October 24, 2015

A Few Phrases And Sayings

This has been an exciting autumn: after many years and much dreaming, I finally made it to Friesland for the first time!

Photograph by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.When you're traveling in the Netherlands, a bit of Dutch is very helpful, even in the province of Friesland itself. Some areas, such as the capital city of Ljouwert (Leeuwarden) are predominantly Dutch-speaking. Many signs tend to be in Dutch. Even the commercials on the Frisian TV station are in Dutch. That said, lots of people speak English and German too, so I didn't feel like I had to learn huge amounts of Dutch to get by.

I found that more people spoke Frisian outside the capital. Admittedly, my spoken Frisian is... sadly lacking. I'm much more comfortable reading it. In any case, here are a few words and sayings that can come in handy if you are traveling in Friesland:

Tige tank meaning "many thanks." The first syllable of tige sounds like the English word "tea" and the second takes a schwa. Tank has the usual long -a- like in "father." TEE-guh TAHnk.

Photograph by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.The great thing about this phrase is that it is very obviously Frisian: no possibility that you are just going about mangling Dutch or German.

Oant sjen - This means "see you again" or "good-bye." It sounds a lot like "want chin"...not the most graceful way to remember it, but it's best to go with whatever works, right? Again, this is a specifically Frisian expression (in Dutch they say tot ziens). You can show your interest in the language by using it. 

Hoi! This is an informal greeting meaning "hi!" that you hear. It sounds just like the English "ahoy!" if you drop the first syllable. I think it's both Dutch and Frisian. People sometimes exchange it as a greeting when you are passing by each other on the bike trails.

You also hear na goeie sometimes. That seems more specifically Frisian and is a general greeting. Na with schwa sound, and goeie sounding like the English word "gooey."

People wish each other "luck" or "success" far more frequently than in American culture. This can be a good expression to use if you are saying good-bye or parting. You can say either Lok! or Sukses! Note that lok is pronounced with a long "oh" vowel so it rhymes with "woke."

It doesn't hurt to be passingly familiar with a few of these phrases. Some are patriotic, be aware:

Photograph by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.Leaver dea as slaef - "better dead than a slave," famous from the Battle of Warns. There is more on this blog too.

Fryslân boppe! - "Friesland rules!" or "Friesland over all!" (boppe literally means "on top" or "above"). If you're not feeling like being nice, there's also Fryslân boppe en de rest yn'e groppe. "Friesland rules and all the rest drool," we might say in English... but it literally means that everyone else is in a ditch or gutter. 

My very favorite Frisian saying is this one, however:

Foar de kofje net eamelje  - "Don't hassle me before coffee." 

July 28, 2015

DE NOARDSEEWEAGEN - "The North Sea Waves"

This month, let's take a look at a song that is so quintessentially Frisian that it is actually called Friezeliet, or "Frisian Song," even when it's in German.

Here is a full West Frisian version sung by Anneke Douma. You can use it to follow along with the pronunciation of the song's four verses.

First verse:

Bûterblommen - Jörg Hempel
  Dêr 't de noardseeweagen spiele oan it strân,
  dêr 't de bûterblommen bloeie yn 't griene lân.
  Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
  dêr is myn lânsdouwe. Stie myn âldershûs.
  Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
  dêr is myn lânsdouwe. Stie myn âldershûs.

  There, where the North Sea waves flow over the strand...
  There, where the buttercups bloom in the green land...
  There, where the gulls lament shrilly in the sounding
  There is my homeland where stood my forefathers'   

A few vocabulary notes on the first verse:

Spiele can mean "to wash or clean," "to flow," or "to rain heavily."

Lânsdouwe translates as "lea," a flat, open area of meadow or grassy land, but the word can also mean "region" or "landscape."  

Krite is a verb meaning "lament," "weep", "squeak," or "creak."

Gerûs can mean "noise," "murmur," "a repeating murmur," "an unclear sound," "blowing," or "gusts."

