Knowing One North Frisian Language Does Not Mean Knowing All

Written by Dyami Millarson

I am still this boy. He represents my true self; he is my soul.

When I was selecting North Frisian books in the antiquarian bookstore on Saturday 2 April, the following train of thought raced through my mind:

Suppose someone bought one of these North Frisian books and studied the North Frisian of that book diligently, they would still not know the North Frisian of the other books.

It would thus be honest to any North Frisian language enthusiast or student of North Frisian to simply admit there is not one North Frisian language, but there are many.

This honesty would render the enthusiast/student much more realistic about what he may expect from his North Frisian studies; by knowing one North Frisian language, one reasonably cannot know all North Frisian languages, this practical fact is why it is totally honest to call them languages. Furthermore, this honesty will also help to preserve the North Frisian language diversity, as it will arouse curiosity about the true situation.

Shire Frisian
As men ien Noard-Fryske taal kin, dan kin men noch net alle oare.

If one knows one North Frisian language, then one does still not know all the others.

Saying North Frisian is a single language is dishonest and impractical and it does a huge disservice to the study and preservation of all North Frisian languages; it attacks the unique distinctness of each languages by trivilising and thereby woefully underestimating the reality.

Being able to adapt to any language situation that is based in the history and geography of its community is a vital language-learning skill. Since I was ready to mentally accept that there is a multitude of North Frisian languages, I was prepared to study them as diligently as any national language, which is the kind of serious treatment that is required for their preservation.

I have never forgotten who I am.

The historical status quo is that North Frisian consists of multiple languages. There is no way around the acceptance of this truth if one truly wishes to master multiple North Frisian languages of today, as that requires one to treat each of them as equally deserving of the attention that any well-recognised national language receives.

This traditional situation of there actually being multiple North Frisian languages is what gradually and naturally emerged after the era of Old Frisian where Frisian was more unified the further one goes back in time, and as these multiple languages are ultimately decended from similar ancestral forms of Frisian, they can all lay equal claim to the legacy of Old Frisian as grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Their common lineage renders each of them equally legitimate; there is no hierarchy of better or worse Frisian even if some erroneously believe so. All Frisian languages are good Frisian, and having common descent does nothing to reduce the uniqueness of each individual language; every Frisian language has its own character. In the context of a human family, it is also ridiculous to suppose all grandchildren are ultimately one and the same personality since they share common ancestry; this is how preposterous any notion of North Frisian being one language is, as it shows an unhealthy inability to recognise individuality and horrendously generalises an entire family.

The North Frisian language diversity can only be saved if we have an open mind and are mentally prepared to accept that North Frisian being a single language is just an untruth that might be politically convenient to believe in.

However, students or enthusiasts who are serious about preserving North Frisian as it is in its entirety do not stand to benefit from this untruth; instead, such people will ultimately have to be honest first with themselves and then others and accept the perhaps inconvenient truth that North Frisian consists of a multitude of living languages, not of 2 living languages, not of 3 living languages, but way more:

  • Continental North Frisian languages
    1. Central Goesharde Frisian
    2. Northern Goesharde Frisian
      1. Langenhorn Frisian
      2. Ockholm Frisian
    3. Hallig Frisian
    4. Karrharde Frisian
    5. Wiedingharde Frisian
      1. Horsbüll Frisian
      2. Neukirchen Frisian
      3. Klanxbüll Frisian
      4. Rodenäs Frisian
      5. Emmelsbüll Frisian
    6. Bökingharde Frisian 
      1. Niebüll Frisian
      2. Fahretoft Frisian
  • Insular North Frisian languages
    1. Sylt Frisian
      1. West Sylt Frisian
      2. East Sylt Frisian
    2. Hel(i)golandic Frisian
    3. Föhr Frisian
      1. West Föhr Frisian
      2. East Föhr Frisian
    4. Amrum Frisian

The true beauty of North Frisian actually lies in the dreaded fact that North Frisian consists of many, many, many languages. There are many treasures hidden in this fact. We should ignore our fears, concerns and fantasies in favour of the truth; if we accept what seems inconvenient to accept, we can achieve more and learn about the true treasures that are hidden in plain sight.

Our own denial of the truth renders us incapable of seeing things as they are. The tale of the emperor who has no clothes comes to mind. Everyone pretends while they praise the emperor’s clothes, just like how it is being pretended that North Frisian is one single language, and the same is true for East Frisian and West Frisian. Children, as they are very capable of seeing through such sanctimonious pretense, can break taboos among grown-ups who live in their own fiercely defended construct of a serious make-belief world.

With this boy’s mind-set, I could arrive at the (ultimately obvious) insight that North Frisian is a language family.

