Written by Dyami Millarson
After I arrived home from a conference that was held in Eiderstedt, Germany, about North Frisian tongues and related issues, an article titled Inspireret af hinanden (translated to English: Inspired by each other) was published by the NDR in the Danish language mentioning my interest in learning all Frisian tongues. A recurring question is what led to this interest.
I will omit the pre-history for bevity’s sake; it all began when Ken Ho and I studied West Frisian in 2016. Standard Frisian is an artificial mix of the closely linked Clay Frisian and Wood Frisian. We felt that we needed to make a choice between these sister tongues to speak the people’s real daily Frisian, so we settled on learning and using purely Clay Frisian vocabulary and pronunciation. We will study Wood Frisian at some unspecified future date.
Since learning pure Clay Frisian in 2016, we have nevertheless adopted various archaisms into our language, because we like using an authentic-sounding Frisian language that has a character more distinct from Dutch; Frisian has been dying and this manifests itself in assimilation with the dominant Dutch language, which we seek to reverse by popularising traditional features in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
Our language use evolved naturally in a more Frisian direction, since our goal is revitalising Frisian, which requires seeking the distinctly or authentically Frisian and undoing the unnecessary Dutch influences. Our revitalisation research focused on reversing linguistic assimilation is ongoing.
Ken Ho had announced to the media according to our plan that we would start a blog which would include Frisian-language articles, because there are not that many Frisian blogs. At the end of 2016, Ken Ho made a modest initial start with blogging based on my suggestions for writing. However, when the new year had started, we both truly started blogging; we produced articles regularly on a variety of topics.
2017 was a highly productive year. We used that year to start blogging, travelling and planning in order to prepare for our future projects. Ken Ho had already announced to the media according to our plan that we would learn the 3 small Frisian languages of Friesland, the Netherlands. It was in 2017 that we consolidated our knowledge of Frisian and when I visited Ken Ho in Hong Kong and visited Taiwan together with him, we made plans for 2018. We knew that it would be a special year for Frisian language and culture because Leeuwarden, the capital city of Frisia, where I live, would be the European Capital of Culture.
2017 provided the preparation and inspiration we needed for 2018. We agreed that we would learn the 3 small Frisian languages of Friesland, the Netherlands: (a) the language of Oosterschelling or the Eastern part of Terschelling, (b) the language of Schiermonnikoog, and (c) the language of Hindeloopen. We anticipated this would require tight planning.
In the fated year of 2018, which seemed like a dream in 2017, I kicked off our 2018 project by learning Aasters, the Eastern language of Terschelling, and I finished this project on my birthday. The Leeuwarder Courant, a local newspaper, published an article commemorating the success of our first 2018 project. Immediately after learning Aasters, I had begun learning Eilauners, the language of Schiermonnikoog. My reason for doing so was twofold: (a) I had a feeling that I wanted to try rapid successive language-learning because it might aid the consolidation process or at least ease the learning process and (b) I had heard during a phone call with Eric Augusteijn that the group which promoted and taught Eilauners had stopped many years ago, Eilauners had no young speakers anymore, Eilauners had only a handful of elderly speakers left and that the old number of 100-120 speakers of Eilauners was no longer up to date, which alarmed me greatly and made me think that Eilauners might be threatened with acute extinction.
In hindsight, it was totally the right choice to make so much haste with Eilauners, because my reasons to be significantly worried about Eilauners were on multiple occasions throughout the entire year proven to be 100% right. Eilauners was in very bad shape before our project for Eilauners initiated in 2018. We hope that people will forever remember the old situation we encountered in 2018 and that this gives hope and motivation for a new beginning since we visited the Wadden island to demonstrate our interest in the language, culture and history of Schiermonnikoog.
I had learned Eilauners in 7 weeks since my birthday and while I was learning to speak and write the language myself, I had persuaded, stimulated and helped my friends Giovanni Pinto and Ken Ho to pick up Eilauners as quickly as possible as well – which are facts that had been reported by Friesch Dagblad, a local newspaper. I and my friends had not yet visited Schiermonnikoog when the first article was published about the second 2018 project.