Second verse:

Wadden Sea - Janhendrik Dolsma
Wyn en weagen songen dêr har liet foar my,
efter hege diken gie myn jeugd foarby.
Mar myn herte lange nei de wide wrâld,
'k woe om fierrens swalkje sûnder honk en hâld. 
Mar myn herte lange nei de wide wrâld,
'k woe om fierrens swalkje sûnder honk en hâld.

There, wind and waves sang their song for me...
Beyond the high dikes my youth went by.
But my heart longed for the wide world,
I wanted to wander far off without a home or hold.

Foarby is a common word.  It means something that is past, ended, or that has been surpassed.

Honk is one of West Frisian's many false cognates. It means "home" or "base," or a sanctuary or a resting place. To remember it, think of honking geese settling down into a new home or sanctuary after a migration.

Hâld means "a hold" or "support."  E.g., hâld en wâld, "support and protection."

Third verse:
North Frisia - Dico de Klein

Folle lok en lijen haw ik neitiid fûn,
wat ik ienris dreamde hat my 't libben jûn.
`k Socht de fiere kimen, dêr 't myn hert my  dreau,
nearne koe ik bankje, want ien langstme bleau.
`k Socht de fiere kimen, dêr 't myn hert my  dreau,
nearne koe ik bankje, want ien langstme bleau.

Later I found much luck and grief... 
What I had once dreamed, life gave me.
I looked for the far horizons where my heart drove me...
Nowhere could I dwell, because one longing remained....

Folle is another common Frisian word worth knowing. It can mean "a large amount of" or "often," depending on context.

Lije means "suffering" or "grief."

Socht is the first person past tense of the verb sykje, "to seek" or "to look for." Be careful not to confuse it with sjoch, the first person present tense of the verb sjen, "to see." The first person past tense of sjen is seach.

Dreau is the first person past tense of driuwe, "to drive" or "to float." 

Bankje is a verb meaning "stay," "reside," "live," "dwell," or "endure." 

 Fourth Verse:
Traditional Frisian Farmhouse

Langstme nei it griene bûntbeblomme lân,
dêr 't de noardseeweagen spiele oan it strân.
Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
nei de eigen oarde en myn lêste hûs. 
Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
nei de eigen oarde en myn lêste hûs.

The longing for the green land blooming with roan color...
There, where the North Sea waves flow over the strand.
There, where the gulls lament shrilly in the sounding storm... 
For my own place and my last home.

Bûntbeblomme is an odd but poetic word. Bûnt means a roan color, the color of fur... flowers blooming in roan colors. 

Oard means "place," "region," or "location" in this context. Think of the some the older meanings of the English "ward" to remember it. Oard can also mean "another" or "a second."

June 7, 2015

SELSSTANNICH - "independent"

This post will be a change of pace: events are unfolding in Friesland that may have a very real impact on the future of the West Frisian language itself. Omrop Fryslân is facing a potential media merger that could threaten its independent status. The station currently broadcasts vital content including Frisian-language children's programming and the daily news. The employees of the station have written an open letter expressing grave concerns about the merger (available here in Frisian and Dutch). This is an English translation of the letter... any errors are, of course, my own. Please fell free to share this post or translation with anyone who may be interested in the situation in Friesland.

There can be no Friesland without an independent broadcasting station.

Omrop Fryslân is supposed to be merged with a large, national broadcasting organization from the northern part of the Netherlands. At least, that  is the plan that all the regional management boards in our country have thought up and submitted to State Secretary Dekker.

The employees of Omrop Fryslân do not agree with this plan and are greatly worried about it. We believe that the station must remain completely independent going into the future. According to the management boards, our editors could remain independent, but we think that this development is the beginning of the end of our autonomy and that the next step is now just around the corner: an increasing loss of control over our own content.


