World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

West Frisian language

Article Id: WHEBN0000547302
Reproduction Date:

Title: West Frisian language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Frisian languages, Saterland Frisian language, Friesland, Languages of the Netherlands, Netherlands
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

West Frisian language

West Frisian
Native to Netherlands
Region Friesland, Groningen
Native speakers
470,000  (2001 census)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Province of Friesland
Regulated by Fryske Akademy
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fy
ISO 639-2 fry
ISO 639-3 fry
Glottolog west2354[2]
Linguasphere 52-ACA-b
Present-day distribution of the Frisian languages in Europe:
  West Frisian

West Frisian, or simply Frisian (Frysk, Dutch: Fries ) is a language spoken mostly in the province of Friesland (Fryslân) in the north of the Netherlands, mostly by those of Frisian ancestry.


The name "West Frisian" is only used outside the Netherlands, to distinguish this language from the closely related Frisian languages of Saterland Frisian and North Frisian spoken in Germany. Within the Netherlands, however, "West Frisian" refers to the West Frisian dialect of the Dutch language and the Frisian variety is almost always called simply "Frisian" (in Dutch, Fries for the Frisian language and Westfries for the Dutch dialect.) The unambiguous name used for the Frisian language by linguists in the Netherlands is Westerlauwers Fries (West Lauwers Frisian), the Lauwers being a border stream that separates the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen.


Most speakers of West Frisian live in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands. This province was formerly officially called Friesland, but officially changed its name to Fryslân in 1997. The province has 643,000 inhabitants (2005); of these 94% can understand spoken Frisian, 74% can speak Frisian, 75% can read Frisian, and 27% can write it.[3]

For over half of the inhabitants of the province of Friesland, 55% (c. 354,000 people), Frisian is the native language. In the central east, Frisian speakers spill over the province border, with some 4,000–6,000 of them actually living in the province of Groningen, in the triangular area of the villages Marum (Frisian: Mearum), De Wilp (De Wylp), and Opende (De Grinzer Pein).[4]

Also, many Frisians have left their province in the last sixty years for more prosperous parts of the Netherlands. Therefore, possibly as many as 150,000 Frisian speakers live in other Dutch provinces now, particularly in the urban agglomeration in the West, and in neighbouring Groningen and newly reclaimed Flevoland.

In addition, there is a surprisingly large Frisian diaspora abroad, with Friesland having had in relative terms the highest percentage of emigrants of all Dutch provinces between the Second World War and the 1970s. It is estimated that there may be as many as 80,000–100,000 Frisian speakers scattered around the world , with the largest concentrations located in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Therefore, the total number of Frisian speakers in the world today may be as high as 600,000.

Apart from the use of Frisian as a first language, it is also spoken as a second language by about 120,000 people in the province of Friesland.[5]


The West Frisian language consists of eight mutually intelligible dialects, of which four are widely spoken and the other four are confined to small communities of less than a hundred to several hundreds of speakers.

The least-used dialect of West Frisian is Skiermûntseagersk, the island dialect of Schiermonnikoog (Frisian: Skiermûntseach), which is actually on the verge of extinction, because it is spoken by no more than 50–100 people (out of an island population of 900 people).

Hylpersk (in Dutch known as Hindeloopers), the archaic Frisian dialect of the peninsular harbour town of Hindeloopen (Hylpen), on the west coast, is still spoken by some 300 people at the most.

Skylgersk (also known as Westersk) and Aastersk are the dialects of the western and eastern parts of the island of Terschelling (Skylge) and have about 800 and 400 speakers respectively. They are separated from each other by the Dutch dialect of Midslands, which is spoken in the central part of Terschelling.

Because of their insular nature these four less-used dialects are also those that have deviated the most from mainstream Frisian. In fact, three of the four widely used mainland dialects are so much alike that a non-Frisian could probably not make out any differences.

The fourth mainland dialect, that of Súdwesthoeksk ("South Western"), which is spoken in an area called de Súdwesthoeke ("the South West Corner"), deviates from mainstream Frisian in that it does not adhere to the so-called newer breaking system, a prominent grammatical feature in the three other main dialects.

