Frisian

Genealogical classification
Indo-European / Germanic / West Germanic / Ingwæonic (North Sea West Germanic)

Area and Varieties
It is Westerlauwer Frisian that most people mean when they say “Frisian.” Westerlauwer Frisian (Westerlauwersk Frysk, Frisian west of the Lauwer river) is used in the Netherlands’ province of Friesland and in the western parts of the Netherlands’ province of Groningen. Outside the Netherlands, these varieties tend to be known as “West Frisian,” but in the Netherlands this name (Westfries) refers to certain, strongly Frisian-influenced Dutch dialects.
Frisian dialects survive in some emigrant communities, particularly in North America.

Number of Speakers
The Netherlands province of Friesland has more than 600,000 inhabitants, about 450,000 of whom are able to speak Frisian. Approximately 350,000 use it as a native language. The estimated number of Frisian speakers in the province Groningen is 3,000. A 1994 survey revealed that 94% of Friesland’s population can understand Frisian, 74% can speak it, 65% are able to read it, and 17% can write it. Westerlauwer Frisian speakers are large majorities in rural communities. They are small minorities in the cities, on the Frisian Islands and in two Lowlands-Saxon-dominated southeastern municipalities of Friesland.

Status
Friesland has been an officially (Frisian and Dutch) bilingual province for a few decades now. In 1996, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was ratified by the Netherlands, and this included Frisian. In 2001, a Covenant on Frisian Language and Culture between the Netherlands’ government and the province of Friesland was signed. This covenant is the implementation instrument of the Charter. In 1995, the right to use Frisian in the local and provincial assemblies was confirmed by statute. In 1980, Westerlauwer Frisian became a mandatory subject in Friesland’s elementary schools, and in 1993 it became mandatory in early secondary education. Already in the 1970s, Friesland’s students were able to choose Frisian as an examination subject in secondary education and in teacher training. The provincial government and the councils of several municipalities have begun to afford equal rights to Frisian and Dutch. “Friesland” (rather than Dutch “Friesland”) is now the official name of the province, and some Frisian place names in the province have been declared the only official ones.

Public Services
In general, Frisian speakers can use their own language in contacts with public authorities, as the provincial or state administration and a number of other bodies have made this a matter of policy. However, official documents still tend to be issued only in Dutch, very rarely in Frisian or bilingually. In courts of justice all parties, including defendant and witnesses, are permitted to speak Frisian. The court can appoint an interpreter should this be required. Courts of justice in Friesland accept civil actions submitted in Frisian, but this can cause problems in cases of an appeal to a higher court. Documents published in Frisian only are not legally binding so far, but it is expected that they will be legally binding as of 2002.
Public signs may be in Frisian, in Dutch or bilingual, depending on the choice of the municipality concerned.

Education
In Friesland, a small number of playgroups are entirely conducted in Frisian. Since 1980, Frisian has been taught in all provincial primary schools, both public and private. In about 80% of these schools, Frisian is also used to varying degrees as a teaching medium, alongside Dutch. There is no provision for primary education entirely in Frisian. However, some primary schools have been experimenting with trilingual schooling: Frisian, Dutch and English.
At the secondary level it is also possible to use Westerlauwer Frisian as a teaching medium for some subjects, but this option is utilized infrequently. There is no secondary schooling entirely in Frisian. The language is one of the six or seven exam subjects secondary school pupils can choose from.
Since 1993, Westerlauwer Frisian has been a mandatory subject in early secondary education. The two teacher training centres in Friesland must also offer Frisian, and they have made it a mandatory subject leading to elementary school teaching certification in Frisian. Secondary school teachers are trained at the part-time higher vocational education college in Ljouwert/Leeuwarden and at the University of Groningen (one year full time) after having studied the language as a main subject at the universities in Groningen or Amsterdam. In Leiden, Frisian is an elective subject. There is an extensive network of adult language courses in Frisian.

Media
There are no printed newspapers totally in Frisian. Newspapers tend to carry some Frisian articles on cultural matters, and in Dutch articles Frisian speakers are usually quoted in their language. A small number of literary periodicals are published totally in Frisian.
Frisian used to be covered rarely and sparsely in the North German media. Some local newspapers and newsletters carry Frisian articles and columns. Some regular Frisian radio broadcasting was introduced recently.
Literary production in Westerlauwer Frisian is considerable, fairly meager in other Frisian language varieties. There are several Frisian museums, libraries, archives and cultural centres in both countries.
Westerlauwer Frisian radio and television is broadcast all over the Netherlands.
There is some production of Westerlauwer Frisian musical compact disks and lately also of films.