December 17, 2015

OARS AS OARS - "Different From Usual"

The title of the post is probably misleading, as this blog regularly delves into Frisian-language music.

Today, let's look at "Fries Om Utens," a song about loving and missing Friesland. The video includes lyrics along with the singing. Part of the song is in English.

"Fries Om Utens" video on YouTube with lyrics.

Let's take a peek at some useful vocabulary before we get into an English translation of the song:
Wier means "truth" and is pronounced like the English word "veer."

Photo by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.
Farmhouse, 2015 - Photo by author
Hiel oars as oars - entirely different from usual. Hiel was discussed in an earlier post. Oars is handily pronounced like the English word it resembles, though it means "other" or "another." As takes a long "a" like in father and means "as," or "like," or "resembling" in this context. It has broader uses, however, including "if, "in such a way," "how," etc.

Fan hâld is a phrase meaning "to love." E.g., "Ik hâld fan dy" means "I love you" in West Frisian.

Nei dy. The word nei, said like "night" without the final -t, comes up in many phrases. It can mean "for" or "to." E.g., from the chorus: Fryslân o Fryslân, ik longerje nei dy... "Friesland, oh Friesland, I long for you." You can also use nei if you are going somewhere: e.g., nei hûs, "to house/home," from the chorus.

The song title means "a Frisian who lives abroad."

Here is an English translation of Fries Om Utens, leaning heavily towards the literal side:

Oh, yes it's true, I feel today
Wholly different from usual... I understand well.
My home has been all over the world,
No place I can love so (much as I love you).

I steal hearts, the others' pain.
I make friends; lose a pair.
The last days, I've been afraid,
Because I long for you so much.

I should say to you that I'm proud
And my thoughts always stay close to you.
Friesland, you call me: yes, I want to go home.
And if I ever should become a stranger
And your land no more feels like my own....
Friesland, oh Friesland, I long for you.

Oh Frisian ground, you give me bread.
The green meadows, the scent of hay.
Your wild skies, your wide lakes...
That is my picture of time.

Tell stories, sing of your land.
It is where in early times my life began.
I wonder how it can be
That I myself am not (there) today.

October 24, 2015

A Few Phrases And Sayings

This has been an exciting autumn: after many years and much dreaming, I finally made it to Friesland for the first time!

Photograph by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.When you're traveling in the Netherlands, a bit of Dutch is very helpful, even in the province of Friesland itself. Some areas, such as the capital city of Ljouwert (Leeuwarden) are predominantly Dutch-speaking. Many signs tend to be in Dutch. Even the commercials on the Frisian TV station are in Dutch. That said, lots of people speak English and German too, so I didn't feel like I had to learn huge amounts of Dutch to get by.

I found that more people spoke Frisian outside the capital. Admittedly, my spoken Frisian is... sadly lacking. I'm much more comfortable reading it. In any case, here are a few words and sayings that can come in handy if you are traveling in Friesland:

Tige tank meaning "many thanks." The first syllable of tige sounds like the English word "tea" and the second takes a schwa. Tank has the usual long -a- like in "father." TEE-guh TAHnk.

Photograph by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.The great thing about this phrase is that it is very obviously Frisian: no possibility that you are just going about mangling Dutch or German.

Oant sjen - This means "see you again" or "good-bye." It sounds a lot like "want chin"...not the most graceful way to remember it, but it's best to go with whatever works, right? Again, this is a specifically Frisian expression (in Dutch they say tot ziens). You can show your interest in the language by using it. 

Hoi! This is an informal greeting meaning "hi!" that you hear. It sounds just like the English "ahoy!" if you drop the first syllable. I think it's both Dutch and Frisian. People sometimes exchange it as a greeting when you are passing by each other on the bike trails.

You also hear agoeie sometimes. That seems more specifically Frisian and is a general greeting. A with schwa sound, and goeie sounding like the English word "gooey."

People wish each other "luck" or "success" far more frequently than in American culture. This can be a good expression to use if you are saying good-bye or parting. You can say either Lok! or Sukses! Note that lok is pronounced with a long "oh" vowel so it rhymes with "woke."

