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Did you know this about... Frisian?

01The Frisian language, called Frysk, dates back as far as the Early Middle Ages. It is mentioned for the first time around 1170. Around this time Frisian is also often used in legal texts. This is quite special, because old texts from other Germanic languages, such as Dutch, are mostly religious texts or love poetry [1].

02The Frisian language belongs to the North Sea Germanic languages, as does English. The Frisian language group is divided into three mutually unintelligible languages: West Frisian, the Frisian language spoken in the Dutch province of Fryslân; Saterland Frisian, spoken in the German municipality of Saterland and North Frisian, spoken in the German region of North Frisia on the west coast of Jutland. Nowadays, these three Frisian languages linguistically differ from each other.

03A well-known Frisian proverb is quite similar to English: “Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries”. It means: “Butter, bread and green cheese, who can’t pronounce that is not a real Frisian”. Old English and Old Frisian are closely related. Both languages are based on the same Germanic language family: Ingweoon. They also have a lot of phonological similarities. Today Frisian and English are not very similar anymore [2]. Contrary to the English alphabet, Frisian for instance consists of 24 letters, the Q and the X are not used.

04King Redbad (or Radboud) is a very well-known figure in Frisian history. He fought for Frisian freedom around 697. Until this day doubts remain about the fact if the story of King Redbad is based on historical facts or not. In addition to several books about this legendary figure, the movie Redbad was also released in 2018. This Anglo-Dutch coproduction is one of the few movies that has Frisian subtitles. Most popular movies in the province are subtitled in Dutch or English. Only a few Frisian spoken movies were released over the last 20 years.

05The majority of the population of the province of Fryslân can understand the Frisian language, Frysk. Besides Dutch, Frysk, is one of the two official languages in the province of Fryslân, according to Dutch law (2014, The use of Frisian act)[3]. The province of Fryslân is one of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands. It has almost 650.000 inhabitants. After the Dutch government ratified the Framework Convention for the protection of National Minorities (2005), Frisians are recognised as a national minority within the Netherlands. In 1998 the Frisian language was already recognised by the Council of Europe, when the European Charter of regional or minority languages was ratified by the Dutch government.

06According to a recent provincial monitoring resource (2019)[4] 93,1% of residents of the province of Fryslân are able to understand the Frisian language. But despite an increase in the use of Frisian on social media, only less than 16% are able to write in their own language.

07Frisian is compulsory on all primary and secondary schools in the Frisian language area. According to the provincial administrative rule on obtaining exemption from teaching Frisian in primary and secondary education, the province has set the goal that in 2030 all schools will comply with all the attainment targets for the subject of Frisian. According to the Committee of Experts of the Council of Europe the Dutch government should put more effort into making sure that Frisian schools improve the amount of time spent on Frisian[5].

08One famous Frisian is Doutzen Kroes, the world-famous model and actress. She still speaks Frisian with her family. Doutzen even became one of the figureheads in the provincially sponsored campaign ‘Praat mar Frysk’ aimed at promoting the use of the Frisian language. Nowadays not all Frisians value their own language equally. If another person does not speak Frisian, Frisians will easily switch to Dutch even if the person understands Frisian. Also, not many young people see the Frisian language as the language of the future.
Here is a video about growing up Frisian.

What does Frysk sound like? Listen to a Frisian radio station here.


We are most grateful to the members of the Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity for their support in providing the information on the Frisian language for this page.

[1] Fryslân land van talen een geschiedenis, Reitze J. Jonkman & Arjen P. Versloot (2018). Taal fan it hert, the history of Frisian, App Store (2018).



[4] De Fryske taalatlas 2020, Fryske taal yn byld, province of Fryslân