The linguistic situation of the Frisian minority
On 3 May 2022, Mr. Zandberg made a statement to the Europe-Central Asia Regional Forum in Vienna about an issue that affects the Frisian minority in the Netherlands.
I wish to make a short presentation about the linguistic situation of the Frisian minority in the Netherlands.
Frisian has been an official language in the province of Fryslan in the north of the Netherlands since 1956. The province of Fryslan has a population of 600-thousand people and about half of them use the Frisian language regularly. However, it is not the primary language in the province, which is the Dutch language.
There are many local and regional organisations in Fryslan that promote the Frisian language, but there are several issues that threaten the continued use and survival of the Frisian language.
Firstly, the status of the language is low compared to the dominant Dutch language. For example, when my father and my grandmother talk to each other they speak Frisian. However, when I enter the room they immediately switch to Dutch.
This is a pattern that is often repeated, whereby the Frisian language is not seen as the vehicle for social succes and therefore should be phased out. Although my father still speaks Frisian to my grandmother I did not grow up with the language and it is not my mother tongue.
Language survival is a relay race where the next generation takes over from the former. In order to do this effectively the status of the language must be at least equal to the other language it is in competition with.
This brings me to the second issue, which is the promotion of diversity. The promotion of the Frisian language is often associated with the celebration of cultural and linguistic diversity. I am sorry to say that I am against this diversity, because it does not deliver what it promises. For example, the municipality of noardeast fryslan with 45-thousand people has active community programs to promote the Frisian language in the small villages that make up the town. However, the promotion is not for the Frisian language, but for the Frisian languages. In this small town alone, a half a dozen ‘languages’ are identified and receive special support. In this way there are several dozen languages in the province. Minor differences are emphasized and dialects of Dutch are grouped in as versions of Frisian. For example, ‘stadsfries’, or ‘City Frisian’ is not Frisian at all. It is the form of Dutch that is spoken in the major cities of the province of Fryslan.
The cultural and linguistic diversity that is promoted in this way is in practice a form of linguistic divide and rule, whereby the dominant language becomes surrounded by irrelevant, miniscule and isolated dialects, which only have an imagined past and no future. This form of diversity is unfair and dishonest.
I want to conclude with another example from my grandmother. There were local elections in Fryslan six weeks ago and I asked my grandmother to support my candidature. I recorded a few messages where she says a few kind words about me. She again immediately did it in Dutch, but I asked her to say it in Frisian. She knows in her mind that Frisian is equal to Dutch, but her heart says something different. If Frisian is to survive than it must come from the heart.
To promote linguistic diversity in order for the minority language to become a sustainable and equal language and not to serve as a means to strengthen the dominant language.