It doesn't hurt to be passingly familiar with a few of these phrases. Some are patriotic, be aware:

Photograph by OrderInTheQuartz, 2015. All rights reserved.Leaver dea as slaef - "better dead than a slave," famous from the Battle of Warns. There is more on this blog too.

Fryslân boppe! - "Friesland rules!" or "Friesland over all!" (boppe literally means "on top" or "above"). If you're not feeling like being nice, there's also Fryslân boppe en de rest yn'e groppe. "Friesland rules and all the rest drool," we might say in English... but it literally means that everyone else is in a ditch or gutter. 

My very favorite Frisian saying is this one, however:

Foar de kofje net eamelje  - "Don't hassle me before coffee." 

July 28, 2015

DE NOARDSEEWEAGEN - "The North Sea Waves"

This month, let's take a look at a song that is so quintessentially Frisian that it is actually called Friezeliet, or "Frisian Song," even when it's in German.

First verse:

Bûterblommen - Jörg Hempel
  Dêr 't de noardseeweagen spiele oan it strân,
  dêr 't de bûterblommen bloeie yn 't griene lân.
  Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
  dêr is myn lânsdouwe. Stie myn âldershûs.
  Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
  dêr is myn lânsdouwe. Stie myn âldershûs.

  There, where the North Sea waves flow over the strand...
  There, where the buttercups bloom in the green land...
  There, where the gulls lament shrilly in the sounding
  There is my homeland where stood my forefathers'   

A few vocabulary notes on the first verse:

Spiele can mean "to wash or clean," "to flow," or "to rain heavily."

Lânsdouwe translates as "lea," a flat, open area of meadow or grassy land, but the word can also mean "region" or "landscape."  

Krite is a verb meaning "lament," "weep", "squeak," or "creak."

Gerûs can mean "noise," "murmur," "a repeating murmur," "an unclear sound," "blowing," or "gusts."

Second verse:

Wadden Sea - Janhendrik Dolsma
Wyn en weagen songen dêr har liet foar my,
efter hege diken gie myn jeugd foarby.
Mar myn herte lange nei de wide wrâld,
'k woe om fierrens swalkje sûnder honk en hâld. 
Mar myn herte lange nei de wide wrâld,
'k woe om fierrens swalkje sûnder honk en hâld.

There, wind and waves sang their song for me...
Beyond the high dikes my youth went by.
But my heart longed for the wide world,
I wanted to wander far off without a home or hold.

Foarby is a common word.  It means something that is past, ended, or that has been surpassed.

Honk is one of West Frisian's many false cognates. It means "home" or "base," or a sanctuary or a resting place. To remember it, think of honking geese settling down into a new home or sanctuary after a migration.

Hâld means "a hold" or "support."  E.g., hâld en wâld, "support and protection."

Third verse:
North Frisia - Dico de Klein

Folle lok en lijen haw ik neitiid fûn,
wat ik ienris dreamde hat my 't libben jûn.
`k Socht de fiere kimen, dêr 't myn hert my  dreau,
nearne koe ik bankje, want ien langstme bleau.
`k Socht de fiere kimen, dêr 't myn hert my  dreau,
nearne koe ik bankje, want ien langstme bleau.

Later I found much luck and grief... 
What I had once dreamed, life gave me.
I looked for the far horizons where my heart drove me...
Nowhere could I dwell, because one longing remained....

Folle is another common Frisian word worth knowing. It can mean "a large amount of" or "often," depending on context.

Lije means "suffering" or "grief."

Socht is the first person past tense of the verb sykje, "to seek" or "to look for." Be careful not to confuse it with sjoch, the first person present tense of the verb sjen, "to see." The first person past tense of sjen is seach.

Dreau is the first person past tense of driuwe, "to drive" or "to float." 

Bankje is a verb meaning "stay," "reside," "live," "dwell," or "endure." 

 Fourth Verse:
Traditional Frisian Farmhouse

Langstme nei it griene bûntbeblomme lân,
dêr 't de noardseeweagen spiele oan it strân.
Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
nei de eigen oarde en myn lêste hûs. 
Dêr 't de kobben krite skril yn 't stoarmgerûs,
nei de eigen oarde en myn lêste hûs.

