North Frisian language

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North Frisian
Frasch / Fresk / Freesk / Friisk
Bilingual signs German-Frisian, police station Husum, Germany 0892.JPG
Bilingual sign in German and North Frisian, respectively, in Husum, Germany
Native to Germany
Region Schleswig-Holstein
Native speakers
unknown (10,000 cited 1976)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Nordfriesischeflagge.svg Nordfriesland
21px Heligoland
Language codes
ISO 639-2 frr
ISO 639-3 frr
Glottolog nort2626[2]
Linguasphere 52-ACA-e (varieties:
52-ACA-eaa to -eak &
extinct -eba & -ebb)
North Frisian dialects
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Linguistic map of Schleswig in the mid-19th Century.

North Frisian is a minority language of Germany, spoken by about 30,000 people in North Frisia.[3] The language is part of the larger group of the West Germanic Frisian languages.


The closest relatives of North Frisian are the two other Frisian languages, the Saterland Frisian of north-western Lower Saxony, Germany, and the West Frisian language spoken in the northern Netherlands. Together these three sub-groups form the group of Frisian languages.

The English language is also closely related to Frisian. The two languages are classified in a common Anglo-Frisian group. Anglo-Frisian is grouped among the Ingvaeonic languages together with Low German. The related Low German has developed differently since Old Saxon times and has lost many Ingvaeonic characteristics.[4]



The North Frisian dialects can be grouped into two main dialectal divisions: those of the mainland and the insular dialects. All in all these two groups comprise 10 dialects.[5] The dialect spoken on the Halligen is one of the mainland dialects though. Typically one distinguishes between the following ten dialects that have been spoken since the beginning of Frisian linguistic studies in the 19th century.

Insular North Frisian
Mainland North Frisian

The mainland and insular dialects clearly differ from each other because they were shaped by Frisian immigrants during several different centuries. The islands of Sylt, Föhr and Amrum were colonised around 800 while the mainland was settled by Frisians in AD 1100.

Add to this the various influences of neighbouring languages on the dialects. On Sylt, Föhr and Amrum as well as in parts of the northern mainland there is a strong Danish (South Jutlandic) influence, whereas on Heligoland and the rest of mainland North Frisia the Low German influence is predominant. Moreover, there has historically only been a limited exchange between the dialects so that hardly any lingua franca could develop and there was no cultural centre in North Frisia whose dialect would have been able to take a leading role.


The sentence displayed below in many variants reads, "'Shine, old moon, shine!', cried Häwelmann, but the moon was nowhere to be seen and the stars neither; they had all already gone to bed" (from: Theodor Storm: Der kleine Häwelmann).[6]


Söl'ring (dialect of Sylt)

„Ljucht, ual Muun, ljucht!” skriilt Häwelmann, man di Muun wiar narigen tö sen en uk di Stiaren ek; ja wiar al altermaal tö Bēr gingen.

Fering-Öömrang (dialect of Föhr and Amrum)

„Locht, ual muun, locht!” rep Heewelmaan, man a muun wiar nochhuaren tu sen an a stäären uk ei; jo wiar al altermaal tu baad gingen.

Heligolandic (dialect of Helgoland)

„Lochte, ool Muun, lochte!” rüp Heäwelman, oawers de Muun wear naarni tu sin’n en uk de Steern ni; dja wear al allemoal tu Baad gingen.

Northern Goesharde Frisian, Hoorninger Fräisch variety of Langenhorn

„Jocht, uule moune, jocht!” biilked Hääwelmoon, ors e moune waas närngs to schüns än da steere ok ai; ja weern al aal to beede gingen.

Wiedingharde Frisian

„Ljocht, uuile moone, ljocht!” biilked Hääwelmuon, män e moone was näärgen to schüns än uk e steere ai; jä würn al altomoale to beerd gingen.

Halligen Frisian (although it is spoken on the Halligen islands, it is linguistically grouped with the mainland dialects)

„Jaacht, uale mööne, jaacht!” bölked Hääwelmoon, man de mööne woas näärngs to siinen än de steere uk ee; jä weern al altomaole to beed giangen.

