Written by Dyami Millarson
Feanwâlden, which means bog woods, is a traditionally Shire Frisian-speaking village and so I will add Shire Frisian words here and there in this article to match the cultural and linguistic atmosphere. When I travelled together with my father to Feanwâlden on Saturday 2 April, we took the bus that also goes to Schiermonnikoog. However, when we returned to Feanwâlden yesterday (Tuesday 5 April) whilst we still had some unfinished book-selecting work to do in the antiquarian bookstore called Vergeet-Mij-Nietje (Forget-Me-Not Flower), we took the train that also goes to Groningen. As mentioned in the article on my unexpected trip to Feanwâlden, a promise had been made that we would return on Tuesday. When we got on the train, we met a friend there who is a teacher. This friend told us that she has been teaching some university students recently and they were very enthusiastic about my work when she told them that she knows a guy who can speak many Frisian languages. It was a curious coincidence that we met her in the train and that she talked about this topic, as we were in the mood that day to start sorting through books related to Frisian languages. My father also told her that we were on our way to an antiquarian in Feanwâlden and my father gave her an update on my language-learning progress, saying that I know all West Frisian, East Frisian and North Frisian languages now and that the recent additions are all living Frisian languages of Germany. We agreed that we would keep contact about this as the university students might be interested in meeting me. After exiting the train, we walked through Feanwâlden and as per the request of one of our readers, I took pictures of the beautiful surroundings that characterise Feanwâlden.
We walked along this footpath in the heart of the village Feanwâlden to the antiquarian bookstore. The road next to this path is called Stinswei, which comes from Shire Frisian stins and wei etymologically. The Shire Frisian term wei is related to English way and means exactly the same, but there is no translation for stins as it is a typical Shire Frisian cultural concept and consequently requires some further explanation. Stinzen (plural of stins), which one may describe as small palaces of the old Shire Frisian nobility, are part of the Frisian traditional architecture and if people are interested, I might write an article on stinzen someday. As architectural heritage, stinzen turn the Shire Frisian cultural landscape into a fairytale. The fairytale is an important concept in Shire Frisian culture as well and it is called mearke in Shire Frisian. Whilst the architecture of stinzen makes one think of knights and palaces as in old fairytales, one might call the Shire Frisian cultural landscape a mearkeslân (fairytale land).
Whilst walking towards the antiquarian, I enjoyed the beautiful architecture of Feanwâlden and I paused every now and then to take pictures to share with all of you.
When we had finally arrived at the antiquarian bookstore after our enjoyable stroll through Feanwâlden, Grietje Dantuma showed us bookshelves in the attic where we could find relevant materials for our work of studying, promoting and preserving all Frisian languages. We immediately started our work upon arrival. In the next hours, I toiled together with my in the attic of the antiquarian bookstore to sort through old books related to the Frisian languages. The book we were looking for pertained to our work of preserving the full diversity of the three large Frisian language families: West Frisian, East Frisian and North Frisian. Like it is still believed that language is only one language, it is also still mistakenly believed that West Frisian, East Frisian and North Frisian are 3 Frisian languages; they are actually full-fledged language families, to each of which a huge multitude of Frisian languages belong.
Having witnessed the beautiful architectural heritage that has been conserved in Feanwâlden, the feeling becomes stronger that the loss of the antiquarian bookstore in Feanwâlden is a loss to the place. Feanwâlden is going to lose one more thing that makes it unique. That is how slowly but surely heritage is lost over time. Before we know it, everything is gone. It is like this with the Frisian languages as well. It is good to reflect on what we are losing and what can be done to keep as much of our heritage as possible for future generations. Not only locals stand to benefit from conserving heritage, but all of humanity. When observing the beauty of Feanwâlden, it becomes evident that this quaint place gives great joy and this joy cannot be experienced by future generations if we do not cherish what we have. Appreciating all the Frisian languages as they are is vital for their survival.
I recently wrote an article (see here) which emphasised the fact that North Frisian is not a single language, but North Frisian actually consists of multiple languages. I have commonly heard the argument that the multitude of North Frisian ‘dialects’ (notice the inherently denigrating tone of this term) would be an impediment to language preservation. First of all, they are not dialects. Secondly, the existence of all these languages is a gift of historical and geographical circumstances that cannot simply be erased. Thirdly, appreciating all of these languages, rather than pretending they are a single language, is the right thing to do for the preservation of North Frisian. Preserving all North Frisian languages is not an impediment; it simply requires a change of mind-set. Each language deserves equal attention. The historical culture tied to each of these languages is equally unique. Where others see problems, I see opportunities. The fact that there are many North Frisian languages is not to be seen as a huge problem, but as a huge opportunity for the preservation of North Frisian. After all, what exactly does one wish to preserve if one does not acknowledge that having many different languages is part of what it means to be North Frisian?