One of the most important reasons for the creation of an independent Radio Fryslân in 1988 was to allow us to use our own Frisian language and to allow us to bring our own Frisian culture into the spotlight in the best possible way, with our own broadcast channel. For nearly thirty years, the station has brought the Frisian language and the Frisian culture to your living room. Skûtsje Sailing, the Eleven Cities Tour, cultural events, documentaries, school television, the daily news, and entertainment: all in Frisian or a Frisian dialect.


Omrop Fryslân is the only public station that broadcasts in the second national language, Frisian. According to European covenants, Friesland has a right to an autonomous, separate station. The plan for a merger contradicts those agreements.


The regional broadcasting directors' plan does not guarantee that Omrop Fryslân can maintain its place as a representative of Frisian culture. As a consequence of the plan, a director from outside the province could decide for organizational reasons that we must stop some of our programs or cease reporting about important events in Friesland. And ultimately, for the same reasons, the Frisian language itself could be marginalized by the merger.


That is what we as employees want to prevent at all costs. We are not closing our eyes to reality: there must be cuts, and a lot of other developments are coming our way.  Therefore, it is good to work with others such as other groups of journalists in Friesland, as well as businesses outside Friesland. But let this always be based on freedom of choice so that we can always make independent decisions about what is good for Omrop Fryslân: in the end, this ensures that our province will have a free press.


We are gladdened by all the responses from people, organizations, and groups who agree with us and who wish to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with us to protect, strengthen, and advance an independent Omrop Fryslân, one which can confidently and passionately look to the future. Omrop Fryslân belongs to all of us and it is important to us that it remains so!

-The employees of Omrop Fryslân

April 14, 2015

SIMMERMOARN - "Summer Morning"

Simmermoarn - Waling Dystra

First verse of the Frisian folk song “Simmermoarn” (Summer Morning) with pictures. Words by Waling Dystra.

You can listen to the full song here.

Rough translation: "What is so lovely as the rising summer morning? The sun going up is laughing with me. The chicken cries "kukelu," the dove calls out "rukuku." I want to sing too in a joyous tone."

Photo credits: (1) Morning Light (2) my own photography (3) photograph of chicken from Hósvík, Faroe Islands by Erik Christensen (4) Dove photo by Chris Cant, Cumbria, UK (5) Song Thrush, the Netherlands (6) Song Thrush, UK.

March 29, 2015

BESKERMJE - "to protect"

The words for this lesson are the verb beskermje, "to protect," and the noun beskerming, "protection."

First, let's see the verb in a sample lifted from Willem Schoorstra's 2011 novel about King Redbad:

...hie ik oanstriid om him te beskermjen.
...I had a desire to protect him. 

Hie is pronounced similarly to the English word "he" and is the first- and third-person past tense of hawwe, "to have."

Ik has shown up in many previous lessons. It means "I" and is pronounced like the English word "ick."

Oanstriid means desire or inclination." It is said with a long "oh" like in "boat" followed by a schwa-like vowel. The second syllable takes a long "ee" as in "street." Final consonants tend to be devoiced and stress is on the first syllable. OHuhn-street.

Om was in a previous lesson.

Him is pronounced like its English twin.

Te takes a schwa and means "to."

Beskermje means "to protect," "to promote," or "to encourage." The first syllable (be-) takes a schwa, the middle syllable takes a short "eh" vowel, and the last syllable has a -y- gliding into a schwa. Buh-SKEHr-myuh.

Here is another example, this time from an article on Omrop Fryslân:

Bettere beskerming Flylân en Skylge: dunen heger
Better protection of Flylân and Skylge: higher dunes.

Flylân (or Vlieland) and Skylge (or Terschelling) are two islands off the coast of Friesland.

February 22, 2015

HIEL OF HEAL? - Whole Or Half?

Some of the matters I've been dealing with through the past months seem to be under control for now. So, back to having fun with Frisian:

Today, let's study a treacherous pair that can cause confusion: hiel and heal. These two similar-looking words have entirely different meanings.

