Bilingual sign
Bilingual sign

The language situation in Friesland

Introduction to Frisian culture

Learning a new language is without doubt associated with getting to know a new culture. In this closing section, we will highlight a few aspects of Frisian culture that we think might be interesting for you. This week we will discuss the multilingual situation in Friesland.

Frisian is the only second official language in the Netherlands, spoken by some half million Frisians in the north of the country. The most famous speaker of Frisian might be Doutzen Kroes. You can watch and hear her speaking her mother tongue following the link below. Most inhabitants of Friesland understand Frisian, many of them can read and speak it but only 17% can write it.

Throughout the last two centuries the use of Frisian has been contested and defended time and again. Nowadays, quite a few institutions, like the Afûk and the Mercator Research Centre, promote the Frisian language. It is protected by European treaties and mandatorily taught at schools in Friesland. Despite EU efforts its speakers are more proficient in Dutch than in Frisian.

Frisian dates back to the seventh century. Old Frisian and Old English were probably mutually intelligible. Nowadays you can still find a lot of similarities between these languages, but as all speakers of Frisian are fully bilingual, the influence of Dutch is increasing.

The group of West-Germanic languages, consisting of Dutch, Frisian, English and German, can be subdivided into Frisian and English on the one hand en Dutch and German on the other hand. This is because English and Frisian underwent a number of linguistic changes, which are not found in German and less in Dutch. An example is the shift from k to tsj, which can be seen in English cheese and Frisian tsiis and not in Dutch kaas and German Käse.

Are you interested in Frisian, multilingualism or minority languages? Why not take a look at the study programmes on multilingualism and minorities, offered by the University of Groningen. You can find information here.

Dutch and Frisian flags

References: Jan Popkema - Frisian Grammar. The Basics. Afûk: Leeuwarden, 2013

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Introduction to Frisian

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