Return to the Antiquarian in Feanwâlden

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.

Click here to see the exact location on Google Maps street view.

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.

De Fryske flagge – the Frisian flag.
This building is called Huize Patrimonium.
Chickens walking freely on someone’s lawn. Chickens are called hinnen in Shire Frisian.
A beautiful old tree in the middle of the village. The Shire Frisian word for old tree is âlde beam. It is told in traditional Frisian folklore that children come from holle beammen (hollow trees).
It is the time of the year for daffodils.
A red tulip by the side of the footpath. It was not a lonely tulip as there were many such tulips by the side of the footpath.
The old forestry environment as evident in the name of Feanwâlden is still somewhat visible.
This is the antiquarian bookstore.

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:

Shire Frisian
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.

This is the attic where we worked. There were several bookshelves we sorted through.
A beautiful picture I saw in a 19th-century book that was lying in the attic. This picture has been handpressed on the paper, which was an old artisanal way of adding pictures to books. Such artisanry is not common anymore nowadays and that is why this picture caught my eye and made me marvel at its beauty.

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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    • I can relate to your sentiment! Because languages are so deeply integrated into our everyday lives and therefore an integral part of us, the passing of each language is a tragedy of the most magnificent proportions.

      Yet, it is fortunate that it is possible to keep some languages from dying or even to bring some back from the dead so they can fulfill their old role in our daily lives again. Languages are only truly alive if they are part of us and when they stop being part of us, they are dead.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the support and thank you for your suggestion of recording the experience with video, that is why I recorded it with photos.
      I am glad you loved that I added Shire Frisian words, I will do that whenever it seems appropriate. 😀
      You are welcome!


  1. Such a pity the bookshop has to close down. There should be national government or EU gramts to maintain businesses like that – they are worth far, far more than the bricks and mortar, furnishings and stock, bottom lines and profit margins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I couldn’t agree more with the notion that antiquarian bookstores “are worth far, far more than the bricks and mortar, furnishings and stock, bottom lines and profit margins.”

      Did you also read the previous article?

      Unexpected Trip to an Antiquarian Bookstore in Feanwâlden

      I commented under the previous article: “Antiquarian bookstores are really more than just businesses. They are meeting places for all sorts of people. They have a social function just like libraries.”


    • Thank you so much for this valuable feedback. Your comment confirms that visualising languages with pictures is highly relevant. I have taken up photography in recent years since I entertained the thought that it might help with visualising minority languages. As a result, I am very motivated to keep trying to improve my photography skills.


  2. Thanks for letting people join in your treasure hunt.
    The village of Feanwâlden (Veenwouden) was shelter to my mem and two eldest brothers during the second world war. I wish my heit & mem were still alive so i could read these posts to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are welcome and thanks for leaving a comment here!
      Given that your heit (father) and mem (mother) had a very special connection with Feanwâlden, I feel they would surely have enjoyed this post if they were here.
      In my previous post, I talked about Leo Walda and the importance of telling the stories of how speakers of languages lived. I said in the final paragraph: “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.”
      I think you might also find that post inspiring with regards to your heit and mem, if you have not read it already:

      Unexpected Trip to an Antiquarian Bookstore in Feanwâlden

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, I certainly read that and other posts. My comment was meant to underline your thoughts on the people: mem and two eldest brothers were given shelter by a family in Feanwâlden, while my heit had been taken captive by occupying forces

        Liked by 1 person

        • Surely, it does underline my positive experiences with the people of Feanwâlden. What I also see is this context: how your heit’s and mem’s experiences fit into the notion of telling how our ancestors lived and considering what virtues and life lessons might be discerned from their life stories. Thanks again for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I find all your posts so inspiring and they encourage me to keep on with my studies of Old English and other languages. This post is so vividly written that I feel almost as if I had been there with you that day! As well as the points you mention, Frisian languages are vitally important and endlessly interesting to English speakers in particular, due to the close historic, cultural and linguistic ties, which also need to be researched further.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wes hāl ġiest!

      It is highly commendable that you are pursuing the study of Old English. Are you learning the language with the goal of being able to speak and write Old English like any other living language someday? Now about a decade ago, I studied Old English with that exact goal myself. Studying Old English with the intent of speaking and writing it gives a psychological incentive for inventiveness that will give a significant boost to one’s learning process as learning a language for active use requires one to find solutions for breaking barriers that prevent one from making full sentences in the language and expressing one’s daily thoughts, wants, desires, needs, and feelings.