Hiel means "whole" and is said with a long "ee" like the English word "heel." It can have a faint schwa before the final -l.  HEE-uhl.

Heal means "half" and has a slight difference in pronunciation: it is said with an "ih" as in the English word "hit" before the faint schwa. HIH-uhl.

Let's look at hiel in a sentence from the early Frisian-language publication Sljucht en Rjucht ("Simple and Right"):

Alle minsken binn' myn broerren
En de hiele wrâld myn thús...

All people are my brothers
And the whole world is my home...

De hiele wrâld is a useful phrase, meaning "the whole world." Remember, wrâld begins with a v- sound and takes a long "ah" like in "father." VRAHld.

Next, let's look at heal in a few short phrases:

...de eagen heal ticht...
...the eyes half-closed...

...in heal miljoen minsken...
...a half-million people...

All well and good, but how do we remember the difference between the two when starting out? Here's a trick I came up with:

For heal, think of becoming whole as the purpose of healing. If something is already whole, it does not need to be healed. So, heal (which looks but does not sound entirely like the English word "heal") is a half, but never a whole.

What about hiel? I think of the heliosphere to remember this one. You could see the whole world from there. Which brings us back to de hiele wrâld.

To end, here is a song sung by Griet Wiersma about how the whole world changes but Friesland remains the same:


January 1, 2015

Recommendations For Serious Students Of Frisian

If you are seriously interested in West Frisian, I'll share some study techniques that have worked for me.

I often use an online dictionary available at http://www.wurdboek.nl/ to go between Frisian and Dutch (click on the second button, FRL-NL, to select Frisian to Dutch), then translate the Dutch into English with Google Translate. You'll even get sample sentences, which can be extremely helpful.

Glosbe has just about the best online Frisian/English dictionary I have found so far, but it is very incomplete. It has sample sentences as well. Glosbe is wonderful when it has the word you need, but it is also missing some very fundamental vocabulary. You can't count on it for everything.

You may want to buy used editions of Rod Jellema's translated books of West Frisian poetry (I bought my copies off Amazon). These can be highly useful to English-speakers who are seriously interested in the Frisian language.

Omrop Fryslân's main page lists occasional articles that are also available in Dutch (these have a Netherlands flag icon next to them). Again, you can run the Dutch version through Google Translate or another translation service if you are starting out. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.

November 1, 2014

TSJEP - "beautiful, neat, decent"

The past few months have been very rough and I have not been able to post as many lessons as I would have liked. One small bright point was finally acquiring my very own copy of Rimen en Teltsjes (Rhymes and Little Tales) by the Halbertsma Brothers. This site has a nice summary about the Halbertsmas' contributions to Frisian language and literature. A free e-book version of Rimen en Teltsjes is available from Google Books.

Today's example comes from a poem called De Boalserter merke ("The Bolsward Fair") which can be found at the beginning of Rimen en Telstjes.

Te Boalsert yn 'e merke
Seach ik in famke gean...
Sa tsjep yn sneinske klean.

I saw a lass go
to Bolsward fair...
so beautiful in Sunday clothes.

Te means "to" or "at" and is said with a schwa. TUH.

Yn is a cognate for "in" and is pronounced with the long "ee" in "seen." EEn.

'E is short for de, meaning "the," and is said with a schwa. UH.

Merke  is stressed on the first syllable and is said like the English word "murk" with a schwa on the end. MERK-uh.

Seach is the past tense of sjen, "to see." The "ea" vowel combination is pronounced similarly to an English "ih" as in "sit," with a faint schwa afterwards. The -ch- is the harsh consonant in the German word Bach or the Hebrew l'chaim.

Ik is the Frisian word for "I." It takes a short "ih" vowel, as in "wick." IHk.

In means "a" or "an" and is said with a schwa. UHn.

Famke means "girl," "young lady," or "lass." Pronounce the first syllable with a long "ah" as in "father" and end the word with a schwa. Stress in on the first syllable. FAHM-kuh.