The Noardhoeksk ("Northern") dialect is spoken in the north eastern corner of the province but does not differ much from Wâldfrysk.

By far the two most widely spoken West Frisian dialects are Klaaifrysk and Wâldfrysk. Both these names are derived from the Frisian landscape. In the western and north-western parts of the province, the region where Klaaifrysk is spoken, the soil is made up of thick marine clay, hence the name Klaaifrysk, which literally means "Clay Frisian". While in the Klaaifrysk speaking area ditches are used to separate the pastures, in the eastern part of the province, where the soil is sandy, and water sinks away much faster, rows of trees are used to that purpose. Therefore, the dialect spoken in the eastern area is called Wâldfrysk, meaning "Wood Frisian" or "Forest Frisian".

Although Klaaifrysk and Wâldfrysk are mutually very easily intelligible, there are, at least to native Frisian speakers, a few very conspicuous differences. These include the pronunciation of the words my ("me"), dy ("thee"), hy ("he"), sy ("she" or "they"), wy ("we") and by ("by"), and the diphthongs ei and aai.[6]

Of the two, Wâldfrysk probably has the greater number of speakers, but because the western clay area was originally the more prosperous part of the mostly agricultural province, Klaaifrysk has had the larger influence on the West Frisian standardised language.


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 Greater Frisia or Frisia Magna, and many of the areas within it still treasure their Frisian heritage, even though in most places the Frisian language has been lost.

Old Frisian, however, did bear a striking similarity to Old English. This similarity was reinforced in the late Middle Ages by the Ingvaeonic sound shift, which affected Frisian and English, but hardly the other West Germanic varieties 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 developed into a ch sound. For example, the Frisian for cheese and church is tsiis and tsjerke, whereas in Dutch it is kaas and kerk.

One major difference between Old Frisian and modern Frisian is that in the Old Frisian period (c.1150-c.1550) grammatical cases still occurred. 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 legal documents. 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 and New 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 Frisian poet Gysbert Japiks (1603–1666), a schoolteacher and cantor from the city of Bolsward (Boalsert), 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 Súdwesthoeksk. Therefore, the New Frisian period is considered to have begun at this point in time, around 1820.


West Frisian uses the Latin alphabet. A, E, O and U may be accompanied by circumflex or acute accents.



Frisian vowels with example words
Symbol Example
orthography English translation
ɑ bɑnk bank 'bank'
a raˈdis radys 'radish'
aːt aard 'character, nature'
ɛ lɛt let 'late'
ɛː fɛːst fêst 'firm' ("fast")
seː see 'sea'
ə de 'the'
ɪ sɪt sit 'seat' ("sit")
i ʋit wyt 'white'
tiːt tiid 'time' ("tide")
ɔ ɡɔt gat 'hole' ("gate")
ɔː ʋɔːt wâld 'forest' ("wold"/"weald")
o ˈtovərjə toverje '[to] do magic' ("tiver")
ˈhoːpjə hoopje '[to] hope'
y yt út 'out'
ˈnyːvər nuver 'strange'
u ˈbusə bûse 'pocket'
huːt hûd 'skin' ("hide")
ɵ pɵt put '(water) well' ("pit")
øː ˈløːnə leune '[to] support, [to] lean'
stiən stien 'stone'
ɪə ɪər ear 'ear'
ɡuət goed 'good'
ɔə ɔər oar 'other'
nyət nuet 'tame'
œː frœːn freon 'friend'
ɛi hɛi, bɑkəˈrɛi hy, bakkerij 'he', 'bakery'
œy ˈstrœy.ə struie '[to] sprinkle' ("strew")
ui ˈblui.ə bloeie '[to] blossom'
ɔəi mɔəi moai 'beautiful'
aːi kaːi kaai 'key'
ɑu hɑut, ɡɑu hout, gau 'wood' ("holt"), 'soon'

On average Frisians use a high number of long vowels. To reduce the length of speech there are two systems to reduce consonant length. The first is the new Frisian breaking. New Frisian breaking reduces the length of a long vowel by replacing it with a consonant and a vowel or semi vowel. Breaking pairs are ie-ji/i, ue-uo, oa-ua and dei-je/dje.

