Who are the North Frisians?

Actually, who or what are the North Frisians? Where do they come from, what language do they speak, and in what way are they organized?

Here is a short introduction:

The North Frisians

The Frisians are, with the Danes, the Sorbs and the Sinti/Roma, the fourth officially recognized minority in the Federal Republic of Germany. The North Frisians’ settlement area is situated on the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein and on the island of Heligoland. The Frisian ethnic group has been protected and promoted since 1990 according to Article 5 of the constitution of the Land Schleswig-Holstein.

The Frisian language is the North Frisians’ most important feature of identification. It is actively spoken by about 10.000 people. The North Frisian language is accepted to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

Political work is basically done by the Frisian Council, consisting of nine representatives from the Frisian associations and organizations. The Frisian Council is contacted by the Federal Government, by the Land Schleswig-Holstein, by the North Friesland district and by its communities. At present the council is chaired by Ingwer Nommensen from Niebüll, who also is a member of the Friisk Foriining. In 1988 the “Committee for Frisian Community Issues in Schleswig-Holstein” was installed in the Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein in order to enable the Frisian ethnic group to get in touch with the political authorities. As a rule this committee meets twice a year to discuss the Frisian community’s questions and problems.

Education

Many state schools within the North Frisian language area as well as some schools of the Danish minority in North Friesland are offering Frisian language lessons. Most of the teaching is done in primary schools. As a rule third and fourth year pupils can participate on a voluntary basis. There is only a very limited offer to secondary school pupils. So far, in the “Realschulen” (middle-schools) within the Frisian language area there have been no Frisian lessons at all, and in the “Gymnasien” (grammar-schools) exclusively for senior classes. Only at Risem Schölj (Risum School) in Risum all the lessons are conducted in Frisian; here, lessons in Frisian language are attended on a compulsory basis. Since the nineties the Frisian language has also been introduced in many “Kindergärten” (nursery schools).

Frisian as a subject of study is offered at Flensburg University and at Kiel University.

In 1950 the North Frisian Dictionary Institute came into existence at Kiel University. Within the Federal Republic of Germany, this institute, together with the subject “Frisian Philology”, is the only university institution that does scientific research on the Frisian language.

Frisian History

The North Frisians have never lived within an own state, but were able to keep their independent political life for a long time, for example in the legislation area and the area of dyke building.

The North Friesland history is marked by a regional identification which still manifests itself strongly nowadays. Only from 1970 onward the district of North Friesland exists as an administrative unit. Until 1864 North Friesland belonged to the Danish “Helstat” (union of the kingdom and the duchies), and after that to Prussia and Germany. The situation in the area of conflict between Danish and German interests has always clouded North Friesland’s national political development since the 19th century and made forming independent Frisian positions difficult.

North Friesland’s landscapes have mainly been marked by storm tides. Those in 1362 and 1634, known as the “Mandränken”, had the most serious consequences. In the 17th and the 18th century, North Friesland flourished economically with almost all the men from the islands going to Greenland as sailors on whale- or seal-hunting ships. Some of those sailors made a considerable fortune from their catches. In the following centuries for a while agriculture was the most important economic factor and later, tourism.

Frisian Diversity

The Frisian language is subdivided into 9 main idioms.

The Frisian Language has several local variations

Frisian in the Media

On television hardy any Frisian speaking programmes can be found at all, so far.

On the radio the station “NDR Welle Nord” has been broadcasting a three-minute-programme one evening a week since 1989.

In the local papers of North Friesland and in some regional papers articles in Frisian language have been published occasionally.

Meanwhile, the Internet contains a considerable range of Frisian presentations e.g. www.friiske.de or www.friiskportaal.de