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Sunday, 20 March 2016
A Taste of Frisian
Friesland's flag with its lily pad symbols
continued in the Dutch Embassy’s language and culture taster class. Dutch was
followed by Frisian. It is the second official language of the Netherlands. It
is spoken in Friesland in the northern part of the country. Old Frisian is the
closest language to Old English.
Dr Doekele van
Oostrum introduced the Europe House audience to his native tongue. Frisian is a
language that he only generally gets to speak with his family. This
presentation was the first that he had ever carried out bearing his birth name
of Doekele. In order to survive in the Dutch-speaking world, his parents had
advised a switch to “Duco”. Little did they realise that the Dutch have a tendency
to call their dogs “Duco”.
Duco is not a
language teacher. Instead he teaches American English literature at the
University of Sheffield. He relished the chance to explain his native culture
to us. He interspersed his tales with snippets of the Frisian language.
Culture and Flag
Frisian is not
just another of the Dutch dialects. Friesland has a strong cultural history. It
has its own flag (above). Its seven symbols, commonly mistaken for hearts,
represent lily pads.
History and Legend
There is no
getting away from the fact that Duco’s ancestors were a violent, bloodthirsty
people. The Frisian Pagans fought ferociously to keep their independence from
both government and religion.
are fiercely proud of defeating the Romans in AD28. They scared the Romans off for good. They never came back.
Everyone knows their Tacitus.
brutally killed anyone who got too close to them. St Boniface was killed by the
Frisians. Even dragons daren’t venture
near Friesland according to legend.
The most important
figure in Frisian history is Grutte Pier (Big Peter). He was a
pirate by the name of Piers Gerlof Donia (1480-1520). His long sword can be
found in the Frisian cultural museum.
Status and PR
the official status of the Frisian language to good PR. Friesland boasts the
oldest Dutch University dating back to 1581. The language is taught in primary
school. It can even be found in Google Translate – although as a linguist it is
hard to know whether to congratulate or commiserate with the Frisians on this
Twitter shot of Duco presenting Frisian Cultural Heritage
Language and Heritage
Friesland has its
own radio and TV stations. There are dual language signs in Frisian cities.
When the British
think of Frisians, we think of Frisian cows first of all. It was therefore a
surprise that the second most famous figure was a statue of a cow. Frisians traditionally
refer to her as “Our Mother” (Ûs Mem).
Sport and Singing
Sport is an
important part of Frisian culture. A gruelling 220km ice skating race is a
revered tradition - though a rare event. It depends on the icy conditions. There
was a massive gap between 1963 and 1985. In one famous race out of 1600
starters only 100 finished. Duco likened the Dutch ability to watch such
skating races endlessly to the British ability to watch cricket.
Other Famous Frisians
Frisians were skaters – including one world champion, a housewife and mother,
who defeated a field of much younger women.
We all knew at
least one Frisian – the famous spy Mata Hari from Leeuwarden.
We also heard
about hand tennis matches and boat races with low keels. Heerenveen football
matches are great occasions at which to speak and sing only in Frisian. Duco
played us some Frisian songs. He pointed out how much easier it would be for us
to speak than Dutch.
Frisian Sayings and Song
Duco likened the
character of the Frisians to Brits from Yorkshire. They are pragmatists and
prone to understatement. We learnt some great Frisian sayings including:
Foar de kofje net eamelje – don’t whine before coffee
Duco ended by
playing a song to illustrate the beauty of his native language. Hallelujah is sung by