Saturday, 28 September 2013

Old English in Friesland

The small country I was born in, the Netherlands, has a kooky number of accents and dialects and languages, given its size. When I open my mouth and speak Dutch, people know immediately that I’m from Amsterdam. Travel a half hour outside the city and people have a different accent. Cities an hours drive from one another have totally unique slang and vocabulary, in addition to distinctive accents. Travel to one of the far corners of the country, and the residents will be speaking Zeeuws, Limburgs or Fries - which I can’t make heads or tails from. 
This map gives an idea of the bewildering array of dialects to be found in the Benelux region.

A similar state of affairs exists in Great Britain, where someone can be immediately identified as coming from a given region as soon as they start to talk.

I’ve always found it fascinating that in the massive country I live in now, Canada, seems to lack these linguistic differences and lacks much in the way of distinctive accents. Oh sure, you can distinguish someone from Newfoundland, and to a lesser degree some of the other Maritime provinces like Nova Scotia. But by and large, someone from Alberta sounds much like someone from Ontario, who doesn’t sound so different from someone from British Columbia, who wouldn’t sound out of place in Manitoba. 

I know full well that Great Britain was populated by successive waves of people, who all added to the language we now know as “English.” One of the groups, in addition to the Celts and Romans and Angles and Saxons and Danes and Norse and Normans, that invaded/migrated to Great Britain were the Frieslanders.

I’ve heard it said that Fries (or Frisian in English) is the closest living language to old English. I gather it has more in common with English than Dutch. Stumbled across this video of Eddie Izzard (who is quite a linguist) in Friesland trying to communicate.

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