Written by Dyami Millarson
The constraints to learn Northern Goesharde Frisian (abbreviated NGFr.) are severe, because I have only one small dictionary that needs to answer all my linguistic questions and provide me with all vocabulary and forms that I need for writing Northern Goesharde Frisian. The book has only about 3500 entries (according to my calculation as follows: b = a(x – y), where a stands for total amount of entries on 1 regular page, x for the last page of entries, y for the 1st page of entries, and b for the approximate total of entries). The sole book that I have is effectively sacred to me despite its shortcomings, because this is the source that I must rely upon to learn an entire language and so I am strongly motivated to make the most of it.
Saving NGFr. one sentence at a time
Languages are not saved by passive but active understanding. Imagine a world where cycling is dying out. One does not save cycling as a sport or activity by scientifically analysing a bicycle’s parts and knowing what each part is called in scientific terminology, but by simply jumping on a bicycle and learning how to ride it through practice. One may, nevertheless, say that such an endeavour is (useful) for science, because it helps document how cycling truly works rather than merely theorising about it. To save NGFr., we must know how to make sentences. To know how to make sentences, one needs to know the structure of NGFr. To know the structure, one needs to find out how each part works.
Unique glimpse into my method
As I have pointed out in an article earlier this year on the revival of extinct North Frisian language, logical reasoning is important. I study languages in a scientific way and since I wish to find evidence for my assumptions, it is about noticing things. I formulated questions and hypotheses before studying the book thoroughly. I do this so I have an exact idea about what I am looking for: I do not go in without a specific plan. The dictionary, even if small, is like a jungle and you can get lost easily in all the information. Having clear questions and hypotheses keeps one focused on the goal, and it helps to limit the scope of one’s work. If one tries to do too much and loses sight of what matters, everything will take much longer than necessary. Efficiency truly matters. I cracked the structure of NGFr. practically within the first 48 hours. By 2 November, I knew how NGFr. generally worked.
Combining language-learning with science
A cyclist may not know what all the pieces of his bike are called nor may a speaker of NGFr. know how to categorise all the words in his language by parts of speech. However, I use scientific knowledge to increase my language-learning speed and thus give a boost to my ability to acquire a new language. It takes longer to learn when one does not know the parts of speech, just as knowledge of the pieces of a bicycle may help one learn faster how to use a bike optimally. Scientific knowledge, if applied correctly, may help one learn much faster than without that knowledge. This is why I believe in combining language science and language-learning for the purpose of the preservation of endangered minority languages.
My first sentences in NGFr.
The first sentence I ever made in Northern Goesharde Frisian, by using the book, in the night of 1 November 2019 is ‘dat weer waas/weer goud,’ which translates to ‘the weather was good.’ My second sentence, which was ‘Jü san, di moune än dä stääre sän smok,’ meant ‘the sun, moon and stars are beautiful.’ My third sentence was ‘Aal än aalfååje dreege noch hölschers än klose,’ meaning ‘grandma and grandpa still wear wooden shoes and wooden slippers.’ I wrote these sentences in Langenhorn Frisian (see below). I thought the third sentence was culturally interesting to make, because we traditionally wear klompen (clogs) in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, also in Frisia this used to be prevalent. There is even a wooden shoe shop in the city centre of Leeuwarden. It is a common stereotype in the Netherlands that Frisians are farmers wearing clogs. Clogs are featured both in Dutch and Frisian traditional culture.
Why did both cultures wear clogs?
The world’s eldest surviving wooden shoes were found in NL and are in the Amsterdam museum. I felt an instant cultural connection when I discovered the word for clogs/klompen also exists in NGFr. I reasoned that this made sense, because the Netherlands and Dutch Frisia used to be swampy and North Frisia was covered in swamps as well. So we have a common geographical-historical practical reason for wearing clogs. Culture used to be based on practical considerations that turned into practice/habit over the course of centuries, and these became enshrined in the language that the people spoke. This is why it is telling that the word for clogs exists in NGFr.: I believe there must be a cultural-historical reason and that they traditionally wore it. Traditional wooden slippers are somewhat of a rarity in Germany, but I did read an article about it online: https://www.merkur.de/leben/karriere/das-gibt-s-noch-holzpantoffeln-nach-alter-tradition-zr-6124867.html
How old are clogs?
The world’s eldest clogs that have been found are from the 13th century and can be found in Rotterdam Museum: hhhhttps://www.beleefarcheologie.nl/vondsten/klomp/ . Clogs may be an indigenous Germanic tradition. The Japanese, Koreans, Romans and Greeks also have their own historical traditions of wearing wooden shoes.
