Northern Goesharde Frisian Grammar Book

Written by Dyami Millarson

The small Northern Goesharde Frisian grammar book, which is authored by Ommo Wilts, published at Matthiesen Verlag in 1995 in the German language and titled Friesische Formenlehre in Tabellen VI Nordergoesharde, is a supplement to the small 1981 dictionary of Northern Goesharde Frisian, which was initially in 2019 the only Northern Goesharde Frisian book I had. I borrowed the Northern Goesharde Frisian book from the Tresoar library in Leeuwarden, which is specialised in Frisian. Currently, I have a Northern Goesharde Frisian dictionary, grammar and texts, which should be sufficient for the study of the endangered Northern Goesharde Frisian language. Before I borrowed the Northern Goesharde Frisian grammar book, I had already compiled my own grammar based on the dictionary and later also the text. I can now juxtapose my 2019-2020 conclusions about the structure of Northern Goesharde Frisian with those which are found in the 1995 work of Ommo Wilts, and that is why I did not borrow the grammar book before.

The day before yesterday (Thursday 22 October 2020) I decided it was time to borrow that grammar book from the library, because after not doing anything worthy of mention with Northern Goesharde Frisian for a long while, I suddenly recalled I had already completed my own document on Northern Goesharde Frisian grammar and syntax. I had already figured out based on the Northern Goesharde Frisian dictionary that the syntactic structure of Northern Goesharde Frisian is what I would expect it to be for a Frisian language or even a Continental West Germanic language. For instance, the word order of Northern Goesharde Frisian is practically the same as that of Sagelterland Frisian or Heligoland Frisian, which I had studied extensively in the year 2019.

Although I could predict the word order because I know that Northern Goesharde Frisian is a Continental West Germanic language, I always find it important to search for concrete evidence supporting my predictions, and that is why I looked for clues about word order in the dictionary, and later I juxtaposed these with the evidence that I found in the Northern Goesharde Frisian story book that I use for studying structure. I deem it crucial to find evidence for one’s assumptions, because I have often seen how assumptions could be proven false. The most interesting challenge for me is to try finding evidence that will disprove my assumptions. Whenever I discover something of that kind, I am happy because I like the novelty of it. After all, it is always a pleasure to learn something new; I am looking for such thrills during the language-learning process.

What information in the grammar book is the most important, and what is the least important? The information about the Northern Goesharde Frisian verbs in the beginning (pages 6-13) and the end (pages 32-43) is completely redundant, because this topic is already sufficiently covered in the Northern Goesharde Frisian dictionary. The only exception is that there is some new information presented in the paradigm of wee’e to be on page 7:

  • it explains the distribution of weer/waas in Langenhorn Frisian, which wasn’t explained further in the dictionary beyond noting that there are two forms in Langenhorn Frisian and there is only one form in Ockholm Frisian, which means the two-fold distinction doesn’t exist in the latter. Based on the dictionary, I originally thought these two forms in Langenhorn Frisian were interchangeable as the slash ( / ) would suggest, but it turns out, or at least that is what is suggested by Ommo Wilts’ grammar book, there is a syntactic distinction;
  • it confirms that hat, which resembles the Dutch word het, is indeed the 3rd person neuter pronoun, which is something that I wasn’t sure about when I read the dictionary, because this word was written in italics and it almost seemed like it said dat, which is the form that I might have expected, because the dictionary had helped me to figure out that dat is the neuter article in Northern Goesharde Frisian, and so the use of italics created some confusion in my mind.

The information in the middle of the grammar book (pages 14-31) is definitely more interesting than the information about the verbs, but not all of it is equally interesting. Although the middle of the grammar book will be the most important to me whenever I use it, I will probably not make use of all information that is found there, because some of it is redundant in my opinion. The following may give an impression of how I would use the middle of the grammar book:

