In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Frisian

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Databases
  • Journals and Series
  • History of Linguistics
  • Proto-Frisian
  • Early Modern Attestations of (now Extinct) Frisian Dialects
  • Orthography and Graphematics
  • Dictionaries
  • Grammars
  • Phonetics
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Language Contact (Interference)
  • Standardization

Linguistics Frisian
Jarich Hoekstra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0211


Frisian is a West Germanic language based in the Netherlands and Germany. The language consists of three dialect groups: (1) West Frisian, spoken by approximately 400,000 inhabitants of the Dutch province of Fryslân; (2) East Frisian, which only survives in Saterlandic, the variety spoken by about 1,000–2,000 (estimates vary) inhabitants of Saterland in the district Cloppenburg in the German federal state of Niedersachsen; and (3) North Frisian, in use by approximately 4,000–8,000 speakers (estimates vary) on the west coast of the German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein. Due to a centuries-long geographical separation and the influences from different contact languages (Dutch in the case of West Frisian, Low and High German in the case of East and North Frisian, Danish in the case of North Frisian), the three branches of Frisian are linguistically quite diverse and mutually non-understandable. The three branches of Frisian also differ a good deal as far as their sociopolitical status is concerned. West Frisian is officially recognized as the second language of the Netherlands; it has a standard language and some access to the higher domains (literature, education, mass media, administration, etc.). Protection and promotion of North Frisian are guaranteed by the Schleswig-Holstein constitution, but because of the small numbers of speakers and its dialectal fragmentation, attempts to extend its use have met with only moderate success. It has a tiny literature and is taught in a number of schools and at university, but it has only minimal access to other higher domains. Saterlandic is basically restricted to the lower domains. Most scientific research on Frisian is done at the universities where Frisian can be studied (the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, the Europa-Universität in Flensburg, the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, and the Universiteit van Amsterdam), and at two research institutes (the Fryske Akademy in Ljouwert/Leeuwarden and the Nordfriisk Instituut in Bräist/Bredstedt). The different degrees of vitality of the Frisian dialect groups and the volatile institutional status of Frisian studies in the Netherlands and Germany have a strong impact on both the range and the quantity of linguistic research in the field of Frisian studies. The study of North Frisian in the 19th and 20th centuries up until World War II benefitted from the strong status of (neogrammarian) historical comparative linguistics in Germany, but especially after World War II, by far most linguistic research has been done on West Frisian. Until the first half of the 20th century, there was a strong focus in Frisian studies on Old Frisian and historical linguistics. Although these fields have kept their importance in Frisian studies, there has been a growing stream of more synchronically oriented studies (or studies combining synchrony and diachrony) since then. Note that alongside English and German, Dutch and West Frisian (which has some application as a language of science) are used in publications on Frisian.

Introductory Works

The most comprehensive handbook on Frisian studies is The Handbook of Frisian Studies (Munske, et al. 2001). It covers all dialect groups and contains chapters on nearly every aspect of Frisian linguistics (as well as on literature, history, and archeology). This bibliography will not include the separate chapters of the Handbook of Frisian Studies, but it may occasionally refer to them at the end of the commentaries. Anyone who is interested in a certain aspect of Frisian studies is strongly advised to have a look at the Handbook first. There are some older general introductions to Frisian (with varying focus points). Sjölin 1969 is a concise but very dense introduction to Frisian studies with an excellent chapter on Old Frisian. Ramat 1976 is the German translation of an Italian introduction to Frisian that focuses on the Old Frisian period and the position of Frisian in Germanic. Markey 1981 is the only (fully) English introduction to Frisian, which unfortunately is replete with errors and, therefore, not very reliable. Århammar 1968 is a research history of Frisian linguistics from the viewpoint of Germanic historical dialectology. Introductory chapters on Frisian can be found in handbooks on Germanic or German—the main focus in Walker 1990 is on North Frisian, whereas in Hoekstra and Tiersma 1994 it is on West Frisian.

  • Århammar, Nils. 1968. Friesische Dialektologie. In Germanische Dialektologie. Edited by Ludwig E. Schmidt, 264–317. Festschrift für Walter Mitzka zum 80. Geburtstag 1. Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner.

    Research history of Frisian linguistics from the perspective of Germanic historical dialectology.

  • Hoekstra, Jarich, and Peter Tiersma. 1994. Frisian. In The Germanic languages. Edited by Ekkehard König and Johan van der Auwera, 505–531. London: Routledge.

    Brief introduction to Frisian, with a strong focus on West Frisian.

  • Markey, Thomas. 1981. Frisian. The Hague: Mouton.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110815719

    Only introduction to Frisian in English. Contains many errors and should therefore be used with caution.

  • Munske, Horst Haider, Nils Århammar, Volkert F. Faltings, et al., eds. 2001. Handbuch des Friesischen/Handbook of Frisian Studies. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer.

    Comprehensive introduction to basically every aspect of Frisian linguistics, literature, history, and archeology, covering West, East, and North Frisian.

  • Ramat, Paolo. 1976. Das Friesische: Eine sprachliche und kulturgeschichtliche Einführung. Innsbruck, Austria: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck

    Introduction to (Old) Frisian with due regard to the archeological, historical, and legal historical backgrounds. Translation of Il Frisone: Introductione allo studio della filologia frisone (Florence: Sanssoni, 1967).

  • Sjölin, Bo. 1969. Einführung in das Friesische. Stuttgart: Metzler.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-03820-3

    Concise but dense introduction to Frisian, with an excellent chapter on Old Frisian. A bit outdated, but still useful.

  • Walker, Alastair. 1990. Frisian. In The dialects of modern German. Edited by Charles V. J. Russ, 1–30. London: Routledge.

    Brief introduction to Frisian focusing on North Frisian. (Note that Frisian has been included in this volume although it is not a dialect of German.)

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