The second system is article and suffix reduction to glottal stops. Both definite articles (de (/də/) and it (/ət/)) and the indefinite article (in (/ən/)) may undergo article reduction. Popular suffixes for reduction include -en (/ən/) and -t (/ət/). "it tinken" (the act of thinking) for example may be reduced from /ət tɪŋ͡kən/ to /ʔtɪŋ͡kʔ/. This however is an extreme reduction and does not occur in most dialects. More common is removing the schwa (/ə/) and in case of a reduced article following a reduced dental suffix one of the /t/'s is dropped. In Standard Frisian writing this phenomenon can be represented by replacing the character representing the schwa by an apostrophe.

The use of both systems varies from dialect to dialect and in the standard language there are irregularities whether to write broken vowels in their broken or unbroken form.


b ch d f g h j k l m n p r s sj t tsj v w x y z
b x d f ɡ, ɣ ɦ j k l, ɫ m n p r s sj t t͡sʲ v ʋ ks j z
  • /eː/, /oː/ and /øː/ are commonly realized as the diphthongs [eɪ], [oʊ] and [øʏ].
  • /ɛː/ and /ɔː/ are commonly realized as [ɛ.ə] and [ɔ.ə].
  • a is pronounced [ɔ] before d, t, l, n, s
  • er is pronounced [ɛː] in bern, gers and ferzen
  • eau is pronounced [øə] in past participles and [joː] in preterites and other words
  • ei is pronounced [i] or [jə] in moandei and other compounds with -dei
  • eur is pronounced [øə]
  • the word ôf and prefix ôf- are pronounced [ɔu] or [ɔː]
  • oa becomes [a] in moatte and moandei, and [ãː] in woansdei
  • oe is pronounced [u] before ch, g, k
  • y is pronounced [ɛi] in my, dy, hy, wy, by, but [i] in dy as demonstrative pronoun
  • any vowel or diphthong before n + s, z, f, v, w, j, l, r, is nasalised
  • any nasalised vowel is lengthened before ns, nz
  • /l/ is silent before /d/. often pronounced [r] in intervocalic position
  • g is pronounced [ɡ] except when placed between vowels, when it is pronounced [ɣ]. Example: dagen [ˈdaɣən] ('days')
  • /h/ is silent before [j], [ʋ] and in thús
  • /j/ is often silent before [i]
  • in âl, /l/ is silent before /t d/
  • when assimilated, n becomes [m] before p, [ŋ] before k, or is dropped while nasalising the preceding vowel
  • /r/ is silent before /t d n l s z/
  • /s z/ are apical alveolar.[7]
  • w is pronounced [ʋ] at the beginning of a word, [f] in final, [ʋ] elsewhere. WW is pronounced [ʋ]
  • y only occurs as a consonant in the loanword yochert; otherwise, it is a vowel.



In 1951, Frisian language activists, protesting the exclusive use of Dutch in the courts, caused a riot in Leeuwarden.[8] The resulting inquiry led to the establishment of a committee of inquiry. This committee recommended that the Frisian language would receive a legal basis as minority language.

Since 1956, West Frisian has an official status along with and equal to Dutch, in the province of Friesland. It is used in many domains of Frisian society, among which are education, legislation, and administration. In 2010, some sixty public transportation ticket machines in Friesland and Groningen added a Frisian-language option.[9]

Although in the courts of law the Dutch language is still mainly used, in the province of Friesland, Frisians have the right to give evidence in their own language. Also, they can take the oath in Frisian in courts anywhere in the Netherlands.

Primary education in Friesland was made bilingual in 1956, which means Frisian can be used as a teaching medium. In the same year, Frisian became an official school subject, having been introduced to primary education as an optional extra in 1937. It was not until 1980, however, that Frisian got the status of a full-fledged, i.e., required, subject in primary schools, and not until 1993 that it got the same position in secondary education.

