Why Is Aasters Not a Hollandic but Frisian Language?

Written by Dyami Millarson

I have recently published an article where I asked readers what questions they would like me to answer concerning the Frisian languages. If you can come up with some questions for me, please head over there and let me know what you would like me to cover!

Tonight I saw a new comment under a YouTube video I had made a couple of years ago on Aasters. The question underlying the comment of whether Aasters linguistically belongs to Holland or Frisia is an intriguing topic that I would like to answer in this article.

Aasters, which means ‘Eastern language,’ is the indigenous name of the language of East Terschelling. The twin language of Aasters is Westers, which means ‘Western language’ while it is spoken on West Terschelling. Aasters and Westers are very closely related to each other and therefore mutually intelligible, but they are ethnolinguistically distinct; the situation is akin to that of Croatian and Serbian. I will further explain the ethnolinguistic situation later.

The twin languages of East and West Terschelling, namely Aasters and Westers, are closely related to Clay and Wood Frisian, which I classify as Shire Frisian. This relationship can be easily pointed out with some cognates in the Terschelling Frisian and Shire Frisian vocabularies, i.e., all one has to do to prove all of these languages are Frisian is pointing out the striking similarities in vocabulary which suggest that these languages share a common ancestor. Of course, grammar and pronunciation could be used for this as well, but for simplicity’s sake, let us just use vocabulary as evidence.

I am going to limit the amount of examples here, but suffice to say they are countless as would be expected from cognate languages. Let’s take 3 basic words: land, fire, and water. The East Terschelling word for land is lôn, while the West Terschelling, Clay Frisian, and Wood Frisian word for it is lân. The Terschelling and Shire Frisian word for fire is fjoer. The Terschelling and Shire Frisian word for water is wetter. These words are all clearly Frisian, and while countless other words point to the inevitable conclusion that Westers and Aasters belong to the Frisian family, it is therefore scientifically right to call Aasters (the East Terschelling language) East Terschelling Frisian and Westers (the West Terschelling language) West Terschelling Frisian.

So the question of whether Aasters and Westers can correctly be identified as Frisian has nothing to do with the question of whether Terschelling historically belongs to Frisia or (North) Holland. It is simply an indisputable fact that Aasters and Westers are Frisian languages. However, we should point out that the Frisian languages of Terschelling are different from what is spoken on the Frisian mainland nearby. While the speakers of Aasters and Westers are aware of their kinship with the Frisian speakers from the mainland, they nevertheless also recognise that they speak differently from them and have different customs. In other words, there are real linguistic and cultural differences between Frisian-speaking Terschelling and the Frisian-speaking mainland.

West Terschelling Frisian and East Terschelling Frisian can be grouped as Terschelling Frisian. Glottolog (a language database) recognises Terschelling Frisian as a single language. However, this is not the case ethnolinguistically. The West Terschelling Frisians and East Terschelling Frisians have two different dictionaries and two different spellings and written traditions. They are not a united language, but two languages spoken by two different ethnolinguistic groups. The West Terschelling Frisian speakers regard themselves as different from the East Terschelling Frisian speakers, and the East Terschelling Frisian speakers feel the same way about the West Terschelling Frisian speakers.

Croats and Serbs will tell you there is no Serbo-Croatian, such a language does not exist. The Terschelling Frisians will tell you the same thing: Terschelling Frisian does not exist. Terschelling Frisian is simply a scientific grouping to which both West Terschelling Frisian and East Terschelling Frisian belong. However, Aasters and Westers ought to be recognised as ethnolinguistically distinct while the speakers themselves have two different identities. Therefore, they are to be counted as distinct languages. The complex question of identity has to be taken into account for Croatian and Serbian as well. You can’t ignore that a Serb is not a Croat and vice versa, and that this is also reflected in how they perceive their speech differences, no matter how minute to an outsider.

All in all, there are two Frisian languages on Terschelling, and that is why we can rightfully say that we have been conducting Terschelling Frisian studies. It is beyond any reasonable doubt – from a scientific viewpoint – that the languages of East and West Terschelling are Frisian, and I can confirm this since I can speak both whilst I have studied both languages and their associated cultures intensively. My intensive studies also led to my appreciation of the fact that there is an ethnolinguistic distinction between Westers and Aasters that ought to be recognised.

5 comments

    • The Frisians are an indigenous group of tribes of Europe. Due to their special historical relationship with the Wadden Sea region, I would characterise them as native Wadden Sea peoples. The languages they speak are related to English and Scots.

      Frisia, in one sense, refers to the whole cultural area traditionally inhabited by Frisian peoples. This includes locations that are now part of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. The Frisian peoples are thus divided between multiple nations just like the Sámi peoples of Northern Europe, who are divided between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the informations! seems a bit If I am not mistaken like when we talk of Celtic culture, encompassing England, Scotland, Ireland, Normandy and Brittany. On my only trip to Western Europa for a year, I really enjoyed Netherlands, Hamburg and Danemark, while going up to Norway, so I guess I felt good in Frisia 🙂

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  1. Fascinating stuff indeed. The Welsh word lôn means “lane” and the German word “Wetter” means “weather.” (I speak seven languages including those I just mentioned)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Jen, languages are fascinating! False friends are often useful for learning languages (I have regularly used them to my advantage as well). The lemmas you mentioned are excellent examples of false friends.

      Actually, the Welsh etymological match for Frisian lemma lôn/lân is llan (church, monastery) and the German etymological match for Frisian wetter is Wasser. The old -tt- changed to -ss- in German, which is a phonetic process that is part of the so-called second Germanic consonant shift.

      Etymology is a puzzle: Finding cognate words requires one to take the sound history of a language or language group into account. Thank you for your contribution! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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