      Even if one disregards Old English and Old Frisian for a moment, the relationship between the contemporary English, Scots and Frisian languages is extremely fascinating and explains so much just like the study of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French and Romanian is mutually beneficial. Of course, studying Old English and Old Frisian side by side is also beneficial in much the same way, and even combining the study of Old English with the living Frisian languages yields similar benefits. One might also consider learning Old Frisian after having truly mastered Old English. Either way, it would be a missed opportunity not to combine Old Frisian and Old English at some point.

      One item of Old English grammar that fascinates me is the fact that there are two infinitives in Old English. So we have ‘sēon’ (see) and ‘tō sēonne’ (to see) for example. Although this phenomenon is absent from the modern English language, it is still extant in the living Frisian languages. The existence of two infinitive forms is nowadays rightly experienced as typically Frisian, yet it is sort of amazing that this feature was also extant in Old English. When one knows Old English and the modern Frisian languages, it feels like Old English is a kind of Latin to those Frisian languages; for in the same way that one may use Latin to explain modern terms used in science and in the Romance languages, one may use Old English to explain modern terms found in the Frisian languages.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, well, I will be very lucky if I am able to get so fluent in Old English, but even if not, at least I will be more aware when speaking or writing modern English. Without such historical knowledge, it is not so easy to think clearly. Old English is also important as it seems to have been very influential for modernist English writers & poets, such as TS Eliot & Ezra Pound, although I don’t know much about this.

        In terms of the ‘tō sēonne’ form that you mention, interestingly some other languages also have an inflected infinitive, for example, the (Vedic) Sanskrit infinitive is declined for case agreement. And the dative form is by far the most common in the Vedic literature, which I just realised maybe somehow corresponds with the OE ‘tō sēonne’ form, as they both have the sense of intention, ‘in order to’. A comparative study across all Indo-European languages could probably tell us much more.

        Your remarks about the relation of OE and Old Frisian are also interesting. Actually, I don’t clearly understand the exact evolution of the Germanic languages and relation between them, or whether there was such a thing as proto-Anglo-Frisian. Anyway, the surviving corpus for OE seems to be larger than for some other early Germanic languages, so I guess that is one reason it can be helpful for Frisian speakers.

        Also, I just found a Frisian Introduction by Rolf Bremmer and I will maybe try to study some of it even though I don’t have a lot of free time these days.


  4. An amazing work indeed of working to preserve the languages and to keep them going too.

    Given the translation of Feanwalden, I wonder if “Fean” is the word that became “Fen” in English to describe peaty wetlands such as marshes, swamps and bogs.

    Wonderful photos and that is some attic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for saying this. We are doing the best we can for the preservation of Frisian with all of its beautiful diversity. Our Foundation is also focused on non-Frisian languages such as Elfdalian, Groningen Low Saxon and East Frisian Low Saxon. We hope to keep our mission going, we are trying our best to survive and thrive, and so we are working to make everyone aware that they may contribute to our mission with donations; every amount makes a difference. In this way, readers may help us purchase study materials and other necessities. We have thus far mostly financed ourselves, but the time has come for larger public involvement as our Foundation has grown to include a much larger amount of Frisian languages for its protection programmes and has plans for further expansions among non-Frisian languages in the coming years, if finances permit.

      You are right about the etymological connection between Shire Frisian ‘fean’ and English ‘fen.’ I might also have translated ‘Feanwâlden’ as ‘Fen Woods.’ By the way, did you see my recent article on Old English? We talked about Anglo-Frisian runes last time, so I guess you might be interested:

      The fact that these photos are so well-received motivates me to take pictures of other Shire Frisian villages as well. Recently, I thought I might create a blog article series on Shire Frisian villages, which will show the local architecture and atmosphere, narrate about the local people and speech, and include an added personal touch with my own thoughts and observations. Do you think such a concept might catch on?

      Liked by 1 person

      • No problem at all. 🙂

        Thank you, I’m glad you were able to confirm the etymological link there!

        It’s a noble cause and I think that the Shire Frisian villages article idea is a good one. As to whether it would catch on? Try it out for a few articles and see what response you get from it. I for one would be interested in seeing them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • For me, a series of articles on Shire Frisian villages will be fun to write. Knowing you would be interested in seeing a series of articles on Shire Frisian villages is enough confirmation for me it might catch on.

          Reader feedback is tremendously valuable to me because it helps me understand what people are interested in on our blog.

          I have to say, there is so much to talk about with regards to Frisia. Thus, it’s not that there is a lack of stuff to talk about, but it’s really a question of what to focus on. Readers can help decide what to topics to prioritise!

          Liked by 1 person

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