The beauty of North Frisian is the diversity of North Frisian. I have studied all North Frisian languages and I respect all of the North Frisian languages equally. I know each of them requires special effort to learn like any modern language, such as German or French. Yet, the effort is worth it as we gain access to a whole new world; each language opens our eyes to a new perspective. I have clearly experienced that the learning of each North Frisian language felt like a rebirth, and each North Frisian language shone new light on North Frisia for me. I would seriously not have wanted to miss any single North Frisian language. They are part of a bigger puzzle, a cultural mosaic, a linguistic ecosystem. Each language approaches similar topics from a slightly or completely different angle and this is not just fascinating but useful. The study of North Frisian has trained my mind to a significant degree and I am thankful that such a multitude of North Frisian languages exists and that I had the opportunity to study all of them and make them part of my own life. The North Frisian language family has enriched my life and so arguments along the lines of the language diversity of North Frisian being a problem for preservation make no practical sense to me at all.
There is a huge multitude of national languages being spoken in Europe. This is not an impediment to the preservation of Indo-European in Europe either. Rather, this diversity of Indo-European is to be celebrated, and North Frisian is to be treated the same way. Each North Frisian language has its worth and when it is asserted that the North Frisian language diversity is a problem for preservation, the worth of this diversity is completely denied. It is worth our time and effort to preserve North Frisian as it is, in all of its inherited beauty. Equally preposterous would be to say the traditional architecture of Feanwâlden cannot be preserved because there are too many old buildings; such reasoning would suggest that it is best to concentrate all efforts only on one or a few buildings and let the others rot away. As can be seen from these examples, that kind of argumentation is utterly unhelpful and completely misses the bigger picture. All these buildings are part of a bigger whole; what makes Feanwâlden what it is today, is the fact there are many old buildings. All of these old buildings offer beautiful sights just like all North Frisian languages offer interesting perspectives, which may give joy to our lives. Each building is an experience and so is each language; we should treat these experiences as valuable because they add up and create something bigger that amounts to an irreplaceable overall experience. Furthermore, each of these buildings is in harmony with each other, taking one building away distorts the whole and this can indeed be seen. The same is true for North Frisian: all the North Frisian languages are in harmony with each other and taking one language away distorts the whole.
All this is to say, North Frisian languages are not problems, but perspectives. They are what Shire Frisians would call nijsgjirrich (interesting). On Saturday 2 April, Grietje Dantuma also pointed out that all Frisian languages are nijsgjirrich and this is sufficient reason for seeking to preserve the multitude of Frisian languages, which are spread between three major language families as previously mentioned, one of which is North Frisian.
What was the final result of our hard work in the attic yesterday? It is too much to name all of it here, but we managed to find several more copies of the same Bökingharde Frisian book that I had already found on Saturday, several short Sylt Frisian works, several more Schiermonnikoog Frisian books and works related to Middle Shire Frisian (the precursor of Modern Shire Frisian) and Old Frisian. We found also works related to other old Germanic languages, such as Middle High German, Old High German, and Gothic.
After working in the attic for a while, we went downstairs to finish up some book-selecting work we still had to do there. We got tired quickly as we had not yet had a proper meal that afternoon. So Grietje Dantuma allowed my father to heat some food in the kitchen that we had taken along we we had lunch. After our lunch break, we continued our work. The last part of our work was the heaviest. There is a saying in Shire Frisian about this phenomenon:
De lêste leadsjes weage swierst.
The last plumb bobs weigh heaviest.
When we had finished our work, we were the only customers left. Before leaving, I took some pictures of the interior of the store to remember what it looked like on that day.
Being surrounded with so many books and working around so many books is quite intense because there is so much to see and explore. After a day of working with books, we were completely exhausted yet satisfied with what we had accomplished for the day. I agreed with Grietje Dantuma I would do an interview with her in Shire Frisian after the store has been permanently closed and I will translate it to English, as I felt a desire to record her story on the blog and make it known to an international English-speaking audience.
When we left the store, it was raining outside. We took the bus back home just like last time.
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