The longing for the green land blooming with roan color...
There, where the North Sea waves flow over the strand.
There, where the gulls lament shrilly in the sounding storm... 
For my own place and my last home.

Bûntbeblomme is an odd but poetic word. Bûnt means a roan color, the color of fur... flowers blooming in roan colors. 

Oard means "place," "region," or "location" in this context. Think of the some the older meanings of the English "ward" to remember it. Oard can also mean "another" or "a second."

June 7, 2015

SELSSTANNICH - "independent"

This post will be a change of pace: events are unfolding in Friesland that may have a very real impact on the future of the West Frisian language itself. Omrop Fryslân is facing a potential media merger that could threaten its independent status. The station currently broadcasts vital content including Frisian-language children's programming and the daily news. The employees of the station have written an open letter expressing grave concerns about the merger (available here in Frisian and Dutch). This is an English translation of the letter... any errors are, of course, my own. Please fell free to share this post or translation with anyone who may be interested in the situation in Friesland.

There can be no Friesland without an independent broadcasting station.

Omrop Fryslân is supposed to be merged with a large, national broadcasting organization from the northern part of the Netherlands. At least, that  is the plan that all the regional management boards in our country have thought up and submitted to State Secretary Dekker.

The employees of Omrop Fryslân do not agree with this plan and are greatly worried about it. We believe that the station must remain completely independent going into the future. According to the management boards, our editors could remain independent, but we think that this development is the beginning of the end of our autonomy and that the next step is now just around the corner: an increasing loss of control over our own content.


One of the most important reasons for the creation of an independent Radio Fryslân in 1988 was to allow us to use our own Frisian language and to allow us to bring our own Frisian culture into the spotlight in the best possible way, with our own broadcast channel. For nearly thirty years, the station has brought the Frisian language and the Frisian culture to your living room. Skûtsje Sailing, the Eleven Cities Tour, cultural events, documentaries, school television, the daily news, and entertainment: all in Frisian or a Frisian dialect.


Omrop Fryslân is the only public station that broadcasts in the second national language, Frisian. According to European covenants, Friesland has a right to an autonomous, separate station. The plan for a merger contradicts those agreements.


The regional broadcasting directors' plan does not guarantee that Omrop Fryslân can maintain its place as a representative of Frisian culture. As a consequence of the plan, a director from outside the province could decide for organizational reasons that we must stop some of our programs or cease reporting about important events in Friesland. And ultimately, for the same reasons, the Frisian language itself could be marginalized by the merger.


That is what we as employees want to prevent at all costs. We are not closing our eyes to reality: there must be cuts, and a lot of other developments are coming our way.  Therefore, it is good to work with others such as other groups of journalists in Friesland, as well as businesses outside Friesland. But let this always be based on freedom of choice so that we can always make independent decisions about what is good for Omrop Fryslân: in the end, this ensures that our province will have a free press.


We are gladdened by all the responses from people, organizations, and groups who agree with us and who wish to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with us to protect, strengthen, and advance an independent Omrop Fryslân, one which can confidently and passionately look to the future. Omrop Fryslân belongs to all of us and it is important to us that it remains so!

-The employees of Omrop Fryslân

April 14, 2015

SIMMERMOARN - "Summer Morning"

Simmermoarn - Waling Dystra

First verse of the Frisian folk song “Simmermoarn” (Summer Morning) with pictures. Words by Waling Dykstra.

You can listen to the full song here.

Rough translation: "What is so lovely as the rising summer morning? The sun going up is laughing with me. The chicken cries "kukelu," the dove calls out "rukuku." I want to sing too in a joyous tone."

Photo credits: (1) Morning Light (2) my own photography (3) photograph of chicken from Hósvík, Faroe Islands by Erik Christensen (4) Dove photo by Chris Cant, Cumbria, UK (5) Song Thrush, the Netherlands (6) Song Thrush, UK.

March 29, 2015

BESKERMJE - "to protect"

The words for this lesson are the verb beskermje, "to protect," and the noun beskerming, "protection."

