What is Frisian?

Facts & Figures

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In the northern Dutch province of “Fryslan” there has been a lot of talk about the Elfstedentocht” (11-city skating race) because of the recent cold weather conditions.

 The last time the Elfstedentocht was held was in 1997, but every year – when the temperature goes below 0 and ponds and puddles are starting to freeze – the Dutch start talking about whether or not they will be able to organize the Elfstedentocht. The province is, among many other things, known for ice skating but also for its language, the Netherlands’ second official language.  

The Frisian language is not a Dutch dialect but actually sounds more like English

Contrary to what many people may think, Frisian is not a Dutch dialect. It has its own writing, its own spoken language, and is spoken at schools and government buildings and on TV. Any non-Frisian Dutch citizen will have little to no clue to what Frisian people are talking about when listening in.  

Here are some famous Frisian sentences: 

It giet oan! 

It’s on! – famously used by the 11-city skating race committee when the ice has been approved for the race. Commonly used in the Netherlands to express excitement when something is finally happening. 

Oant moarn 

See you tomorrow – used by a Frisian weatherman on national commercial TV for years, every day, making it a well-known phrase among the Dutch. 

‘t ken net  

It’s not possible – used in a Dutch commercial for the Frisian alcoholic drink “Berenburg”. In this commercial, two naïve Dutch people ask a Frisian farmer if the ice is thick enough to walk on. The man answers “’t ken net” which sounds like Dutch for “it’s only just possible”. You can guess the outcome – the Dutch person walks on the ice and falls through. 

Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, wa't dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries 

Butter, bread and green cheese, who can’t say that is not a true Frisian – An old saying from the 15th century when Grutte Pier, a Frisian patriot, asked people to say the phrase. The story tells that he beheaded those who couldn’t, as they were not Frisian.  

By Dokkum om 

Detour at Dokkum – This is a proverb that originated from the Elfstedentocht. During the city skating race the participants have to skate back and forth over the Dokkumer Ee to reach the final city, Dokkum, before finishing the race in Leeuwarden. This proverb means to make a senseless detour  

As it net kin sa’t it moat, dan moat it mar sa’t it kin. 

If it cannot be done as it should, it should be done as it can – The Dutch translation of this proverb is also used a lot by Dutch people, without knowing that it originated from Frisian. It means that if you cannot do something the in the way it is meant to be done, you just have to figure out another way in which it can be done.  

Here are some examples of Frisian words that sound exactly like their English equivalents: 

Frisian 

Pronounced as 

English

tsiis 

cheese 

cheese 

hier 

hear 

her 

sjirp 

shirrup 

syrup 

ús 

us 

us 

ik bin siik 

ik been sick 

I'm ill 

kaai 

koy 

key 

doar 

door 

door 

fergetten 

ferghetten 

forgotten 

efter 

after 

after 

jier 

yeer 

year 

swiet 

sweet 

sweet 

hin 

hin 

hen 

dei 

day 

day 

skiep 

skeep 

sheep 

read 

re-ad 

red 

grien 

green 

green 

brea 

bre-a 

bread 

We hope you've enjoyed learning a bit more about the Frisian language, and we are keeping our fingers crossed for an Elfstedentocht soon!