When we finally visited the Wadden island of Schiermonnikoog for the first time, the largest newspaper of the Netherlands, De Telegraaf, accompanied us to report on this historic moment. We were received as linguistic miracles. The encounter between us and the last speakers of the language of Schiermonnikoog was highly emotional; many speakers started crying spontaneously, which was captured for eternity in a photo of one speaker, Sietze Schut, by De Telegraaf. Although being down-to-earth and reserved is a cultural trait of the people of Schiermonnikoog, the last speakers of the language of Schiermonnikoog, as they were crying uncontrollably, admitted the transmission of the language of Schiermonnikoog meant much more to them than they had ever anticipated. In response, all of us promised that we would work hard for the survival of the language of Schiermonnikoog.
More than ten years ago, I would never have thought that I would learn the language of Schiermonnikoog; I had not even known there was such a language. I heard for the first time about Schiermonnikoog when my mother was teaching me aardrijkskunde, geography, in New Zealand where we resided from 2004 to 2005. The distinct enthusiasm that my mother had for the island of Schiermonnikoog impressed me; I noticed that she could tell me more about Schiermonnikoog than the other islands. Schiermonnikoog had seemed like a fantasy place to me in New Zealand and I imagined it might have nature and beaches like New Zealand. But since then, I had never thought about Schiermonnikoog for many years. Fast forward more than 10 years, and there I was on Schiermonnikoog for the first time with my friends and I could speak the language; it felt like a fairytale, but it was a fairytale that was completely real.
After Giovanni Pinto’s departure, I continued practising my Eilauners together with Ken Ho and I published several articles written in Eilauners on our blog. We needed to take it easy for a while before starting the third 2018 project. I had nevertheless already been making plans, because I wanted to complete our 2018 mission to highlight the three small Frisian languages of Fryslân, the Netherlands.
After the departure of Xie Wenting, who had also been in our company on the historic first visit to the Wadden island of Schiermonnikoog and had made Chinese dumplings for the elderly of Schiermonnikoog to try real Chinese food that was adapted to the theme of the island with fish shapes which would bring good luck according to Chinese traditional belief, I decided it was time to put my plans into motion for learning the language of Hindeloopen which is said to be the most archaic Anglo-Frisian language that is spoken within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It took me 3 weeks to succeed with my 3rd and last language challenge for the overarching 2018 mission regarding the three Anglo-Frisian languages.
I gave a speech in Hindeloopen on 12 November to explain our discoveries about the language, culture and history of Hindeloopen. I had written an extensive report on our discoveries. The report documents important facts and details, discovered during our study of the language, that could be used for the preservation of the distinct language, culture and history of Hindeloopen. Our investigations concluded that the language of Hindeloopen is a near-isomorphic language due to its remarkable conservatism over the last 400 years. Our research for the preservation of the language of Hindeloopen was well-received by the locals, confirming that our on-going project for the language, culture and history of Hindeloopen is widely supported. At the conclusion of the event on 12 November, we were dubbed the ambassadors of the Hindelooper language. During that same day we were interviewed by Omrop Fryslân and Leeuwarder Courant. The latter reported on the wide local support for our project, calling us language heroes.
Before we had made our 2018 project for the language of Hindeloopen public, I had given lessons in Eilauners together with Ken Ho to students and interested individuals for the occasion of the European Day of Languages and there we had met Helen Christiansen. I spoke with her because of my interest in learning all the North Frisian languages and I asked her various questions about the language situation in North Frisia. She related me various facts and she gave me her e-mail address to exchange practical information. She would later send me an e-mail inviting me to come to a conference to be held in Germany. Unbeknownst to me at the time, attending this conference would lead to an interview with a Danish newspaper and the publication of the first Danish-language article about our mission to learn and save all Frisian tongues without leaving out a single one of them.
We will continue our mission in 2019 and we consider highly important the consolidation of our knowledge of the 3 Anglo-Frisian languages that we learned in 2018. We will keep studying in order to improve our knowledge, and we will be obliged to assess ourselves critically in order to facilitate swift self-correction. 2019 will be a year of consolidation, but it will also be a year of learning new languages. As 2018 is drawing to a close, we hope that 2018 will be remembered as the first year we tried to raise awareness about the three consersative small Frisian languages spoken in the Netherlands and that there are in 2018 still more than 1 Frisian language spoken in the Netherlands. Our 2018 theme was the Frisian language diversity of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and we hope that we thus made significant contributions to the 2018 European Capital of Culture. After all, Leeuwarden, the capital of Frisia, was the central point from where we coordinated all these projects in 2018.