Gean means "to go" or "to fare." Like seach, the vowel is a short "ih" followed by a fainter schwa. GIHun.

Sa is a cognate for "so." It is said with the long "ah" in "father." SAH.

Tsjep can mean many things: beautiful, neat, comely, decent, convenient, or competent. Pronounce it with the -ts- in the borrowed word "tsar," followed by a -y- preceding an "eh" vowel so that it rhymes with the informal English word "yep". TSyehp.

Snein means "Sunday" and rhymes with the English "shine," which provides a trick for remembering it. SNIGHn. The adjectival form, sneinske, ends with the ubiquitous schwa. SNIGHN-skuh.

Finally, klean takes the "ih" and schwa combination we've been seeing in other words in today's lesson. Klean means "clothes" or "clothing." KLIHuhn. 

September 24, 2014

DE TWA ROEKEN - "Twa Corbies"

Did you know that there is a Frisian version of "The Twa Corbies", a traditional Scottish ballad? The song's name translates as "The Two Rooks" (you can read more about rooks here if you are from the U.S. like myself and don't encounter them normally).

"De Twa Roeken" was translated into Frisian by Klass Bruinsma and sung by Doede Veeman. A recording and lyrics for the song are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yT026Lcob78.

Let's take a look at some useful vocabulary from this song:

Helje means "to pick" or "to sweep (in)" or "to blow."

One of the rooks asks the other:

Wêr helje wy ús miel hjoed wei?

Where will our meal sweep in from today?

Fortunately for our hungry rooks, a dead knight lies over the green dike only a short distance away. Nobody knows where he is except for his hawk, hound, and bride.

Inkeld means "a few" or "only."

Nimmen wit dat hy dêr leit 
inkeld syn houk, syn hûn, syn breid...
Nobody knows where he lies [literally: that he there lies]
except his hawk, his dog, his bride...

The knight's hawk is off catching birds, the hound is chasing hares, and the bride gave herself to another.

Fange means "to catch"
Bút  indicates a "prize" or "hoard."

Syn houk fangt fûgels as syn bút.
His hawk catches birds for its prize.

The dead knight has been been left all alone, so the rooks will have an excellent meal!

Skoan and skoander mean "excellent" or "alluring." Skoander can also mean "expensive."

Sa ha wy jûn in skoander miel.
So we have an excellent meal this evening.

The rooks can't eat the knight's hair, but that doesn't stop our resourceful feathered friends from putting it to good use:

Tek means "cover," "roof," or "blanket."
Sier means "ornament," "array," or "jewelry."

In lokke fan syn gouden hier
is foar ús nêst in tek en sier....

A lock from his golden hair
Is a cover and ornament for our nest....

August 4, 2014

PLYSJE - "police" / Criminal Justice Vocabulary Words

If you want to read the latest news in Frisian, a few criminal justice vocabulary words can be of great help. Most of the examples are simplified variations of sentences from the Omrop Fryslân news site. I also used the Hallofryslân Woordenboek to find translations and compile examples.

Plysje or polysje means "police." Stress is on the first syllable on the short form and on the second syllable on the longer form. The -y- is pronounced with a long "ee" like in the final syllable of the word's English meaning. Both words end with schwa. PLEE-syuh; pohl-LEE-syuh.

Slachtoffer means "victim."

It slachoffer krige ferskate klappen.
The victim suffered several hits. 

Fertocht means "suspicion." Say it with stress on the second syllable. The first syllable takes a schwa vowel and the second a fairly rounded "oh." The -ch- is similar to the harsh k-like consonant found in the German word Bach or the Hebrew l'chaim. Fer-TOHkht.

Hy wurdt fertocht fan wapenbesit.
He was suspected of possessing weapons.

Opakke means to "take up" or "take into custody." With this word, we can indicate that someone is under arrest.

Hy is oppakt.
He is under arrest / in custody.

Hja binne oppakt foar moard.
They are under arrest for murder.

