Responses to 50 years of North Frisian in education

Admiraal, F. (Speaker), Lena Terhart (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


This paper discusses the correlation between past and present revitalization activities undertaken in support of North Frisian (ISO code: frr), and current competence and perception of the language as stated by interviewees from North Frisia.

Counting with an estimated 5000-7000 speakers (Århammar 2008), North Frisian is considered severely endangered. This West Germanic language is spoken along the coastline and on the islands in multilingual Schleswig-Holstein, the most northern state of Germany. Since the late 19th century, attitudes towards the Frisian language have fluctuated between moderately positive in some periods to outright discouragement in others.

In the 1970s, however, a regional renaissance gained momentum. As a result, from 1976 onwards, Frisian education was extended again (Steensen 2002:94; Steensen 2010:183) and in the 1980s, a commissioner for Frisian education was installed. In addition to the institutional support, the 1980s also marked a change in parents’ and teachers’ attitude towards Frisian in education (Martinen 1990:41; Nommensen 1993:30; Steensen 2002:97, 99). According to Nommensen (1993:30-31), parents of that time were not native speakers anymore, because their parents had decided against raising them in Frisian. Nonetheless, they still had a passive knowledge, acquired while hearing other family members speak the language. Those parents had a high consciousness for the precarious state of the language and regretted that they had not learned it as a native language.

Today, some 50 years later, our research focuses on the responses to these revitalization efforts. We will present a diachronic overview of revitalization efforts through school programs over the past 50 years and add geographical information to earlier accounts (e.g. Walker 2015:42-44), that was obtained by comparison of existing schools in certain periods with lists of Frisian classes given in specific schools (by courtesy of Alastair Walker). We will then compare these data to the outcomes of interviews conducted with people who were in the educational system throughout this period. Careful analysis of these two datasets will reveal the explicit or implicit links and correlations between findings on the competence, usage and perception of North Frisian on the one hand, and the existence of – past and present – of language revitalisation activities on the other.
Period23 May 2019
Event titleInternational Conference on Minority Languages XVII: ICML XVII
Event typeConference
LocationLeeuwarden, Netherlands
Degree of RecognitionInternational