Door Marc van Oostendorp
Whould there have been anything like Frisian without its literary authors? Would the language be taught in Frisian schools today? Would there be tv shows in Frisian? Would it be possible to use the language in court?
It probably is overly romantic to relate the fate of a language to the existence of a literary tradition. Isn’t speaking a language always more important than writing it? Isn’t a base of ordinary speakers worth more than a handful of poets? There might still be speakers if Frisian had never been written; there are a few hundred thousand of them now, mostly living in the province of Fryslân of the Netherlands.
Yet one can doubt that anybody would have felt the urgency to fight for the rights of this language if it would not have had the prestige that, arguably, initially came from the written tradition. Genetically, Frisian is said to be the Germanic language closest to English, but in the course of many centuries of intensive language contact, it has grown close enough to Dutch that a speaker of the latter language can follow Frisian with some effort. Still, it is probably very difficult to find any Dutch person who would deny that Frisian is a separate language. And the fight for its rights were definitely always stimulated by the existence of a literary tradition.
Swallows and Floating Horses is a sparkling and inspiring anthology of this tradition for an English-speaking audience. Lees verder >>