Saterlandic, Part 1: Where Is Saterfrisian Spoken?

See part 2

See part 3

Written by Dyami Millarson

Saterfrisian or Saterlandic is spoken in Saterland, Germany, approximately 40 kilometres from the border with the Kingdom of the Netherlands. There are still three villages in the German region Saterland where Saterfrisian is traditionally spoken: Scharrel, where the Seelterfräiske Kultuurhuus (Saterfrisian Cultural Home) is located that hosts its own local radio station in Saterfrisian and houses a library of Saterfrisian books, Strücklingen, and Ramsloh. Each village has its own variant of Saterfrisian, and so there are traditionally 3 variants of Saterfrisian: Scharrel Frisian, Strücklingen Frisian and Ramsloh Frisian respectively. There is a fourth Saterfrisian-speaking village called Sedelsberg which is relatively new, because it came into existence in the 19th century through colonisation by neighbouring villages. The majority of its population was Saterfrisian-speaking during the early colonisation of the new village, but nowadays only a few elderly people in Sedelsberg can still speak Saterfrisian.

Saterland is a municipality formed as recently as 1974 by the merger of the four villages Scharrel, Strücklinge, Ramsloh and Sedelsberg which used to be their own independent municipalities before 1974. The new municipality that has existed since 1974 is part of the district Cloppenburg within the German state of Niedersachsen in Northwestern Germany. Saterland has enjoyed geographical isolation for many centuries due to geographical barriers such as bog landscape and waterways, and this offers a historical-geographical explanation for the independent development of Saterlandic East Frisian in the 3 traditionally Saterlandic-speaking villages. A clear picture of geographical ‘protection’ from all sides emerges: The Leda river more or less demarcates the Northern border of Saterland, the contemporary Elisabethfehnkanal which was built in the 19th century seals off the Eastern border of Saterland, the Coastal Canal (Küstenkanal) borders on Saterland in the South, the Western border was historically almost impenetrable due to bog which is a kind of wetland. The Saterland Frisians nevertheless interacted a lot with the outside world as they used the waterways for trade, and this historical function may also be reflected in Saterlandic. It has been asserted by researcher Pyt Kramer that Saterfrisian was a language used for trade.

1 February 2019 marks the beginning of our language challenge regarding Saterfrisian or Saterlandic. This means that we will focus exclusively on Saterfrisian. We expect to study Saterfrisian intensively at least until the end of the month. The challenge may be prolonged for 2 weeks if we are not satisfied with the current results of our intensive language study. There is much haste in learning Saterfrisian, because we would still like to converse with elderly fluent speakers of Saterfrisian, especially whoever authored texts in Saterfrisian, and elderly people who have made great contributions to Saterfrisian. We intend to meet Margaretha Grosser, Pyt Kramer (whom we have desired to meet since 2016 because he is a West Frisian with extensive knowledge about Saterfrisian), and Marron Curtis Fort. By learning to speak and write Saterfrisian, we hope to honour the legacy of these individuals and continue their work for the conservation of Saterfrisian.

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