Frisian Relics in the Dutch Dialects

Eric Hoekstra

In H.H. Munske in collaboration with N. Århammar, V. Faltings, J. Hoekstra, O. Vries, A. Walker and O. Wilts. Handbook of Frisian Studies. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 138-142.

Frisian Relics in the Dutch Dialects


1. Characterisation of the subject
2. Classification of Frisian relics per province and per area of grammar
3. Some issues
4. Conclusion
5. Selected Bibliography

1. Characterisation of the subject

This article presents an overview of research on Frisian substrate in the dialects of the Dutch provinces of Zuid-Holland, Noord-Holland, Groningen en Drenthe. We leave undiscussed the provinces, in which Frisian substrate is uncontroversially absent. Historical evidence is distinguished from dialect-geographical evidence. An excellent overview article on this subject is Van Bree (1997). His booklet deals with Ingweaonic en Frisian substrate in Dutch dialects, and discusses the problem of distinguishing Frisian from Ingweaonic.

2. Classification of Frisian relics per province and per area of grammar

2.1. Zuid-Holland
The linguistic evidence for Frisian substrate in Zuid-Holland is mainly historical-phonological in nature. It comes from sound changes inferred from medieval spellings of names and specialised, mainly agricultural, lexical items (Blok 1959, 1968, 1969, Bremmer 1997). Examples include:de Hoghe tioch 1484 from *tech "cooperatively worked land" with OFr. breaking; the element til "wooden bridge" in placenames, with OFr. th > t, cf. Du. th > d. Part of the lexicological evidence stems from the present-day dialects. Bremmer (1997) associates the beginning of the process of language change away from Frisian with the increasing power of the Frankish ruling class of the County of Holland ("Graafschap Holland") and with migrations to drained land causing linguistic levelling: this took place from the ninth century onwards. Bremmer's article not only contains new evidence but is also an excellent overview article. There are no substantial dictionaries for the dialects of this province, but there are some informative grammars (Goeman 1984, Lafeber & Korstanje 1967, Overdiep 1940).

2.2. Noord-Holland
There is extensive historical-phonological evidence coming from medieval spellings of names and of specialised, mainly agricultural, lexical items (Blok 1959, 1968, 1969). In addition, there is a large amount of syntactic and morphological evidence coming from the typological comparison between the present-day dialects of Noord-Holland and Frisian (Daan 1956, J. Hoekstra 1992, 123-125, J. Hoekstra 1997, 120-121, E. Hoekstra 1993, 1994a,b). Striking was the discovery in E. Hoekstra (1993) that some texts from Westfriesland (a region in Noord-Holland!) feature a syntactic distribution of infinitives in-e and -en that is nearly identical to that of Frisian. The complexity of this distribution rules out both the possibility of borrowing and the possibility of an independent development in Noord-Holland that is "accidentally" identical to the development in Frisian. Studies in language change (Van Coetsem 1988) have shown that morphosyntactic properties which are phonologically inconspicuous are among the most stable substrate elements, that is, they can easily survive language change under the influence of a dominant language. E. Hoekstra (1994a, 95) associates the onset of the process of language change away from Frisian with the period following the loss of Westfriesland's political independence in 1289, when it was annexated by the County of Holland. Word-geographical and historical-phonological evidence in favour of a Frisian substratum had already been critically discussed by Van Haeringen (1921, 1923a,b). The evidence includes the following phenomena: ie from wgmc. ai(general in North-Holland) and ê from wgmc. âin the Zaanstreek (part of North-Holland). Words with Frisian vocalism in Standard Dutch are also given, such as baken "beacon", from Frisian umlaut of ô is found in nholl.stieme, engl. steam. Word-geographical ingwaeonisms were presented in Heeroma (1935). These were claimed by Heeroma (1935 and elsewhere), Schönfeld (1946) and others to be non-Frisian. Most of their arguments were rebutted in Miedema (1971). Dictionaries for this province include Boekenoogen (1897), Karsten (1931/1934), Keyser (1951), Spoelstra (1983) en De Vries Az. (1910); these dictionaries contain little information about the use of words in idiomatic collocations. A lot of grammatical information can be found in Pannekeet (1979, 1995).