In 1997, the province of Friesland officially changed its name from the Dutch form Friesland to the Frisian Fryslân. So far 6 out of 31 municipalities (Dantumadiel, Tytsjerksteradiel, Boarnsterhim, Littenseradiel, Wûnseradiel and Ferwerderadiel) have changed their official geographical names from Dutch to Frisian.

Within ISO 639 West Frisian falls under the codes 'fy' and 'fry', which were assigned to the collective Frisian languages.

Folklore about relation to English

The saying "As milk is to cheese, are English and Fries" describes the observed similarity between Frisian and English. One rhyme that is sometimes used to demonstrate the palpable similarity between Frisian and English is "Rye bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Fries.", which sounds not very different from "Brea, bûter en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.." [10]

Another rhyme on this theme, "Bûter, brea en griene tsiis; wa't dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries" (   ) (in English, "Butter, rye bread and green cheese, whoever can't say that is no genuine Frisian") was used, according to legend, by the 16th century Frisian freedom fighter Pier Gerlofs Donia as a shibboleth that he forced his captives to repeat to distinguish Frisians from Dutch and Low Germans).

Westerlauwers Frisian

West Frisian can be confused with an area (or its local language) in the Dutch province Noord-Holland (NL: area = West-Friesland or local language = West-Fries), that is why the term Westlauwersk Frysk or Westerlauwersk Frisian has been introduced, The River Lauwers is the part of the border between the Dutch provinces Friesland and Groningen.

In the Netherlands West Frisian can refer to the local language spoken in the region Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Medemblik.

Sample Text

Below is the Lord's Prayer from the Frisian Bible third edition, published in 1995, with the corresponding English text from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Us Heit yn 'e himel, (Our Father, which art in heaven,)
lit jo namme hillige wurde, (hallowed be thy name;)
lit jo keninkryk komme, (thy kingdom come;)
lit jo wil dien wurde (thy will be done,)
op ierde likegoed as yn 'e himel. (in Earth as it is in heaven.)
Jou ús hjoed ús deistich brea (Give us this day our daily bread.)
en ferjou ús ús skulden (And forgive our trespasses,)
sa't wy ús skuldners ek ferjûn hawwe; (as we forgive them that trespass against us.)
en lit ús net yn fersiking komme, (And lead us not into temptation;)
mar ferlos ús fan 'e kweade; (but deliver us from evil.)
want jowes is it keninkryk (For thine is the kingdom,)
en de krêft (the power,)
en de hearlikheid (and the glory,)
oant yn ivichheid. Amen. (forever and ever. Amen)

See also

External links

  • Frisian - English Dictionary: from Webster's Online Dictionary - The Rosetta Edition.
  • West Frisian Swadesh list of basic vocabulary words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh list appendix)
  • ISO 639 code set entry for "fry" and for "fri" (active and retired language codes, respectively)
  • A series of ten short Frisian lessons in English
  • Course West Frisian


  1. ^ Frisian at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Western Frisian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Provinsje Fryslân (2007), Fluchhifking Fryske Taal.
  4. ^ Gorter, D. L.G. Jansma en G.H. Jelsma (1990), Taal yn it Grinsgebiet. Undersyk nei de taalferhâldings en de taalgrins yn it Westerkertier yn Grinslân. Sosjaal-wittenskiplike rige nummer 10. Akademy-nummer 715. Ljouwert: Fryske Akademy.
  5. ^ Gorter, D. & R.J. Jonkman (1994), Taal yn Fryslân op 'e nij besjoen. Ljouwert: Fryske Akademy.
  6. ^ Popkema, J. (2006), Grammatica Fries. De regels van het Fries. Utrecht: Het Spectrum.
  7. ^ Sipma (1913:16)
  8. ^ Geschiedenis van Friesland, 1750–1995, Johan Frieswijk, page 327.
  9. ^ "Ov-chipkaartautomaten ook in het Fries".  
  10. ^ The History of English: A Linguistic Introduction, Scott Shay. Wardja Press, 2008, ISBN 0-615-16817-5, ISBN 978-0-615-16817-3


  • Sipma, Pieter (1913), Phonology & grammar of modern West Frisian, London: Oxford University Press 

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.