Frisian in Germany: North Frisian ("Friisk")
Research Centre of Multilingualism
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Frisian in Germany: North Frisian ("Friisk")
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

There is no dat for this topic.

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

There is no dat for this topic.

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2.2. Geographical and language background

North Frisian (abbr. NF in what follows; Germ. "Nordfriesisch"; Frisian "Friisk") is a West Germanic language spoken by approx. 9000 people on the North Frisian islands in the North Sea and on the West coast of the state of Schleswig-Holstein south of the German-Danish border in the German Federal Republic. It is divided into the insular dialects of Sylt ("Sölring"), Föhr ("Fering"), Amrum ("Imömrang") and Helgoland ("Halunder") and the mainland varieties of Wieding-, Boeking-, Karr-, Norder- and Mittelgoes-harde. The island dialects are very distinct from one another, the mainland variety more unified. NF is written in Roman script in an orthography whose origins are in the beginning of the past century. Its first literary document is a translation of Luther's catechism of around 1600. Outside of its home area there are an estimated 10,000 speakers elsewhere in Schleswig-Holstein, and mostly in the U.S. states of New York and California. NF has no official status in Germany. Its use in education is regulated by the education act of 1947. The total population of the district of North Friesland amounts to 155,609 and has remained relatively stable over the last three decades. The other languages spoken in the area are High and Low German, Danish and Jutish. The major language is High German.

28% of the population lives in rural areas, 58% in semi-urban and 14% in (small) urban settlements. Of its 9000 speakers, about 8000 acquired NF as their first language. The number of speakers has decreased during the past three decades. Formerly agriculture was the prominent economic activity, nowadays it is tourism, especially in the islands and increasingly also on the mainland. 51% of the population works in services, 25% in manufacturing industries, 21% in transportation and commerce, 3% in farming and fishing.

Use and maintenance of NF have been affected negatively by the century-old conflict between Germany and Denmark and by the recent industrial and touristic development of the area. The community has resisted and reacted by introducing NF in education and publishing and by organizing meetings to promote their language and culture.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

See point 2.2.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

The 1990 constitution of the State of Schleswig-Holstein makes provision for the protection and support of the NF population. The German Federal Republic has no official policy regarding NF. The inclusion of an article on minorities into the new German constitution and the inclusion of Frisian into part III of the European Minorities Charter are presently under discussion. Recent political developments on the state level are very favorable to NF. In 1988 a Council for Frisian Affairs in Schleswig-Holstein was formed and a special counsellor for border affairs in charge of Frisian was appointed in the governor's office. The 1991 state budget included an item for the cultural activities of the Frisian ethnic group.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

Education falls under the charge of the minister for women, education and sports in the state capital of Kiel, whose official policy towards NF is favorable, although there is no official legal regulation governing it. NF is used optionally in pre-school education; a total of about 90 children receive a small portion of their instruction in NF. In 1991 NF was introduced in two kindergartens as a pilot project to run until 1996. This has stimulated interest in a similar project on the islands of Sylt and Amrum. At the primary level NF is an optional medium of instruction in a few schools. Approx. 785 pupils receive instruction in NF. The few materials available are for language teaching only. In the last few years NF has gained importance in primary education. The number of schools, teachers and students involved in NF education has increased. Since 1984 there has been a special superintendent for Frisian. The basic problems, however, are the lack of a firm legal foundation, of bilingual teaching methodology, material and curriculum development.

NF is offered as a subject in some institutions of secondary education. About 200 students receive instruction in NF. The few materials are for language teaching, history and geography. There has been a slight increase in the use of NF in the past years. In vocational and technical education NF is not used.

Teacher training is available in/for NF; it is taught as a modern language at universities and in adult education. A chair for Frisian philology was established at the University of Kiel in 1978, followed by another chair for Frisian at the teachers training college in Flensburg.

About 100 are enrolled in NF courses in adult education offered by local cultural associations ("Kulturring"), Frisian Clubs, and evening colleges ("Volkshochschule"). Frisian language history and culture are included in Frisian language classes, regional and social studies.

Frisian as a subject of instruction at the primary and secondary level can be taken at the teachers training college in Flensburg. A training program for secondary school teachers is also offered at the University of Kiel. Continuing education workshops for teachers are held twice a year.

The supervisory authority is the minister of state for women, education and sports and office of education for North Friesland.

The use of NF in education has been expanding since 1976 due to efforts by the ethnic Frisian leadership and by school officials rather than by parents, who after some early opposition are now more in agreement with the policy.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

NF has no status in the judiciary. It is not used in courts of law. In one case a club constitution in NF was accepted by a district court after a German translation had been added.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

NF is used occasionally in oral communication in local offices, seldom in writing. There is no official language policy determining its usage. Interlocutors will use the same language inside local offices which they are accustomed to use outside.

NF is in oral use in some community councils. Literacy in NF is too limited for written use to occur. The general medium of official communications is German.

Personal names, roadsigns and directions are usually in German, although some place and street names are originally Frisian. In some North Frisian communities Frisian street names have been (re-)introduced recently.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

The use of NF in the media is permitted though not officially regulated or supported. Local German newspapers ("Nordfriesland Tageblatt, Sylter Rundschau, Inselbote") and the Danish minority's "Flensborg Avis" occasionally publish in NF (half a page per month).

The irregularly published magazine of the "Foriining for Nationale Friiske", "seusen euine Wüi" is published in Frisian; the quarterly "Nordfriesland" and the monthly "Helgoländer" contain 10-15% NF material, the (annual) calendar of the NF association only about 2%. One half of the (irregular) journal of the youth division of the NF Institute, "Frisica Nova" is written in NF.

