Johanna Kruisbrink is a sophomore in Political Science and French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is planning on spending the next academic year studying in Paris, France, and is interested in international relations as her future career. She wrote this text as a student enrolled in 418 ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in the spring of 2015.
|Like all Dutch, the Frisians adore ice-skating. These skaters are participating in the Elfstedentochtin 1963, an ice-skating race that only occurs when the canals between 11 Frisian cities freeze. [Image Source]|
Frisian, the closest living relative of the English language, is spoken in a swath of land, from the northwest of the Netherlands to western Germany. In that northwestern area of the Netherlands, a dialect of Frisian called Western Frisian is spoken, mainly in the province of, fittingly, Friesland. Roughly 643,000 people inhabit the province. Astonishingly, as of 2006, 94% of the province population could understand Frisian. 74% can speak it, 65% can read it, and only 17% can write it. However, researchers have also seen a marked shift in direct trans-generational transmission, as younger generations increasingly chose to speak to their children in Dutch (Cenoz & Gorter, 69). This development is not promising for the Frisian language and its longevity.
Some contend that issues extend further from a lack of linguistic equality, particularly for members of the Frisian National Party (FNP)- Fryske Nasionale PartijI. The FNP have often protested a sort of “structural inequality” to which the province is subjected (Cluskey). They believe that the government and economic system is biased towards the Randstad (the urban conglomeration of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht), at the disadvantage of other provinces. FNP members and other Frisians object to the unfairness of locally generated oil and gas being shuffled off to those main cities, and their young people subsequently moving there for work (Cluskey). There seems to be a disconnect between the regional government in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, and The Hague.
Some outspoken Frisians go as far as accusing the regional government in Friesland of being “nothing more than a window dressing”. Worries over regional sovereignty prompted the FNP to send the delegation to Scotland this past October. To some Frisians the relationship between Leeuwarden and The Hague is not that different from the one between Edinburgh and Scotland. The greater devolution of power from London to Edinburgh after the Scottish vote is a topic of interest to many Frisians who want greater control over their language and natural resources (Cluskey).
However, independence from the Netherlands does not appear to be the goal for most Frisians. The province of Friesland still shares a distinctly Dutch culture, from speed skating to dairy products and, of course, football. Dutch is overwhelmingly spoken and accepted, along with English. The contention lies in a perceived lack of authority that the region has over its own linguistic and economic policy. The FNP delegation to Scotland is evidence of Friesland politicians’ desire to reclaim their own voice. What they learned from the Scottish referendum, and how they will put it to use, remains to be seen.