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Meet a Frisian-Dutch family

In this video Henk Wolf and José Bruining, a Dutch-Frisian family, talk about their language use and about being a new speaker of a minority language.
[Frisian:] I’m José Bruining, I’m 36… I was born in Stadskanaal (Groningen)… and raised in Nieuw-Buinen (Drenthe). At home I heard… the Groningen dialect a lot, as my parents spoke it. But my brother and I weren’t raised in it. I work at the Noordelijke Hogeschool Leeuwarden… as a Dutch teacher trainer. That’s also where I met Henk. When we started dating, I learned Frisian. I speak Dutch, of course, and I also speak Frisian. I was raised in the Veluwe area, in a half Frisian family, so I learned Frisian. I’m fluent in German, I also speak its North Frisian variety and Low German. Plus the languages you learn at school. Like English and French, a bit of Spanish, Russian, Danish.
Am I forgetting any? No, I don’t think so.
Mostly because Henk’s friends consciously use Frisian. They share a real passion for the Frisian language. I did my teacher training placement in the Frisian town of Sneek. When I was in the staff room with only Frisian speakers… I noticed the conversations constantly switched from Frisian to Dutch. I didn’t really mind, and I could understand Frisian very well… but there was still a slight barrier in our communication. I decided I didn’t want that barrier and that I wanted to speak Frisian with Henk.
I think I’m the prototype of a new speaker of Frisian. When I was at university, I took Frisian more as a kind of joke. I did my placement in Sneek, where a lot of Frisian was spoken around me. Henk is my colleague and I took the Frisian course he teaches. I was given homework, I had to practise, it was a conscious learning process. And then we started dating and I kept practising… and at some point I switched to Frisian and became a new speaker.
[Frisian:] It’s a very important language at work and in my social life. Language has significant emotional value. It doesn’t matter if it’s a minority language with only three speakers… or a language like Chinese with a billion speakers. If a language is part of you you live your life through that language. So it means a great deal. If you’re multilingual, that is the toolbox you use… to express your life, which is invaluable. Language can also have a significant economic value, in several ways. If people want to sell you something, and they speak your language… you’ll be more likely to buy something from them than when…
they say: Hello, I only speak Dutch and you have to buy something from me. People often connect regional products to the regional language… and they’re more likely to buy them if they’re advertised in that language. You often hear complaints about our poor command of German. A large economic hinterland… the Dutch miss out on because of their poor command of German. It’s easier to make friends with someone who likes your language. That’s the most important principle.
Linguistically, languages and dialects are the same. Usually we say that you look down on a dialect and look up to a language.
Before a language can become part of the education system… there is a long standardization process. In class, we use a version of Einar Haugen’s model. The model we use starts with the idea that there is variety… that the various dialects of a language show differences. Once you have observed these, the standardization process can start. The next step is to put a name to it. If there’s no name, you can’t talk about it. Low Saxon had no name. It used to be ‘Gronings’, ‘Drenths’ or Bremers’. People had no idea they were related. Now we know they are. The next step is to determine what it covers. Once you have a name and know more or less where the variety is spoken…
you can develop a standard. One that you can use in education. At that point, you can start setting rules. You start the codification, creating study material, dictionaries, grammars, etc. They reflect what is done but also what the standard should be like… according to those developing the standard. The European Charter is very important for the recognition of languages. This document can be ratified by the government of a European country. After ratification, a government can grant two different statuses to a language. It can be a ‘Part II’ language, falling under Part II of the Charter. This means that the government has to offer general protection, but not how. The Charter also contains a ‘Part III’. If the government chooses that…
they have to choose 50 very specific points… they want to realize for it and commit yourself to them. Every three years, a European committee will visit… to see if the government is living up to its commitments. Examples of minority languages still struggling for recognition… Well, this coffee mug is a good example. It’s from Kashubia… the area around Gdánsk, in the north of Poland, on the Baltic Sea. For a long time, Kashubian was seen as a slightly odd dialect of Polish. It’s a Slavic language. Kashubian is increasingly recognized as a language. Even though there are few speakers. On this mug you can see pictures related to a song… that is used to learn the Kashubian alphabet. This is only one example…
of the many minority languages in Europe striving for recognition.

In this video Henk Wolf and José Bruining, a Dutch-Frisian family, talk about their language use and about being a new speaker of a minority language.

If you want to learn more about Frisian, we invite you to check out our MOOC Introduction to Frisian.

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