  • Section 2.0 on page 14 and section 2.2 on page 17 are interesting because it shows how names and a few other nouns are still declined according to grammatical case, which surprised me somewhat because I didn’t expect to find this conservative grammatical feature in Northern Goesharde Frisian. Most of the declensions are basically the same as the declension of the German noun Name in the singular: nom. Name, acc. Namen, gen. Namens, dat. Namen (please note that I always learn declension tables in the order of nom., acc., gen., and dat., rather than in the traditional order of nom., gen., dat., acc., although I am capable of changing between orders).
  • Section 2.1 is interesting to read through and verify my own findings. When you make an overview of noun plurals based on the Northern Goesharde Frisian dictionary, this is basically what you get, and so this overview is not really that mind-blowing and only confirms what I already know based on what I learned from the Northern Goesharde Frisian dictionary. However, it could perhaps save a learner a lot of time when he directly copies this, but I like to figure things out on my own because this helps me imprint the information on my memory. The quickest way may not always be the best way when it comes to memorising information.
  • I would skip section 3.0, because I do not really see any value in it. This is just the same as any other West Germanic language, and this kind of information is therefore redundant. It might somehow be useful for young learners, but I wouldn’t spend too much time on it.
  • The information of 3.1 is mostly redundant. However, in section 3.1.1., Ommo Wilts distinguishes two types of definite article, and this is a topic that I would definitely like to study more. I know that in Clay Frisian and Sagelterland Frisian, there are two types of article as well, but how exactly they are used is definitely worth studying. This study of definite articles could be conducted by analysing all of the (reliable) Northern Goesharde Frisian texts that are available.
  • I wouldn’t really make use of 3.2 except note the plural forms that are given under 3.2.1 on page 18, the forms of wat for’n given under 3.2.3 and the forms of aal/al that are given under 3.2.4 on page 19. Most of the information is redundant because I already found that information in the dictionary. However, the dictionary does not note the plural forms dädeere and so on, but leaves it up to the reader to guess it and that is actually quite bad, because I would never have guessed that it isn’t dädeer, but dädeere with an extra syllable at the end. This shows once again that the terseness of the dictionary isn’t practical, there is such a thing as being too terse. My main criticism of the dictionary remains that it is too terse and it leaves the reader guessing about a lot of things, which definitely isn’t good when one is trying to learn a highly endangered language.
  • The overview given on p. 19 in section 3.3.1. is a lot more important than the table would make it seem to be. In fact, it is probably one of the most important tables in the entire grammar book. The table shows that Northern Goesharde Frisian adjectives have both weak and strong declensions. Interestingly, Northern Goesharde Frisian adjectives follow the weak declension not only when they are preceded by an indefinite article (which is etymologically derived from the cardinal number one), but also when they are preceded by the cardinal number one, although the same effect is probably not achieved by any other cardinal number. This should definitely be noted. However, the table does not answer whether the Northern Goesharde Frisian adjective will follow the weak declension when it is preceded by Ockholm Frisian nåån/niin no or Langenhorn Frisian naan/niin no, which are listed under 3.1.2 as indefinite articles. I may assume this to be the case because those forms are etymologically also derived from the Northern Goesharde Frisian cardinal number one, but an explicit confirmation would have been welcome, because it is an important question that ought to be answered by a grammar book. After all, the grammar book dedicates so much space to superfluous matters, and in doing so, it sometimes glosses over questions about issues that weren’t answered by the dictionary either. Basically, the grammar lost sight of its purpose when it decided to repeat information from the dictionary instead of being a supplement to it, which would answer questions that were not answered (properly) in the dictionary due to its doubtlessly excessive terseness. I can only wish that the dictionary and/or the grammar book had dedicated more time to the weak and strong declensions of the Northern Goesharde Frisian adjective, because this is a topic that is often overlooked when it comes to discussing the grammar of Frisian languages. I have noticed this time and time again, so I know this is a systemic problem in how the grammar of Frisian languages is discussed. If grammar books do not pay enough attention to this topic, the learner will definitely overlook this issue, even though it is very important to grasp. With Dutch learners, I have noticed that learning how to decline the adjective properly according to the weak or strong declension is one of the most important issues when learning Dutch grammar, because one will simply not sound like a native speaker when one makes grammatical mistakes with adjective declensions. Most Dutch speakers may not know what strong and weak declensions are, but they do intuitively know how it works and how adjectives are supposed to be declined.
  • A lot of the information in 3.4 is redundant because it was already treated in the dictionary. However, I will point out what is important to take a look at. Section 3.4.2 presents some curious information about the masculine singular declension of “numeral adjectives”. At first sight, it seems that these masculine forms are interchangeable, but they probably aren’t. I assume that the first form is the strong declension and the second form is the weak declension. Therefore, the representation is somewhat confusing and it could have been solved by simply distinguishing the weak and the strong declensions rather than lumping them together in the same fashion as the dictionary lumped waas/weer together without any disambiguation. Sections 3.4.5 to 3.4.11 on pages 22-24 are somewhat interesting to look through quickly, but I wouldn’t spend too much time on it because numbers and things related to counting aren’t really that hard to comprehend and therefore shouldn’t take up too much of my study time.
  • Again, the overview table under 4.0 is totally redundant. Section 4.1.1 on page 24 is interesting because it notes two types of personal pronouns, which is a system that also exists in Dutch and it is also presumed to have existed in Proto-Germanic. In any case, just like I said about the two types of definite article treated under section 3.1.1, I think it would be worthwhile to make this two-way distinction the object of future study in order to get a better practical grasp of this. All the rest that is mentioned under section 4 is pretty much redundant, although it might be slightly interesting for learners to take a quick look at the overview under 4.2 on page 26.
  • All of the information under section 5 is boring and I wouldn’t spend any time on it unless my mind is really blank and I do not know what else to do with my time. For me, such overviews of adverb types really isn’t interesting and I would rather rely on the dictionary whenever I need to check an adverb, I definitely wouldn’t rely on this messy overview of adverbs.
  • The information found in sections 6 to 8 on pages 30-31 is definitely worth studying carefully. Just as with the Gothic grammar of Joseph Wright, I would recommend learners to commit the prepositions, the conjunctions and the negations to memory because they are useful vocabulary.

When one uses the grammar book in a similar fashion as I do, one should technically get the most out of it and I think that one shouldn’t really spend too much time on this grammar book, but rather spend more time studying the dictionary and the available texts. One more criticism of the grammar book from a practical point of view is this: I do really not like the fact that there are no page numbers given in the table of contents. This is truly maddening to me. It wouldn’t have been so much of an extra effort to add page numbers to the table of contents, and when I buy my own copy of this grammar book, I will definitely add those page numbers in the table of contents with a pencil or I might add it on a separate piece of paper and put it in the book for reference.


    • The current copy of the grammar book I have is from the library, so I can’t write in it. However, I can use pieces of paper as bookmarks. I am generally not a fan of writing in a book, but when I own my own copy, I may write down the page numbers in the table of contents with a pencil and I may underline important things with a pencil.


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