“The Language and Culture Live on in Me”

Written by Dyami Millarson

I am a speaker of Hattstedt Frisian. As far as I know, I might be the only one. I feel comfortable with the Hattstedt Frisian language and culture. Affinity with the Hattstedt Frisian ancestors comes naturally to me. Whenever I use Hattstedt Frisian, I feel that the deceased speakers of Hattstedt Frisian are my ancestors. As they are the precedessors whose tradition I keep alive, they are my family and I respect their old ways.

Language and culture are about participation; when you partake in a language and culture, you become one with the customs you follow. Both language and culture may be perceived as based on a set of customs; when applying this idea to languages, it may be said that vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation are all based on customs. I follow the same customs as my predecessors and by following the same customs, I belong to them; I am one with the ancestors, and the ancestors are one with me.

The possibility of being the only one reminds me of the need to share; I have a duty to tell the story of the Hattstedt Frisians, with whom I identify thanks to our shared language and culture. I do not want to keep the traditional knowledge of the Hattstedt Frisians all to myself; for there is so much that people are missing. Whoever wishes to learn more about Hattstedt Frisian should be able to do so, and that is why I believe in making materials freely available to all. The importance of free access cannot be overstated.

It is instructive to realise that the Hattstedt Frisian language survived in the past because parents shared their language with their children; sharing is the way to continue the legacy of a language. If people stop sharing, then the language fades away. Sharing the Hattstedt Frisian traditional knowledge is also the way to bring honour to the Hattstedt Frisians. There need to be more people who can say: “The language and culture live on in me.” What greater show of reverence to the ancestors is there than to pick up what they left behind for us and solemnly follow their old ways?

If what the ancestors left behind lives on in us, then they themselves live on in us; the ancestors become part of us when we keep their language and cumture alive, and we become part of the ancestors. This unity is what makes us strong; for we can rely on ancestral wisdom and lore accumulated over many centuries, and no matter how much or little has been preserved of that ancestral wisdom and lore, every little bit that we can keep alive and carry with us is life-changing.

Being carriers of the ancestral spirit, we contribute to the cultivation of respect and appreciation, and while human beings follow the example of others based on their actions, we may inspire others to treat the precedessors the same way, so that those who spoke the language before and practised the culture before will also be adopted as ancestors by these new individuals.

When one follows the old customs faithfully enough, there can be no questions about the authenticity of one’s practices or the legitimacy of one’s claim of belonging to the ancestors and of following their footsteps; what matters is one’s own dedication to the linguistic and cultural heritage, one’s openness to being inspired by the ancestral ways, and one’s willingness to fully embrace and appreciate how the precedessors were accustomed to doing things with regards to their language, whether that be the way they linked words together to form sentences (grammar), what words they used for describing ideas or objects (vocabulary), or which sounds they used for producing words (pronunciation). All these need to be respected for authenticity.

There is plenty of room for creativity when one follows what the predecessors did; there is plenty of room for making new contributions. Hattstedt Frisian needs many more texts, for example. There is a lot to do, and so there will be countless opportunities to show one’s creativity. When a solid basis has been laid with a good command of the language and culture, creativity may come naturally; there is always something that can be expressed in a language, it does not have to be high literature or advanced science or profound philosophy, so a contribution to the language may already be just a simple description of one’s day or one’s feelings or a recipe one likes.

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