Frisian :: Language-genetic affiliation
The North-Frisian dialects are part of the continuum of Frisian varieties spoken along the continental North Sea coast. This continuum also includes West Frisian (spoken in the Netherlands by a sizeable population) and East Frisian (now nearly extinct, spoken in a cluster of villages in the Saterland district of Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany). Frisian is historically part of the Anglo-Frisian sub-branch of the West Germanic languages. It shares a number of key phonological developments with English, which go back to dialect differentiation in the period preceding the Anglo-Saxon emigration to Britain. It has since been in contact with both Danish varieties, and with closely related Low German, and has adopted lexicon and structural characteristics from these languages. There are several different North Frisian sub-dialects - a mainland dialect and several island dialects - which are generally not considered mutually intelligible. Speakers for different sub-dialects tend to use Low German as a lingua franca.
Frisian :: Historical distribution Map
North Frisian was previously spoken by a majority of the population all along the western coast of the present-day German state of Schleswig-Holstein and neighbouring areas in Denmark, as well as off the coast, on the North Frisian islands. It was the official language of legal documents in medieval times, until it was replaced by Low German (the regional language of commerce and legal transactions between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries) and eventually by Dutch and German.
Frisian :: Present-day distribution
North Frisian dialects are now only retained by some families in scattered communities in an area situated roughly 20km north of the town of Husum in the coastal areas, as well as in a number of more isolated communities on the North Frisian Isles. The population of speakers is believed to be in the low thousands, mainly elderly, though some young people of Frisian-speaking background have benefited from Frisian language classes in some schools in the region and thus maintain active knowledge of the language, albeit usually as a secondary language.
Frisian :: Status and endangerment
Due to the decline of farming and fishing in the area, the increase in mobility and immigration into the region, and the reliance on career paths outside the home and the rural community, North Frisian has given way first to Low German as a vernacular lingua franca in the area, and over the past two generations gradually to Standard German, which is now the dominant language among the younger generation. There are no signs that this process is likely to be reversed. Only very few young couples are passing Frisian on to their children. Local associations and a Frisian Language Institute based in the region work to promote awareness of the language, in cooperation with the Frisian Department at Kiel University and a network of regional writers and language enthusiasts. There is modest production of texts and teaching and learning materials and Frisian language classes are offered in a number of schools in the area.
Frisian :: General structural characteristics
Frisian is a continental West Germanic language and shares many of its morpho-syntactic features with the neighbouring and related languages Low German, Standard German and Dutch, in particular general rules on words order, tense and aspect formation and morphological agreement. Its morphological typology resembles that of Low German and Dutch and maintaining a basic but somewhat eroded form of gender and number agreement in adjectives, a medium degree of complexity in verb inflection, but considerable erosion in the area of nominal inflection. Some North Frisian dialects are conservative among the Germanic languages in retaining a dual form of the pronoun. Like Low German and English, North Frisian is rich in diphthongs and shows strong aspiration of voiceless stops. Consonant palatalisation is also frequent.