Written by Dyami Millarson
It is a profoundly humbling moment to be able to announce that 1700 individuals are following our blog since 13 November 2020. All these individuals have made the independent choice to follow us. We are deeply touched that our blog about minority languages have brought together so many people. 1700 souls support our work by following us. In addition, we are very grateful for all the regular likes that our articles receive. This helps to remind us that there are many people who appreciate our work and who wish to see us continue working hard for the betterment of the world by revitalising small languages and cultures. In fact, it is an interesting realisation that we have more followers on our blog than there are speakers of Terschelling Frisian, Schiermonnikoog Frisian and Hindeloopen Frisian, all of which we acquired in 2018.
The goal of Operation X, which is a non-profit organisation officially registered in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is the study of all living Frisian languages. We believe it is a priority to learn about the living Frisian language family and make an effort to adopt the living languages of that family before the special knowledge of them might be lost with the passing of the last fluent speakers. While these languages are still alive, we may still inquire the eldest speakers about the languages. However, this is not possible with languages that have already died, and that is why we prioritise the languages that are still alive. We wish to meet and learn from the last fluent speakers. Even if there are some young speakers of these languages, they are generally not as fluent as the elderly and this is ample reason for us to seize the opportunity to learn from the last authentic speakers. We wish to focus on authenticity with our efforts.
We hope to be able to help people keep the authentic soul of these languages alive. We call this embodiment of authenticity “taalgeast” (the spirit of a language) in Clay Frisian. The taalgeast is the bearer of all that makes a language authentic, and it is important to note that (1) when a language is dying, it is losing what is making it authentic, (2) therefore if language death is to be reversed, what is authentic ought to be restored and preserved, and (3) therefore if we wish to restore and preserve what is authentic, we ought to learn from the elderly who are the living sources of knowledge on what is authentic and inauthentic. The authority of the elderly is essential in the case of language conservation, and it is a natural aspect of our work to genuinely respect and keenly listen to the elderly. The elders are our teachers, we are their students; we have a relationship with them where they are like our grandparents who are teaches us about their ancestral language and culture. The elderly are thus turning us into legitimate speakers, who are the bearers of the torch of their language and culture. We keep (digital) contact with these speakers even during the pandemic because our work continues.
Confucianism, the ancient pragmatic social philosophy of East Asia, deals with how to keep tradition authentic in a very practical way. Taoism deals with this as well, but in a spiritual way. The study of both Confucianism and Taoism has merit for understanding how East Asians keep their age-old traditions alive. Applying this genuine Eastern wisdom to the endangered languages of Europe is an integral part of the work of Operation X, because the philosophical exchange between East and West is an important recurring theme in our work for the Frisian language family. Eastern philosophy teaches how the family unit may be strengthened, and we treat all the Frisian languages as souls belonging to the same family and we treat all speakers as our family as well. Our approach to Frisian is familial, and consequently we consider it a logical step to treat these languages and their communities in an Eastern way: we wish to strengthen their familial ties, and we do that by emphasising they are a family. We believe that Western linguistics, which informs us about the scientific definition of language family, intersects with Eastern philosophy, which informs us about a pragmatic definition of family. Both of these definitions help us to understand what ought to be done for the preservation of the Frisian family of languages, cultures and tribes.
Confucianism, while it is a pro-social philosophy, teaches us to respect the elderly, while this is important for the spirit of authentic tradition. In the same vein, respecting the elderly speakers of endangered languages is vital for the taalgeast. This respect is definitely spiritual, and it gives a sense of joy to the elderly who are the recipients of this respect. As the elderly naturally reciprocate, we are the recipients of authenticity. We benefit from their genuine authority, because we recognise their authority as real. Fighting against their authority is obviously counterproductive. We seek to reach a mutual understanding with the elderly that they have an important role to play. Human beings have a spiritual need for grandparents, because they are the carriers of authenticity. Learning from grandparents is something ancient humans benefitted from, and that is why grandparents are highly respected since ancient times. The philosophical benefit of having grandparents is enormous, which explains why many cultures revere the elderly. There is definitely an overlapping evolutionary aspect to this, because learning from the elderly used to aid human survival on this planet. Respecting the elderly is an evolutionarily adaptive human behaviour. The elderly have been replaced by school teachers and other teachers nowadays, and this may make them feel redundant as they feel they are missing something while they do not get to enjoy their natural teaching role anymore. We understand this sense of joy was perhaps taken from them and so we hope to achieve this in our relationship with them.
The following are the living Frisian languages which we wish to master to fluency:
- Clay Frisian (Kleifries, Klaaifrysk)
- Aasters (Oosterschellings, East Terschelling Frisian)
- Hielpes (Hindeloopers, Hylpersk)
- Eilaunders (Schiermonnikoogs, Skiermûntseagersk)
- Sagelterland Frisian (Saterfriesisch, Seeltersk)
- Central Goesharde Frisian
- Northern Goesharde Frisian
- Hallig Frisian
- Bökingharde Frisian (Mooring)
- Karrharde Frisian
- Wiedingharde Frisian
- Sylt Frisian (Söl’ring, Sylterfriesisch)
- Föhr-Amrum Frisian (Fering/Öömram)
- Heligolandic Frisian (Halunder)
After studying all of the living Frisian language, our attention will shift firstly towards the Frisian languages that became extinct in the not-so-distant past, such as Wangerooge Frisian and Southern Goesharde Frisian, secondly towards the Frisian languages that died out in the more distant past, such as the various forms of Stand Frisian, and thirdly towards the dead Frisian languages that belong to the remotest past, such as Middle Frisian and Old Frisian. This journey through the dead Frisian languages, quite possibly resulting in their revival, will commence as soon as we have mastered all of the living North Frisian languages. So the current mission of Operation X is the study of the living Frisian languages, the next mission will be the study of the dead Frisian languages; we truly wish to know all Frisian languages in order to have the broadest possible practical understanding of the Frisian language family, we are very eager to study Frisian in its awe-inspiring totality, namely in all of its contemporary and historical forms or incarnations, to get an accurate and authentic view of what Frisian is or is not, and we believe that the hard work of our Frisian studies will pay off if we continue staying focused.