Mooring (dialect of Bökingharde)

„Jucht, üülje moune, jucht!” biiljked Hääwelmoon, ouers e moune wus nargne tu schüns än e stääre uk ai; ja wjarn ål åltumååle tu beed lim.

Note that, despite the differences between the dialects, the Fering and Öömrang are highly similar; in this example nearly identical.

The following table further demonstrates the similarities and differences between the various dialects.[7]

Dialect Father Mother Sister Brother
Söl'ring Faaðer Mooter Sester Bröðer
Fering aatj mam saster bruler
Öömrang bruder
Hallig Frisian baabe mäm soster bröör
Halunder Foor Mem Söster Bruur
Wiedingharder Frisian tääte määm broor
Karrharde Frisian mäm brauder
Bökingharde Frisian taatje mam brouder
Central Goesharde Frisian ate mäm broor
Southern Goesharder Frisian fåår, fååðer brööðer
Nordergoesharder Frisian fååje soster brår

Extinct dialects

North Frisian dialects on the Eiderstedt peninsula were abandoned in favour of Low German during the 17th century. In contrast to the northern hundreds, Eiderstedt was economically strong and wealthy and was oriented towards the southern, Low German parts of Schleswig-Holstein. Moreover, there was a strong Dutch immigration during the 16th century.[8]

A similar situation was to be found on the island of Strand, which was destroyed during the Burchardi flood. The population of the eastern, remaining part of Strand, the modern Nordstrand, did not succeed in rebuilding the dikes on their own. Therefore, many Frisian speaking people left their homeland on Strand or were otherwise not able to maintain their native language against mostly Dutch speaking immigrants. On Pellworm, the western remainder of Strand, the repair of the dikes was quickly accomplished and so the Frisian language was still spoken in the 18th century, until it also vanished due to changes in population structure. The old Strand Frisian was presumably closest to Halligen Frisian.

Likewise close to Halligen Frisian was the Wyk Frisian that used to be spoken in Wyk auf Föhr until the town completely shifted to Low German. The Wyk dialect is thought to have developed from the dialects of immigrants from the Halligen and Strand island.

The dialect that most recently died out is Southern Goesharde Frisian which became extinct with the death of its last speaker in 1981. Other mainland dialects are also facing extinction.

The North Frisian language is now extinct north of the German-Danish border but it is estimated that Frisian dialects were once spoken there as well.[9][unreliable source?]


Due to the large number of dialects there is no original native name for the North Frisian language as such. E.g. the Wiedingharde and Halligen Frisians call their language freesk, in the Bökingharde it is called frasch, and in the Goesharde likewise fräisch or freesch. While these names all translate to "Frisian" the native names of the insular dialects refer to the particular islands as in Fering, Öömrang, Söl'ring or Halunder. E.g. "Frisian" would mean "fresk" in the Föhr dialect.

The North Frisians eventually agreed upon the inter-dialectal name "friisk" which corresponds to the West Frisian native name "frysk". This designation is today mostly used when the North Frisian collectivity is addressed or in the names of official institutions such as Nordfriisk Instituut, Friisk Foriining or Friisk Gesäts. The northern section of the Interfrisian Council has however kept its name "Frasche Rädj" in the Mooring dialect.


Despite the strong differences among the North Frisian dialects there are still some traits of phonology that are more or less common to all dialects. Among them is the vowel reduction from ɪ to a, which is mostly complete in the central dialects, but has only arrived at the stage ɛ or in the periphery. For example, the word "fish" translates to Mooring fasch, Fering-Öömrang fask, but Söl'ring fesk (cf. Low German: Fisch/Fisk, Danish: fisk, German: Fisch, Dutch: vis).

The distribution of the lenition of the unvoiced plosives p, t and k is similar as these consonants have become voiced plosives and partially even developed to fricatives in the central dialects. This can be demonstrated from the verb "to know": Mooring waase, Fering-Öömrang wed, Sölring weet, Halunder wet (cf. West Frisian witte, Low German weten, German wissen).

