Written by Dyami Millarson
This morning I received an email from an antiquarian bookstore in Feanwâlden called Vergeet-Mij-Nietje, which will soon have been run for 25 years by a man and woman who are a couple. I was informed by the woman, who is named Grietje Dantuma, that the antiquarian bookstore will close permanently 30 April this year and that she had found some books that might be of interest for my studies of Frisian and other minority languages. I quickly sent a reply thanking her for informing me and decided to abruptly change my plan for the day. So I went to Feanwâlden together with my father carrying bags to put all the books we might find in. We took the same bus we normally take to Schiermonnikoog. The duration of the trip to Feanwâlden was about half an hour. After getting off the bus, we had to walk some distance to the antiquarian bookstore. It was quite cold outside. We saw snow lying on lawns here and there as it had snowed the previous days.
The woman welcomed us commenting that we had come quickly. When entering the store, I saw it was busier than usual. The woman further informed me that she had replied to my email, but I had not yet read it since I was travelling at that time. She kindly showed us around where to look for the books related to the Frisian and other minority languages. In the following hours, I made a selection of books related to the West, North and East Frisian language families. My biggest find was a Central Goesharde Frisian book that I had been desperately looking for but had hitherto been unable to find and had even already given up on searching for it. If this book had been the only book I found, my trip to Feanwâlden would already have been totally worth it, but I found much more. For example, I found a Northern Goesharde Frisian book, a Föhr-Amrum Frisian book, Bökingharde Frisian books, an East Frisian Low Saxon poetry collection of about 300 pages from the early 20th century, an Old Norse handbook, Sagelterland Frisian wordlists, Schiermonnikoog Frisian dictionaries and wordlists and a Schiermonnikoog Frisian grammar book. Books in these languages are extremely hard to come by. I had therefore not expected to find such a treasure trove of books.
Selecting books is always an intense affair as many decisions have to be made and that quickly drains anyone’s mental energy. So after a while, I really wanted to take a break. We went to the local supermarket and we bought some ecological apples, nuts, vegetables and fresh orange juice. I noticed in the supermarket of Feanwâlden (as well as the antiquarian bookstore) that there were still quite a few people speaking Shire Frisian, including younger girls. I found this a very hopeful observation for the language situation in Feanwâlden. Frisian girls in the supermarket gazed at us and smiled kindly as they noticed we were not from there. My attention was momentarily grabbed by a cashier of the supermarket who was a typical Frisian girl speaking Frisian to an old lady in front of us and she said ‘good day’ to us in Frisian when it was our turn. She smiled kindly at us like the other locals and so she left a good impression on me. I have always had a very high opinion of Frisian girls as they are reasonably well-mannered and they tend to speak Frisian enthusiastically and do so especially with much respect and consideration towards the elderly who grew up speaking only Frisian. During my brief encounters with the locals from Feanwâlden throughout the day, I found the local people to be very kind-hearted and thoughtful. I noticed this particularly in small things where they showed their willingness to assist others. My impression of the Feanwâlden Frisians was thus highly positive, as I registered the place in my mind as ‘Frisian-speaking & very friendly’.
After having a lunch break, my father and I went back to continue our work of filling bags with books we had selected. When it was almost closing time, we commenced with the final task of quickly separating the books into 3 groups: (1) books that we are not going to buy as they are not relevant enough to our Foundation, (2) books of which we should still carefully weigh the relevance to our Foundation, and (3) books that are surely relevant to our Foundation. We managed to finish most of the work for this task and agreed with the woman we would return Tuesday. Before reaching this verbal agreement, the woman had suddenly realised she could just speak Shire Frisian with me. She remarked a couple of times she was really happy that we had come as she was thinking about me when she was organising the books and to contact me, she had done her best to recall my name as she knew I had a special name. Whilst speaking Shire Frisian, I informed her that I was also very happy that she had thought of me. As she lamented the loss of Frisian languages, she showed her profound awareness of the importance of the small Frisian languages which are often ignored; she even remarked explicitly that the small Frisian languages ought to be conserved. As she noted that it is important that knowledge about these languages reach (English subjunctive form) the common man, she inquired about how we make people aware of these languages. I said that we are doing this through our site and we are doing this by engaging with the traditional media. Her question made me think more about the need to promote Frisian languages, and it once again made me cognizant of the sacred work that has to be done for raising awareness. People from all walks of life ought to be reached, yet it is still a question of how to reach them. This is a vital matter of conservation for the Frisian languages.
During my Shire Frisian conversation with Grietje Dantuma, I inquired whether Leo Walda, whom I know as a very fluent speaker of genuine Hindeloopen Frisian and who used to visit the same antiquarian as well, was still alive as I had not received his reply after I sent my last letter to him in Hindeloopen Frisian. I was very sad to learn another speaker of a Frisian minority language had passed away, taking a vast array of knowledge with him to the afterlife. While I take note of speakers’ passing, I focus especially on telling people how they lived. These are virtuous men and women who lived exemplary lives and whose stories should be told to inspire and instill new generations with the virtues of the ancestors. Leo Walda was a staunch supporter of Hindeloopen Frisian and he was also a staunch supporter of the van der Kooy spelling, which is considered by many old Hindeloopen Frisians to be the traditional and authentic spelling of Hindeloopen Frisian and this is also the official spelling of Foundation Operation X for Hindeloopen Frisian. Leo Walda used to come to the same antiquarian to find books related to Hindeloopen, he kept studying this topic throughout his life. I am very honoured to have been able to speak with Leo Walda in 2019 and he had reminded me that the van der Kooy spelling is the authentic way to spell his language and he was very supportive of the fact that I continued the work of van der Kooy, who had published a Hindeloopen Frisian dictionary in the first half of the 20th century. As these thoughts and memories with regards to Leo Walda raced through my mind, I informed the woman that I am working on a new Hindeloopen Frisian dictionary. I hope to honour the ancestors with my own hard work and thus keep their memory alive. The stories of all the speakers who have passed away should not be forgotten; their stories can and should be told, as their stories are intrinsically part of the story of the respective minority languages that belonged to the hearts and souls of these virtuous ancestors.