their primary school days? There was always this one kid who, for whatever reason, would get picked on by his or her fellow classmates, often without a valid or any reason at all. If you look at languages, they share the same similarities: whether it is a particular dialect or accent being picked on, for whatever reason. In The Netherlands, we have lots of accents, several dialects and even a 2nd official language, which happens to be the Frisian language.

Just as between France and Belgium, in The Netherlands, the Frisian community is one of the most common targets for jokes. However, over the years, I have discovered how much history the language and its province possess.

The Frisian languages have a surprisingly long history, considering the number of people that speak the languages. There are three Frisian languages still spoken today, namely the West and North Frisian languages and the Saterland Frisian language. In The Netherlands, West Frisian is spoken within the province of Friesland, it is also the largest community that speaks one of the Frisian languages. Therefore, West Frisian is considered to be the main Frisian language.

With such a small number of people speaking any of the Frisian languages, it is remarkable to see that they have preserved their identity for at least eight centuries, with texts dating back to the 13th century.

Based on the study of texts written in Old Frisian, it has been discovered that the language shares similarities with the Old English language.  Various books have been published on the subject such as An Introduction to old Frisian , written by Professor R.H. Bremmer, of the university in Leiden, comparing Old Frisian and Old English.

War is one of the agents to be blamed for the decline of the Frisian language. From the 16th to the 19th century, the province of Friesland had to face many events including the Fries-Hollands oorlog, which was a war amongst the Fries and the Dutch people. The Frisian people, had for a long time been independent from Holland (until the 19th century), and to this day it is still something the Frisian population takes pride in.

According to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), that publishes every year a World Atlas, showing the vitality rank of endangered languages, West Frisian is listed to be an endangered language.

In recent years, the Dutch government has taken extra measures to promote the language in its already small community. Most recently, in May this year, the Dutch government invested larger funds in the public sector, to encourage civil servants to start making use of the Frisian language.

So, do you remember that kid in your primary school days that would get picked on? As often can be the case, years down the road, they have interesting stories to share on what they have experienced and accomplished in their lifetime. Although it is unlikely that the Frisian language will soon disappear, we still should appreciate the language and its history, because these are the things that give a country its identity.

Written by Nigel Marneef, trainee at TermCoord

About TermCoord

The Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Schuman Building on Place de l'Europe, Luxembourg
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