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

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"

April 22, 2014

Tanke Wol, It Nijs!

This is very exciting! The Frisian news site It Nijs ("The News") recently posted an article about this blog! You can read it here: Frysk foar Ingelskpraters ("Frisian for English Speakers").

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not turn this into a lesson as well:

It, as you will remember, means "it" or "the" and is said with a schwa. UHT.

Nijs means "news" and is pronounced with the "igh" vowel in "night." Just think of "the nightly news" to remember this word. NIGHs.

Frysk is West Frisian for "Frisian" and is said with a long "ee" as in the word "freeze." FREEsk.

Foar is a cognate meaning "for," "before," or "in front of." Pronounce it with a long "oh" as in "foe" blending into a "w" sound and with an "ah" as in "father." Fwoh-AHR.

Ingelsk is the Frisian word for the English language. From what I can gather, you pronounce it with the "ih" vowel used in the English preposition "in" and use a schwa in the second syllable, putting stress on the first syllable. IHNG-guhlks.

Prater means "a speaker" and is said with the long "ah" vowel in "father" followed by a schwa in the second syllable. PRAH-tuhr. The verb prate mean "to speak" and is said the same way, only without the final -r-. PRAH-tuh.

April 21, 2014

EAT - "something"

Here is a Frisian word that is very much a false friend to the English eye: eat is pronounced with an "ih" sound like in "it" and a schwa, and it means "something" or "anything." IH-uht. So, this word has nothing to do with eating at all. If you do as the sample sentence suggests, though, you will have to make sure that something is indeed getting enough to eat:
Eat hoedzje en noedzje.
Take responsiblty for and nurture something (i.e., take something under one's wing). 

Hoedzje is said with an "oo" vowel in "moon." The j is pronounced like an English -y- and the final syllable takes a schwa. HOO-dzyuh.

En means "and" and is said with the same vowel we use for naming the letter "n." EHN

Noedzje rhymes with hoedzje.

March 19, 2014

BERIN - "course, way, slope"

The subject of this lesson is berin, a modern West Frisian word that means "course" or "way," and sometimes also "slope." The first syllable takes a schwa and the final syllable is stressed, with an "ih" vowel so it sounds like "in." Buh-RIHN.

To remember this fine Frisian word, think of the English word "bearing" which is etymologically a cognate.

Both of today's examples come from the Hallofryslân Woordenboek.

It moat syn berin hawwe.
It cannot be forced or rushed; it must follow its course.

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

Moat is the third person singular of the verb moatte meaning "must." Say it with a long "ah" as in "father." The infinitive ends with a schwa. MAHT, MAHT-tuh.

Syn means "his" or "its" and is pronounced with a long "ee" vowel. This word sounds like the English word "seen." SEEN.

Hawwe means "have"  or "to have" and is said with a long "ah" as in father and with a schwa on the end. The -ww-  is pronounced like the an English -v-. HAHv-vuh.

It berin fan de seedyk.
The slope of the sea-dike.

Fan means "from" or "of" and is pronounced like the English word "fawn."

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

See is West Frisian for "sea." It is pronounced with a long "ey" as in the English word "day." SEY.

Dyk means "dike" and is said with a long "ee," like in the word "peek." DEEk.

February 18, 2014

ÛNGELOK - "accident"

Did you know that Omrop Fryslân offers audio versions of many of their news updates? For this lesson, please go to the article linked here and click on the "Harkje" button below the text: you'll be able to listen to the article being read. Unfortunately, this is not the most cheerful story ever, with the news being the news.

I won't be doing a word-by-word review for this particular lesson, but will provide a translation into English:

Frisian skipper's deadly accident

Feb. 16, 2014 - 6:49 P.M. - At a container terminal in the port of Rotterdam on Sunday afternoon, a 56-year-old inland-navigation skipper from Leeuwarden (Ljouwert) had his life come to an end through an accident. A section of steel fell from a crane and on pilothouse of the ship, just the place where the victim was. (Note: telâne is another word for teplak or terjochte, meaning roughly "just the place" or "in its place.") The Leeuwardener is dead from the blow.

His 60-year-old wife and an employee of the terminal was injured by the accident.She was transferred to the hospital. Nothing about the circumstances of the accident is known yet.

January 17, 2014

KLEAUWE - "split, cleave"

For the first lesson of the new year, let's take a look at Willem Schoorstra's 2011 novel, Rêdbâd - kronyk fan in kening (Redbad: The Chronicle of a King). 

This book is only available in Frisian currently. It is a historic novel written from the first-person point of view of a character named Hadagrim who is at the end of his life and who wants to set down King Redbad's deeds before he dies. The tale begins with the aged narrator catching glimpses of Odin's spirit approaching to return him to him forefathers. I am working through parts of the story slowly, as my Frisian is not exactly fluent yet.

This is the first sentence of the novel:

Ravens roppe in nije dei yn it ljocht; har skrille gjalpen kleauwe de slomme.
In the light, ravens herald a new day; their alarming cries split the doze.

Ravens looks just like what it means in English. However, it is said with a long "ah" as in father and a schwa. RAH-vuhns.

Roppe means "to call" or "to cry." Say the first syllable like the English word "rope" and end with a schwa. ROHp-puh.

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

Conveniently, nije was also discussed in the previous lesson. It means "new" and is said with the "igh" sound in "night." It takes a schwa on the end. NIGH-uh.

You'll remember that dei rhymes with the English word "dye" and means "day." I think of the sunrise "dying" the morning clouds to remember this word. DIGH.

Yn is Frisian for "in" and is said with the long "ee" in "seen." EEn.

means "the" or "it" and is pronounced with a schwa. UHt.

Ljocht means "light" and is said with the -y- glide followed by a long "oh," like in "road." The ch is the harsher consonant you hear in other languages like German, Russian, and Hebrew... the one that sounds a bit like someone clearing their throat. LYOHkht.

Har is Frisian for "they" or "her." It's pronounced the way it looks, like the English word "hard" if you drop the final -d. Or like deep laughter... har, har!

Skrille means "scary," "shivering with fright," or "alarming." Say it so that the first syllable rhymes with the English word "skill." The second syllable takes schwa. SKRIHL-luh.

Gjalpen means "cries" or "screams." The Frisian -j- sounds like the English "y" gliding into a long "ah" sound. The second syllable, as is often the case, is said with a schwa. GYAHL-puhn.

To the best of my current knowledge, kleauwe is said with the purse-lipped "o" with an umlaut over it that is found in German followed by an immediate schwa before the second syllable, a -w- gliding into a schwa. KLÖuhwuh.

De is the word for "the" and is pronounced with a schwa. DUH.

Finally, slomme is a noun meaning "slumber" or "doze." It is said with the long "oh" in "doze" and ends with a schwa. SLOHm-muh. The verb form is slomje, "to slumber."