Any financial support for these publications comes indirectly through the organizations behind them.

The representation of NF on the radio is minimal. The North German Radio (NDR) carries a weekly 2 minute newscast in NF prepared by the NF Institute.

A Frisian one-hour documentary film, "Klaar Kimming", in which all Frisian participants are using their own dialect, is distributed with German, Danish and/or English sub-titles.

The preparation of NF texts on standard keyboards runs into problems with some vowel diacritics and the interdental "d", which are, however, manageable with appropriate software.

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3.5. The Arts

The literary production in NF amounts to about 3 books a year, including grammars and dictionaries, children's books and collections of songs and short stories, in small editions.

NF folk music is produced and performed by the Dragseth Duo and by Knut Kiesewetter who is well known beyond the area and available on records.

About eight amateur theatre ensembles produce Frisian plays, traditional and contemporary, which are very popular. They are usually part of a NF organization and are supported by it. There are Frisian choirs and costume ensembles ("Trachtengruppe"). Reading and writing competitions for/in Frisian are also held. Most of these activities are conducted in the NF language.

The language authorities for NF are the North Frisian Institute ("Nordfriesisches Institut") in Bredstedt, founded in 1964 and supported by the State of Schleswig-Holstein, the district ("Kreis") of North Friesland, the City of Bredstedt, the Danish minority and by self-generated income, and the NF Dictionary office ("NF Wörterbuchstelle") at the University of Kiel, in existence since 1950.

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3.6. The business world

A knowledge of NF is rarely required for employment in any occupation except, of course, of teachers of NF in schools and of employees of the North Frisian Institute. There have been very few advertising campaigns in NF.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

On the islands of Sylt, Föhr and Amrum many parents still use NF with their children. In the rest of the area the shift to Low or High German is progressing. On Föhr, Amrum and around Risum-Lindholm on the mainland younger speakers still form social bonds through NF, elsewhere through High German.

NF has higher status in the islands than on the mainland where, however, it has also gained in status in the last few years.

Few of the speakers attend church regularly. Knowledge of NF is minimal among the clergy. Services in NF are held only sporadically. Some of the gospels of the New Testament (Mark and Matthew) have been translated into NF (1955). In a few communities the family has free choice of language for religious ceremonies; yet, they are seldom held in NF.

Many NFs fear for the future of their language and consider it to be of relatively limited use in modern communication. The views of outsiders are similarly pessimistic.

On the islands of Föhr and Amrum the young generation still uses NF frequently, though insiders are critical of the quality of their language.

The continuing language shift away from Frisian is counteracted by an increase in cultural and linguistic maintenance activities. Much will depend on who is appointed to the two Frisian professorships and whether it will mean a change towards a more practically oriented language planning effort.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

There is regular exchange with Dutch West Friesland during the International Frisian Congress, the Philological Congress, farmers' reunions, and meetings of local administrators and legislators.

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4. Conclusion

The following is a very brief summarizing comparison between some easily salient features of the three Frisian minority languages in Europe, i.e., in the Netherlands and in Germany, as reported in the questionnaires supplied by the area correspondents and summarized in the preceding report(s).

Most obviously, the three vary significantly in size. Dutch West Frisian is the "giant" with 400,000 speakers, the two German Frisian groups are small "Davids", with the minuscule East Frisian group at 2000 and the North Frisians at 9000 speakers. They also differ strongly in proportion vis-a-vis the total populations of their respective areas, viz.: 2/3 of the population of Dutch Friesland are Frisian speakers, compared to only 18% in the German Saterland and a mere 7% in North Friesland (note, however, that the Frisian speaking population on the remote North Sea islands is much more highly concentrated.)

Linguistically, West Frisian appears much more unified and standardized than either East or North Frisian, which are both smaller and more dialectalized, especially island North Frisian. West Frisian has developed an accepted orthography, offically authorized by the regional government. North Frisian, perhaps because of the strong internal dialect differences, has not been so unified, and the East Frisians have adopted the orthography of their Dutch Frisian neighbors.

In public usage and visibility, again, Dutch Frisian is way ahead of both German Frisian languages. In Dutch Friesland Frisian is a compulsary subject at the primary and junior high school level, in the German provinces it is merely an elective in primary schools, though with a much more respectable enrolment in North Friesland than in the Saterland. Enrolments are rising in (West) Friesland and in North Friesland, falling in the Saterland. Even at the academic level much more attention is paid to Frisian in the Netherlands than in Germany. Publications in Frisian number close to one hundred in one year in the Netherlands versus no more than a handful in Germany (4:1 North - East Frisian). There are many publications in pure West Frisian, very few in North and East Frisian, not counting dictionaries. There is a pure Frisian radio station in Dutch Friesland, two minutes weekly news in Frisian in Germany.

Institutional organization is strongest among the West Frisians, who have their own Academy, a Frisian Council, a big Institute in Groningen, and organize an International Frisian Congress every three years. The North Frisians have at least a (small) Institute in Bredstedt, the East Frisians only local clubs.

Official legal and administrative recognition and support appears small in all three cases. Still, there are noticeable differences: The Dutch government has authorized the use of Frisian in courts, the provincial government of Friesland the orthography, and individual municipalities have set offical policies favoring Frisian. For North Frisian there is at least a special counsel at the State ministerial level, while East Frisian is merely recognized (side-by-side with Low German) as a minority language by the state government, with no more specific provisions.

While language use and maintenance of West Frisian appear stable if not rising, that of North Frisian seems on a slow decline, that of East Frisian in more rapid demise.

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