First, let's see the verb in a sample lifted from Willem Schoorstra's 2011 novel about King Redbad:

...hie ik oanstriid om him te beskermjen.
...I had a desire to protect him. 

Hie is pronounced similarly to the English word "he" and is the first- and third-person past tense of hawwe, "to have."

Ik has shown up in many previous lessons. It means "I" and is pronounced like the English word "ick."

Oanstriid means desire or inclination." It is said with a long "oh" like in "boat" followed by a schwa-like vowel. The second syllable takes a long "ee" as in "street." Final consonants tend to be devoiced and stress is on the first syllable. OHuhn-street.

Om was in a previous lesson.

Him is pronounced like its English twin.

Te takes a schwa and means "to."

Beskermje means "to protect," "to promote," or "to encourage." The first syllable (be-) takes a schwa, the middle syllable takes a short "eh" vowel, and the last syllable has a -y- gliding into a schwa. Buh-SKEHr-myuh.

Here is another example, this time from an article on Omrop Fryslân:

Bettere beskerming Flylân en Skylge: dunen heger
Better protection of Flylân and Skylge: higher dunes.

Flylân (or Vlieland) and Skylge (or Terschelling) are two islands off the coast of Friesland.

February 22, 2015

HIEL OF HEAL? - Whole Or Half?

Some of the matters I've been dealing with through the past months seem to be under control for now. So, back to having fun with Frisian:

Today, let's study a treacherous pair that can cause confusion: hiel and heal. These two similar-looking words have entirely different meanings.

Hiel means "whole" and is said with a long "ee" like the English word "heel." It can have a faint schwa before the final -l.  HEE-uhl.

Heal means "half" and has a slight difference in pronunciation: it is said with an "ih" as in the English word "hit" before the faint schwa. HIH-uhl.

Let's look at hiel in a sentence from the early Frisian-language publication Sljucht en Rjucht ("Simple and Right"):

Alle minsken binn' myn broerren
En de hiele wrâld myn thús...

All people are my brothers
And the whole world is my home...

De hiele wrâld is a useful phrase, meaning "the whole world." Remember, wrâld begins with a v- sound and takes a long "ah" like in "father." VRAHld.

Next, let's look at heal in a few short phrases: eagen heal ticht...
...the eyes half-closed... heal miljoen minsken...
...a half-million people...

All well and good, but how do we remember the difference between the two when starting out? Here's a trick I came up with:

For heal, think of becoming whole as the purpose of healing. If something is already whole, it does not need to be healed. So, heal (which looks but does not sound entirely like the English word "heal") is a half, but never a whole.

What about hiel? I think of the heliosphere to remember this one. You could see the whole world from there. Which brings us back to de hiele wrâld.

To end, here is a song sung by Anneke Douma about how the whole world changes but Friesland remains the same:


January 1, 2015

Recommendations For Serious Students Of Frisian

Note: I am pleased to say that this post is now quite dated. Google Translate includes Frisian and there is no longer any need to use Dutch as a go-between on that site. I now recommend Taalweb Frysk for when you need additional detail or a word is missing. Also, the University of Groningen currently has an excellent free online Frisian course for English-speakers.

Old post:

If you are seriously interested in West Frisian, I'll share some study techniques that have worked for me.

I often use an online dictionary available at to go between Frisian and Dutch (click on the second button, FRL-NL, to select Frisian to Dutch), then translate the Dutch into English with Google Translate. You'll even get sample sentences, which can be extremely helpful.

Glosbe has just about the best online Frisian/English dictionary I have found so far, but it is very incomplete. It has sample sentences as well. Glosbe is wonderful when it has the word you need, but it is also missing some very fundamental vocabulary. You can't count on it for everything.

You may want to buy used editions of Rod Jellema's translated books of West Frisian poetry (I bought my copies off Amazon). These can be highly useful to English-speakers who are seriously interested in the Frisian language.

Omrop Fryslân's main page lists occasional articles that are also available in Dutch (these have a Netherlands flag icon next to them). Again, you can run the Dutch version through Google Translate or another translation service if you are starting out. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.