Explaining my ritual for studying languages is relevant for allowing others to get a better understanding of my reasoning. Whether human minds start as empty slates is not a matter of philosophical debate for me, but instead it is an ideal to aspire to, as emptiness allows us to be filled up with new information that we previously denied, ignored or were totally oblivious to. Before I engage in the study of languages, I ritually empty my mind; at that critical moment of mental preparation, I aim to zealously remove any presumptions or suppositions I may have whilst I desire to learn the new language like a child. A child’s innocence is a quality that is often required to break through webs of untruths; for a child has no need to impose grown-up biases on the world.

When I studied North Frisian, I emptied my mind as is my custom and I assumed a state of what I would call ‘ûnbefongenens’ or ‘ûnbefongenheid’ in Shire Frisian, which is a hard-to-translate concept. Ultimately based on the verb ‘befange’ which means ‘to cover, occupy, surround, fill, affect, harm, taint, violate’, the term ‘ûnbefongenens’ may be interpreted to mean ‘uncoveredness, unoccupiedness, unsurroundedness, unfilledness, unaffectedness, unharmedness, untaintedness, unviolatedness’. One might say in English that I have an approach of uncontainedness or unrestrainedness, i.e., an approach lacking in self-limitation; I allow myself to be completely immersed in each language just like a child would, and this ability of mine is also why I am highly skeptical of the native language-second language distinction made by highbrow grown-ups as I believe that we can acquire new native languages at any age if only we return to our innocence that we also had as children who looked at the world and still saw it for what it was and were captivated by the true marvels of this world.

When I say that my approach is one of unrestrainedness, it means it is an approach of innocence; I want to be free to see the world as it is and marvel at its true beauty. It is possible that I have this open and intuitive approach to language-learning thanks to being an artist-designer’s son, as true artists do not give up on the imagination they had as children; their careers will even thrive if they never lose the way they thought as children and stay true to their inner child. Creativity and imagination wax in an environment where these qualities enjoy freedom from common limitations that are imposed by grown-ups.

This psychological asset that should not be lost may be called ‘bernewrâld’ in Shire Frisian, which means ‘child world, young human world’ and it shows that the feelings, thoughts and experiences of children are a world of their own, yet this world is closest to nature and reality due to being ‘ûnbefongen’ (possible translations: unrestrained, untainted) and as ‘bernewrâld’ may be identified with ‘dreamwrâld’ (dream world), it philosophically represents a dream state of humanity as well as a dream-like experience of reality where we achieve ultimate or supreme closeness to reality through our intuitive creative and imaginative powers.

It is sometimes remarked that artists stay physically young; it must be because they do not lose connection with their young, pure and innocent self. In other words, if artists do not wish to stray from the true path that bestows their creative abilities upon them as well as their youthful looks, they should not lose connection with the ‘oerfoarmen’ (translation: proto-forms), which I also talked about at length in this article from 2020 as oerfoarmen are an essential concept in my father’s philosophy.

Shire Frisian
Ferbûne bliuwe mei de bernewrâld is wat de echte keunstner ûnderskiedt.

Staying in touch with the ‘child world’ is what distinguishes the true artist.

The denial of North Frisian being multiple languages shows grown-up humans have lost their way. However, we must return to the way of children; the child’s way is to recognise the obvious facts of the world, and point out that the emperor has no clothes, while all serious grown-ups try to pretend the emperor wears clothes.

As grown-ups are pretending Frisian is one language or alternatively that North Frisian, East Frisian and West Frisian are 3 languages, it is apparent that the work of Operation X is needed for aiding people in the journey towards the acceptance of North Frisian, East Frisian and West Frisian being actually three language families, each with many members of their own. As Operation X concerns itself with the plight of these language families, Operation X is fated to take the role of the well-mannered stranger who is familiar with the way in the local area and helps others find their way if they happen to get lost and consequently obviously wish to receive help from anyone who knows the way around the area.

The work of Operation X is needed for bringing about a return to innocence; we all need to reconnect with our inner child who is ‘onbevangen’ (unrestrained) as I would say in Dutch and thereby reestablish our relationship with the bernewrâld (translation: child world). A ritual return to innocence is not just an essential theme for understanding our language-learning process, but it is also a solution to the loss of precious languages in our environment. I always believed children represent the best of humanity and if only we can reconnect with our young and true selves, we can see the world in its full brightness again and perceive all the shades and coloura that can only make us marvel at the beauty of the world we were born into.

The birth of the Frisian languages is a gift, and the sooner we accept this gift which has been given to us and stop meddling with the status quo handed down to us and accept reality for what it is without our interference, we can become healed souls; accepting the North Frisian languages intk our hearts is part of a bigger process of human healing, while it brings us back on the right path towards a world where we can truly be ourselves. Accepting the truth about North Frisian is ultimately about whether we are honest or dishonest with ourselves; dishonesty leads us further astray, as untruth grows upon untruth, yet honesty leads us back to where we originally came from and helps us make a fresh start after taking the wrong turn in our life’s journey.

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One comment

  1. A very apt analogy with the Emperor’s Clothes. To accept the reality of ourselves, we need others to also be real with us. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself, and your mission.


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