What kind of Northern Goesharde Frisian?
Earlier this year I talked about the Goesharde Frisian languages and I mentioned NGFr., which can be subdivided. The book that I own indicates two types of Northern Goesharde Frisian: Ockholm Frisian (on the right in the entries) and Langehorn Frisian (on the left in the entries). I call them types to avoid saying speech systems which suggests a phonetic/speech/speaking focus rather than an unknown/unspecified linguistic entity where no distinction is drawn between language or accent (I do not say lect for this, see here why I currently prefer type: https://operationxblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/14/what-is-north-frisian/ ). These types, into which NGFr. may be divided, are probably two different accents/speeches (to avoid saying the word ‘variety’ or ‘speech variety’ which is vague like dialect). The difference seems to be chiefly phonetic (superficial) rather than grammatical and lexical (substantial).
More comparison/research is needed
Judging from the book that I own, I have seen so far that the two are materially the same: the grammar is the same, the vocabulary is the same, but the pronunciation is different. This may, however, be selection bias. Inasmuch as I can trust the book, I have so far concluded that Langenhorn Frisian and Ockholm Frisian are probably different ways to speak/pronounce the same language. I have tested this assumption against the list of strong verbs at the end of the book.
As I have discovered over the years, strong verbs, which are a grammatical item inherited from Ancient Germanic, are probably the best way to distinguish modern Germanic languages. Namely, strong verbs are a good indicator of the distance between Germanic languages. The result of comparing all strong verbs is that Langenhorn Frisian and Ockholm Frisian do not differ that much, and it verifies my assumption that the difference is chiefly phonetic. The biggest difference between Ochholm Frisian and Langenhorn Frisian chiefly lies in the present tense. For instance, the present tense of ferliise in Ockholm Frisian is ferlöst and the present tense of ferliise in Langenhorn Frisian is ferjöst.
The danger for the linguist, nevertheless, is to think: “I am bored, these two varieties are basically the same. They are the same language. Let’s move on, there is nothing much to see here. I cannot really find striking differences nor interesting features that would justify calling these separate languages.”
I would say: “Hold on, that’s what we may think as outsiders, especially if we speak neither Langenhorn Frisian nor Ockholm Frisian ourselves. Serbians and Croatians also consider themselves speaking separate languages. We should let the speakers of Langenhorn Frisian and Ockholm Frisian decide whether they speak separate languages. It is their language, so they should have the final say on this matter. It is not proper for us to impose a linguistic view on them they speak the same language, if perhaps they think otherwise. They may theoretically be able to communicate, but they may, for instance, refuse to do so for cultural reasons or they may not be wont to do so for geographic reasons. There could be various reasons why they might not have a habit of talking with each other, so mutual intelligibility is not a watertight parameter for distinguishing languages. I could technically talk in Dutch to someone who speaks Afrikaans, but in reality I do not do so, because we are different. Outsiders may perceive us as speaking the same languages, but we know better, because we’re insiders. Obviously, Afrikaans and Dutch are related, but relatedness or resemblance does not equal uniformity or identicalness. Neither does correlation mean causation. A scientific mind has to acknowledge this, and should seek to refrain from such biases. Rather, we should be curious about the insiders’ perceptions and behaviours, and whether the differences stop them from communicating or whether it doesn’t matter to them. These are interesting scientific questions that can shed more light on how to define ‘language’ and ‘language family’ in the modern era of the 21st century, where we acknowledge the importance of not forcing our ideas on others but rather to be curious and inquisitive about the human world around us. Indigenous views have oft been entirely ignored, and we should correct this ere we commit more errors, which do not match our level of development.”