The North Frisian dialects differ from modern Standard German by a more diverse system of vowels and consonants. All dialects have in common an additional line of palatalizations, which is uncommon for a Germanic language. Until recently an additional number of dental consonants that changed the meaning of a word was known in the dialect of Föhr. In general it can be noted that the insular dialects feature a relatively complicated consonantal system while the mainland dialects have more diverse vowels.

As a recent development, the phonological system of the North Frisian dialects is strongly being influenced by Standard German and is slowly adapting to the system of the German language.[10]

Current situation

Officially the number of North Frisian speakers ranges from 8,000 to 10,000[3] but linguists propose significantly lower numbers. In 2007, Århammar estimated a total of 5,000 speakers within and 1,500 to 2,000 speakers outside North Frisia proper.[5] Exact surveys do not exist.

North Frisian is an endangered language, as in most places children no longer learn it. In UNESCO's Red Book of Endangered Languages, North Frisian is classified as "seriously endangered".[11] Exceptions are a few villages on the islands of Föhr and Amrum and the Risum-Lindholm area. Especially in the western parts of Föhr, the language community is still relatively sound.[5] The number of speakers on Föhr and Amrum alone is estimated to around 3,500. The other dialects are in fact seriously endangered, like Karrharde Frisian, Central Goesharde and Halligen Frisian.

The elementary and grammar school on Amrum is called Öömrang Skuul and among other subjects focuses on teaching the local dialect. Fering is also taught in schools on Föhr and the Risum Skole/Risem Schölj in Risum-Lindholm on the mainland is a combined Danish-Frisian elementary school.

All speakers of North Frisian are at least bilingual (North Frisian and Standard German). Many are trilingual (North Frisian, Standard German and Low German) and, especially along the Danish border, quadrilingualism used to be widespread (North Frisian, Standard German, Low German and South Jutlandic).

In Schleswig-Holstein, the North Frisian language is protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages as a minority language. On 24 December 2004 a state law became effective in Schleswig-Holstein that recognises the North Frisian language for official use in the Nordfriesland district and on Heligoland.[12]

See also


General references
  • Walker, Alastair G.H.; Ommo Wilts (2001). "Die nordfriesischen Mundarten". In Horst H. Munske (ed.). Handbuch des Friesischen – Handbook of Frisian Studies (in German and English). Tübingen: Niemeyer. ISBN 3-484-73048-X.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  1. North Frisian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Northern Frisian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Die Friesen und ihr Friesisch" (in German). Government of Schleswig-Holstein.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Nielsen, Hans Frede (2001). "Frisian and the Grouping of the Older Germanic Languages". In Horst H. Munske (ed.). Handbuch des Friesischen – Handbook of Frisian Studies (in German and English). Tübingen: Niemeyer. ISBN 3-484-73048-X.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Århammar, Nils (2007). Munske, Horst H. (ed.). "Das Nordfriesische, eine bedrohte Minderheitensprache in zehn Dialekten: eine Bestandsaufnahme" (PDF). Sterben die Dialekte aus? Vorträge am Interdisziplinären Zentrum für Dialektforschung an der Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (in German). University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Die Nordfriesen und ihre Sprache" (in German). Nordfriisk Instituut. Retrieved 5 December 2011.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Click on the map to access the regional dialects.
  7. After Walker and Wilts, p. 286
  8. Steensen, Thomas (2010). "Holländer". Geschichte in Schleswig-Holstein (in German). Gesellschaft für Schleswig-Holsteinische Geschichte.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Siewertsen, Benny (2004). Friserne – vore glemte forfædre (in Danish). Lyngby: Slot Forlag. ISBN 978-87-90476-08-3.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Walker and Wilts
  11. Salminen, Tapani (1993–1999). "Northern Frisian". UNESCO Red Book of endangered Languages: Europe. University of Helsinki.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Gesetz zur Förderung des Friesischen im öffentlichen Raum". Wikisource (in German).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links