My Criticisms of the Shire Frisian Standard Spelling

Written by Dyami Millarson

I find myself increasingly frustrated with the Shire Frisian standard spelling (read this article to learn what I mean by Shire Frisian). The Shire Frisian standard spelling reflects a linguistic stage that is long gone and will not come back unless we actually make a serious effort to revive it. I would not mind this as much if it had not been such a nuissance. In fact, it is now a great hindrance to language learners for adopting a genuinely (Modern) Shire Frisian pronunciation, while the spelling may be quite misleading. Whenever the spelling becomes misleading, I find it too silly to maintain it. So I am feeling increasingly tempted to abandon the Shire Frisian spelling standard and to develop a new official Shire Frisian spelling for Foundation Operation X. Shire Frisian already does not have as many speakers as Dutch or Cape Dutch (Afrikaans), and given that priority should be given to teaching the pronunciation of Shire Frisian as part of the work aimed at protecting Shire Frisian as much as possible from decline, I would not recommend continuing the current standard, which does not agree with the modern pronunciation. Let me give examples of my frustrations.

The û is used in the Shire Frisian standard spelling to express an /u/-sound. However, long gone are the days when Shire Frisians actually pronounced ûnder as written, namely /undər/. The Hindeloopen Frisians still say oender /undər/, but they speak their own language which is not Shire Frisian. Shire Frisians say onder nowadays. So why not just spell it that way? There is no sense in maintaining this obsolete spelling. The pronunciation has changed long ago, and will not change back unless we decide to all speak an elder form of Shire Frisian. We should not delude ourselves, we say onder like Dutch or Afrikaans and we do not say ûnder.

The ea, oa, ue, oe and ie are used for expressing falling diphthongs. However, they change to the rising diphthongs je, ua (ja in Wood Frisian), ju, ji and uo in certain environments. Why do we even spell peallen, foar, fluezzen and stiennen when actually we say pjellen, fuar (fjar in Wood Frisian), fljuzzen, and stjinnen? We do not lose anything by just spelling things the way we pronounce it. In fact, we can better teach people the pronunciation if we change the spelling. The s and f also change according to environment: hûs and wolf change to hûzen and wolven. Even sillier, we already write huodden and fuotten in the standard spelling instead of hoedden and foetten; we have already changed those. If we can change those to accommodate the change in pronunciation, why can’t we just do the same with peallen, foar, fluezzen, and stiennen? Again, we already write huodden and fuotten in the standard spelling instead of hoedden and foetten; we have already changed those without losing anything. After all, long gone are the days when the words peallen, foar, fluezzen, stiennen and huodden/fuotten (already not spelled as hoedden/foetten!) were actually pronounced with falling diphthongs ea, oa, ue, ie and oe instead of rising diphthongs je, ua, ju, ji, and uo. Unless we want to speak Middle Shire Frisian again, we should just change this to reflect the true phonetic features of Shire Frisian. Even in the 19th century, the brothers Halbertsma already wrote stjinnen, reflecting the change in pronunciation that characterises Modern Shire Frisian.

I am not against reviving earlier stages of Shire Frisian, such as Middle Shire Frisian. I find, however, that the Shire Frisian standard spelling does not properly inform learners about the pronunciation of Shire Frisian, because it does not properly show the current phonetic situation, which has now already existed for a long time. I am also not strictly against archaic spellings, but the current system is inconsistent; the spelling is already not that archaic, and so why go halfway when you can go all the way? It is not like the 19th-century spellings of Shire Frisian have been respected, we didn’t keep old traditions intact. Hwet and hwat were changed to wat, which looks like Dutch or Afrikaans. Since we have already changed the spelling anyway to reflect the modern situation, why not completely abandon conventions that make the current spelling look silly? The current spelling does a poor job at representing the modern situation, and the inconsistency just annoys and tires me; I just want to write as I say it, and I do not see why the current silly standard, which is not that conservative anyway, should be upheld, when the proper transmission of Shire Frisian sounds is at stake. The current standard is not some super ancient tradition. I could understand the conservatism if it concerned writing in runes and we were basing ourselves on a super ancient tradition, but this concerns a spelling in the Latin alphabet and the current spelling is already not that old since we abandoned 19th-century spelling already, so why keep writing in this silly way? It is not like we are keeping a connection with the 19th-century alive or anything, we already broke with that tradition.

Since some in-between spelling is just plain silliness, we should either go back to one of the old spellings of the 19th century and perhaps even adopt the spelling of Gysbert Japicx himself, or we should properly reflect our pronunciation as it is nowadays and simply live with the fact Shire Frisian has changed and embrace the principle that the spelling should properly inform language learners about how to pronounce words; besides, we speak Modern Shire Frisian, not Middle Shire Frisian or Old Shire Frisian, and why should we spell it in some obsolete way if we do not plan on pronouncing it in the old way? I would rather spell all stages of Frisian in a way in the Latin alphabet that reflects its contemporary pronunciation, so my idea is just: spell and pronounce Old Shire Frisian in its own way, Middle Shire Frisian in its own way, and Modern Shire Frisian in its own way. We should, in my view, just respect the different linguistic stages in spelling and pronunciation; fljuzzen, fuar, (h)uodden, fuotten, bjemmen, stjinnen, etc. respect Modern Shire Frisian!

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