Útspraak means "judgment" or "decision."

June 26, 2014

GAU - "quickly"

Let's have some fun with Frisian phrases. If we want to say that something is proceeding very slowly, West Frisian has a clever way to express that idea:

It giet sa gau as in mophûn in hynder opfrette kin.
It's going about as quickly as a pug can devour a horse.

It giet sa gau as in mophûn in hynder opfrette kin.

Here is the vocabulary for this lesson:

It means "it" and is said with a schwa vowel. UHT.

Giet  is the third-person singular for the verb "to go," gean. Giet takes a long "ee" and a short schwa that might not be heard in speech. GEEuht. The infinitive is said with an "ih" as in "bit" and a schwa. GIH-UHN.

Sa means "so" and is said with the long "ah" in "father." This is a very useful word and you will see it a lot in West Frisian. SAH.

Gau means "quickly" as is pronounced with the "ou" or "au" vowel in "loud" or "gown." GAU.

As, meaning "as" or "when," sounds much like the word "Oz" in English, but with a shortened final consonant.

In means "a" or "an" and is said with a schwa. UHN.

Mophûn comes from two words: hûn meaning "dog" or "hound" and mop meaning... well, many things apparently: a brick, a small cookie, a joke, or a tune. Combined, we have the Frisian word for a pug dog. Hûn is said with a long "oo" as in "moon." Mop would sound a lot like the English word "mope." A pug might indeed mope if it had to eat an entire horse....

Hynder is West Frisian for "horse" and is said with a long "ee" vowel in the first syllable followed by a schwa in the second syllable. HEEN-duhr. There is a special kind of horse called a Friesian or Frisian. In Frisian itself, you call this breed a Frysk Hynder.  FREEsk HEEN-duhr.

Opfrette means "devour" or "eat up." The word comes from the preposition op meaning "on" or "up" or "upon" and the verb frette. Remember, op takes a long "oh" vowel, the same one we just saw in mop.

Frette refers to animals eating or to humans greedily stuffing themselves, and can also mean "devour" or "bite." Think of the English word "fret" to remember it: when we worry or fret, that means something is eating at us. The Frisian verb is said like the English "fret" but the infinitive ends with a schwa. FREHT-tuh.

Kin means "can" and is pronounced with the short "ih" heard in the English word "kin." The infinitive form is kinne, "can," "may," or "to be able." That is likewise said with the short "ih" and ends with a schwa. KIHN-nuh.

Photo Credits:

May 17, 2014

OP EN DEL - "up and down" or "back and forth"

For this lesson, let's look at the West Frisian phrase op en del, meaning "up and down" or "back and forth."

Op is said with a long "oh" as in "slope." It can mean "up," "on," or "upon," but has other meanings as well. You can see a list here. OHP.

En is Frisian for "and." It is said with an "eh" as in "end." EHN.

Del can mean "down" or "underneath" or "horizontal" or "flat." Say it like the first part of the word "delta," a flat feature occurring down at the end of a river.  DEHL.

Here is a example from Hallofryslân Woordenboek:

Hy rint de keamer op en del.
He walks up and down the room; i.e. he paces.

Hy is a cognate for "he" and can be said like the English word "high." 

Rint is from the infinitive verb rinne, "to walk" or "to run." It is pronounced with the "ih" vowel in "grin." RIHnt.

De means "the" and is said with a schwa. DUH. 

Keamer is the Frisian word for "room." Stress is on the first syllable, and it takes an "ih" vowel followed by a short schwa in the first syllable, and schwa in the second syllable. KIHuh-muhr.

And here is op en del in a more complex sentence from Frisian Wikipedia:

Ljouwerteradiel is in agraryske gemeente, mar der wenje ek in soad op-en-del-reizgers.
Ljouwerteradiel is an agricultural municipality, but many commuters also live there. 

in soad... "many"
op-en-del-reizgers - "back-and-forth travelers, i.e., commuters"