2.3. Groningen
Phonological-historical onomastic evidence was given in Schuringa (1923), lexical evidence from present-day dialects in Heeroma & Naarding (1961), morphological and syntactic evidence from present-day dialects was given in E. Hoekstra (1998). The laws of Groningen are written down in Old-Frisian. Those legal documents make it very plausible that Frisian was once spoken in Groningen. The morphosyntactic arguments for Frisian substrate in Groningen, based on the comparison between Frisian and present-day Groningen dialects, do not differ substantially from the morphosyntactical arguments for Frisian substrate in Noord-Holland, where the evidence of attested Old-Frisian is lacking. The Groningen case allows us to test the reliability of morphosyntactic substrate arguments taken from present-day dialects, since the prediction from the dialectgeographical comparison fits in with the historical evidence. This strengthens the case for Frisian substrate in North-Holland, where the evidence of written Old-Frisian is lacking. The big research problem for Groningen is: how and when did the language change from Frisian to Saxon take place, which resulted in the Friso-Saxon dialect we still find in Groningen to date? The youngest Frisian texts found in Groningen date from the fourteenth century (Huizinga 1914, 30). Schmitt (1942), a very stimulating article, relates the language change to the reclamation of land in East Groningen. Settlers seem to have come from the East, where Low German was spoken. Saxon immigration in the East of the province reinforced the saxonisation due to the City of Groningen, which was caused by immigration of Saxons from the province of Drenthe. This account, in so far as it differentiates the East of the province from the North and the West, is supported by the present-day dialect landscape of Groningen, as analysed in E. Hoekstra (1998), and by historical evidence from place-names (Schuringa 1923) and contemporaneous evidence from the geographical distribution of person names (Miedema 1964): Frisian substrate is practically absent in the East, while being strongly present in the North and the West, that is, the old land where the "terpen" or "wierden" ("artificial mounts thrown up against the water") are largely to be found. Word-geographical evidence for a Frisian substratum is given in Heeroma & Naarding (1961), and it is occasionally touched upon in the articles in Heeroma (1951). An example of a word-geographical ingwaeonism is the word arend for a part of a scythe. It is found in Frysl_n, Groningen and part of Oostfriesland (as well as in Southholland and smaller adjacent areas). Heeroma (in Heeroma & Naarding 1961) is rather reluctant about finding Frisian substrate outside the province of Frysl_n, whereas Naarding is reluctant about not finding it. Neither pays much attention to idiomatic collocation. Kloeke (1951), however, had already pointed out the existence of many similarities between idiomatic collocations from Groningen and Frisian. There are two good dictionaries (Molema 1887 en Ter Laan 1929), which both contain a lot of information about the use of words in idiomatic collocations. There are two informative grammars (Ter Laan 1953 and Reker 1991).

2.4. Drenthe
Naarding (1947, 79-108) gave onomastic evidence from charters in support of Frisian substrate. Drente frequently participates in morphosyntactic phenomena which are otherwise restricted to Groningen, Fryslân and North-Holland and which have their centre in Frisia, suggesting the existence of Frisian substrate. An example is provided by the maps of noun-incorporation in Gerritsen (1991, maps 39-42), and by the maps of verb selection in E. Hoekstra (1997a,b). An alternative would be to ascribe these similarities to the existence of a pre-Germanic substrate, present alike in Frisian and Saxon. Of the four provinces discussed here, Drente has received least attention from linguists. The first substantial dictionary of Drente dialects has only very recently come out (Kocks, Vording, Beugels and Bloemhoff 1996). An excellent dictionary is Bloemhoff (1994, 1997), on the Stellingwarf dialect; this Saxon dialect is spoken in the extreme south and east of the province Fryslân. We mention it here because the Stellingwarf dialect is linguistically closer to the dialects of Drente than to those of Fryslân. Another notable exception to the deplorable lack of research on Drente or Drente-related dialects is the excellent grammar of Sassen (1953). The question of Frisian substrate in Drente remains unresolved, however.

3. Some issues

3.1. Distinguishing Frisian from Ingweaonic
It is difficult to distinguish Frisian from Ingweaonic, or, more explicitly, to distinguish Frisian Ingweaonic from non-Frisian Ingweaonic. An attempt was made in Schönfeld (1946, 1947) but the distinctions he made were refuted by Miedema (1971). Van Bree (1997, 26) considers as Frisian Ingwaeonic those developments which have their centre in the province of Frisia and which are found in Frisia and adjacent areas. He emphasizes that a very rigid distinction between Frisian and non-Frisian Ingweonic cannot be made anyway because of the gradual nature of dialect boundaries.