Issue of identity
The interesting question, moreover, would be whether separate identities are tied to these, as this would help decide whether they are effectively two languages (two groups) or one language (one group). The question should also be: Do they understand each other, and do they therefore identify with each other or do they see themselves as truly separate culturally (like West and East Terschelling Frisians)? These questions can only be answered by interviewing last speakers, if there are any left, or by asking their descendants; the challenge will be not to force one’s own biases on the informants, but to gauge sociologically whether they see themselves as separate or not (i.e., with whom do they identify; who are they?). However, a question that I may answer now is the following: Which of the two is more endangered? Probably Langenhorn Frisian (see here), which is why I will focus on acquiring Langenhorn Frisian first. There is no NGFr.-German wordlist at the end of the book, which could have helped with translation. (What is the purpose of the book? It claims to be for preserving and learning NGFr., and not for science, which is ironic, because one needs a scientific mind-set to understand this booklet; no wonder almost nothing lengthy has been written in NGFr., it is a daunting task to do this with that dictionary, so we will probably be the first or among the first; I believe we can achieve it.) The study of other Frisian languages, as we have done for the past few years, will prove helpful for the prediction of the structure of Northern Goesharde Frisian, so that we may write lengthy texts in this language. The challenge, however, begins with making one sentence at a time and seeing what we need. However, below are the most important questions that ought to be answered for the purpose of being able to express oneself in the Northern Goesharde language. Many of these questions may be answered with the information in the preface (Vorwort) and the appendix (Abhang).
The linguistic questions I had are as follows:
- What are the articles like? Three types of articles are indicated in the entries: di, jü, dat. We may assume these are singular forms and we may assume di is masc. as it corresponds with Germ. der, jü is fem. as it corresponds with Germ. die, dat is neut. as it corresponds with German das. Further evidence to support my assumptions: The sg. articles of NGFr. correspond with Eilauner sg. demonstratives dy, jò, dat, Hieleper sg. demonstr. die, jó (very limited in use), dòt, Saterlandic sg. art. die (acc. dän), ju, dät and Heligolandic de, ju, deät. The pl. article seems nowhere to be found on the dictionarg (or at least I have not seen it attested thus far), but we may figure it out in another way: it may be the same as di (or possibly it is de or e). At the entry ‘dran,’ I found that di may change after a preposition to e just like in Land Frisian: oun e ree/räich. This piece of evidence, which shows correspondence between e and di, suggests to me that de is likely not the plural, but di is. Heligolandic, Dutch and Land Frisian have de as singular and plural article, and de would correspond with di in NGFr.
- What are the conjugations of strong verbs like? The appendix (Abhang) answers this: The strong verbs, which, for the purose of the language learner, are the most (important) irregular forms in NGfr. just like in any other Anglo-Frisian language, are different from Heligolandic (or similar to?)
- What is the full conjugation of an irregular verb such as ‘to be’ like? Although not indicated, the 3rd pers. pret. form waas/weer is probably the same in the 1st pers. just like in all other Frisian languages (this is why studying Frisian structure is very helpful when dealing with a severely endangered Frisian language with little available infromation). I worried about this question because irregular verbs are frequent in Frisian, I need them for making sentences and I could not say much without them. I knew that if I had no information about them, there was no way I could speak the language properly.
- What are the plurals of nouns like? The plurals of nouns are generally not listed among the entries, which worried me at first and left me guessing it might be something like -s like English, but I soon found the answer in the preface: ‘Wenn die Mehrzahlendung der Hauptwörter kein -e ist, haben wir die Mehrzahlform besonders angegeben.’ (If the plural ending of main words is no -e, we have indicated the plural form separately.)
The knowledge of other Germanic languages, such as Dutch and Land Frisian, generally applies here as well and is quite helpful where there are open gaps. It seems to me that the structure of NGFr. is simple/predictible in that it follows similar structural patterns as Heligolandic, Dutch and Land Frisian. Its grammatical structure appears more simplified than that of Saterlandic (with its acc. dän) and Schiermonnikoog Frisian (with its noun plurals fluctuating between -e and -en and its demonstr. plur. dà which is different from masc. sg. dy). It might, however, be on the same level as Hindeloopen Frisian (though probably the pl. dem. jin is very unlike anything that NGFr. has as a plural article), East Terschelling Frisian and Land Frisian in terms of grammatical complexity/structure/development. The linguistic conservatism/archaism is what makes Schierm. Fr. and Sat. particularly hard. Heligolandic is probably the most instructive for understanding the relatively simple grammar of NGFr., which, if true, may mean that the dictionary suffices in its very simplistic treatment of NGFr. grammar. In terms of simplicity, NGFr. may be somewhat like Afrikaans, which I have yet to learn. Nevertheless, the verbal forms are more irregular than Afrikaans. The researchers who made the dictionary seemed to have used Frasch (Mooring North Frisian), which I am unfamiliar with, as reference point. However, Heligolandic North Frisian (as well as Saterlandic and other Frisian languages) serves as my reference point, as it helps me to understand/predict the structure, probably quite accurately.
This article will be improved substantially in the coming days. This is actually merely a draft.