Written by Dyami Millarson
Hielepes or Hielpes is the indigenous and traditional language of Hindeloopen (coordinates 52.9427° N, 5.4013° E), which, although often mistaken for a village, is a small city (natives say ‘likje stéé’) with 900 souls in Southwestern Frisia, the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Hindeloopen or Hiel(e)pen as it is called by the natives, received its city rights in 1225. Hielepen is located on a peninsula facing the IJsselmeer to the West and North. Hielepen is a relatively popular destination for tourists, because it is an idyllic city with monumental small houses, a museum, a harbour for sailboats, some noteworthy shops, and a nearby camping site.
Hielepen gained its historical notoriety for its riches gained from seatrade, its traditional costume (natives say dracht) and its traditional language (spraik). The language of Hielepen is very archaic and conservative, like Elfdalian is for the Swedes. Many visitors in the past came to Hielepen to hear the language for themselves and multiple historical reports have consequently noted the unique dracht and spraik of Hielepen. Hielepen was a highly respected place in Frisia and it had considerable autonomy owing to its city rights, which is reflected in the language and culture that the local people of Hielepen have inherited.
Nowadays Hielepes is not as commonly heard in Hielepen, because it is a minority language with a reduced amount of fluent speakers and it is no longer the dominant functional language of Hielepen. However, the language, although vulnerable, is definitely not going to die out, as we are making a continuous effort to use it online and offline and thus keep it alive. We have been working on the revival of Hielepes since 2018, and we are currently doing research for this on-going revival project. The warm reception of the revival project in 2018, which was reported by the media, has led to concrete results such as a regular monthly meeting where the language is actively used, the inclusion of Hielepes as an independent language on the Glottolog database, and more developments are underway. Since the inception of the revival project, we have been blogging in Hielepes. By learning to speak and write the language in 2018, we set an example for others to follow, demonstrating that Hielepes can be saved by learning to speak it fluently. We set the tone for future revival work and we made a clear statement about how to solve the problem of language loss. In the same way we learned it, people can learn Hielepes fast and save it from death.
Learning the language with one’s own effort and acquiring fluency is, as we have demonstrated thrice (namely, we did a set of three language projects from Leeuwarden) in the cultural year of 2018 where Leeuwarden, the Frisian capital, celebrated it had been chosen as European Capital of Culture for the year, truly the solution to a decades-old problem of progressive language death in Hielepen; this can be done more easily if better (self-)learning materials are available. We noticed there are not enough reading materials to help one get a good grasp of the vocabulary and grammar of Hielepes, so we think blogging is vital for providing (future) students with the texts they need. We will continue doing work to record our approach for learning the language fast as well as write down practical learning instructions, offer practical learning advice and testing new learning ideas.
The revival project will continue indefinitely and as time goes on, surely new speakers will join us to stand in the long tradition of all the lineages of speakers of Hielepes that have learned Hielepes centuries before them. We are eager to teach Hielepes to local, national and international youth in the future, and we hope as many people as possible will learn about the existence of Hielepes and Hielepen. However, our current main focus is the production of written stories/texts that may later be used as study material by (our) future students. Our research is intended for helping future generations attain fluency in Hielepes and answer the linguistic questions future generations might have; answers based on the currently still available knowledge of the old language in the living memories of elderly speakers as well as what we can ascertain from historical documents in Hielepes (historical/classical language). We seek to record, gather and verify as much traditional knowledge as possible ere it is too late.