3.2. The research barrier imposed by national boundaries
Dialectgeographical research tends to stop at national boundaries. The inquiries of the P.J. Meertens Instituut are sent out to correspondents in The Netherlands and in Belgium (Flanders) but not to Germany. E. Hoekstra's (1998) discussion of similarities between Frisian and the dialects of the adjacent province of Groningen remains somewhat inconclusive because no comparison with the Low German dialects on the other side of the border between The Netherlands and Germany is carried out. Hence we do not know whether a given Frisian-Groningen similarity is exclusive or whether it is also found in Low German. In the former case, it counts as an argument for Frisian substrate; in the latter case it may not. Of course, there is literature about Low German. But this literature often covers different subjects or does not cover them at all, simply because dialectology is an undermanned area of research when compared with the study of standard languages. Within dialectology, too much attention is usually given to a narrow sort of sociolinguistic research, with predictable research results. If more is to be learned about the genesis of the dialect landscape in North-West Europe, grammars have to be written and compared on an inter-national scale. Here morphology and syntax are as important as phonology, because it has been shown by several researchers following Van Coetsem (1988), that syntax and morphology tend to be surprisingly stable when language change takes place under the influence of a dominant language. With respect to the vexed question of Frisian substrate, the next step to be taken is to closely compare the dialect data from the North of The Netherlands with those of the various Low German dialects found in the North of Germany (see II.2 (34)).

3.3. Word-geographical and phonological arguments for the presence of a substratum
The problem with word-geographical evidence for a substratum is that it is hard to prove that the words in question have not been borrowed. Word borrowing is an ongoing process between languages. Thus in the ideal case it must be shown that the alledged substratum word could not have been borrowed, which is very difficult. Phonological arguments for substratum influence are usually more telling. However, the problem here is that a dialect may have more than one linguistic ancestor, in case it arises out of a language contact situation. Now, it has been shown by Van Coetsem (1988) that the phonology of the mother language is generally replaced by the phonology of the dominant second language. Assuming that this is correct, it follows that the phonology of a dialect, which arose out of language contact situation between a first (mother) language (say, Frisian) and a dominant second language (say, Dutch), tells us very little about the phonology of the mother language. According to Van Coetsem, then, syntax, morphology and idiomatic collocations of the mother language survive much more easily in a language contact situation than phonology. Hence it is not surprising that phonological evidence for a Frisian substrate in North Holland is scarce, whereas there is plenty of syntactic, morphological and idiomatic evidence.

4. Conclusion

To sum up, Frisian substrate is uncontroversially present in the dialects of the adjacent coastal provinces of North Holland and Groningen. Frisian substrate is absent in the present-day dialects of South Holland, though old charters feature some indications of Frisian substrate of an onomastic nature. The case of Drente remains unresolved: the linguistic facts of Drente regularly pattern with those of North Holland, Fryslân and Groningen, but this subject has not been systematically investigated.

5. Select Bibliography

Bloemhoff, Henk (1994), Stellingwarfs Woordeboek. Diel 2, F-K. Oosterwolde.
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Blok, Dirk P. (1968), Plaatsnamen in Westfriesland. In: Phil. Fris. 1968, 11-19.
Blok, Dirk P. (1969), Holland und Westfriesland. In: Frühmittelalterliche Studien 3, 347-361.
Boekenoogen, G.J. (1897), De Zaansche Volkstaal.Leiden. Met aanvullingen door G.J. Boekenoogen en K. Woudt ... opnieuw uitgegeven. Zaandijk 1971 (2 volumes, the "idioticon" in vol. 2).
Bree, Cor van (1997), Een oud onderwerp opnieuw bekeken: het Ingweoons. Afscheidscollege te Leiden (no publisher, no place).
Bremmer, Rolf H. (1997), Het ontstaan van het Fries en het Hollands. In: Negen eeuwen Friesland-Holland. Geschiedenis van een haat-liefde verhouding, 67-76, eds. Philippus H. Breuker/A. Janse. Zutphen.
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