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Frisian language

Frisian (Frysk or Frasch) is a language spoken by a small ethnic group living in the northerwestern part of Europe. Frisian consists of several dialects, which are often mutually unintelligible.

Frisian is distinct from East Frisian Low Saxon (see below).

Most Frisian speakers live in the Netherlands, primarily in the province of Friesland (Fryslân in Frisian) where their number is about 440,000. In Germany, there are about 2,000 speakers of Frisian in the Saterland[?] region of Lower Saxony. In the Nordfriesland (Northern Frisia) region of Schleswig-Holstein and on several islands in the North Sea there are about 10,000. On the mainland of Schleswig-Holstein there are few, if any, speakers left. However, on the islands of Sylt, Föhr, Amrum and Helgoland the local Frisian dialects are still in use.

Frisian is highly similar to Old English, and is linguistically classified as the closest existing language to English.

However, such classifications, where possible, are based on studies of the earliest written forms of languages, so in the case of Frisian and English, they do not take into account the centuries of drift of English away from Frisian norms. Thus the modern languages are completely unintelligible to each other.

Today, the Low Franconian languages (such as Dutch/Flemish) and Low Saxon/Low German languages are more easily recognised as similar to Frisian.

Indeed, Frisian has itself been brought progressively closer to Dutch as a consequence of the political subordination of Friesland to the ethnic Dutch. The language as it was spoken in northern North Holland (formerly West Friesland) is now completely extinct, while a dialect of Dutch known as Stadtfries[?] (City Frisian) has made massive gains within Friesland itself. Elsewhere in the former area of Frisian, Low Saxon has come to predominate, with dialects of East Frisian Low Saxon now known generically as "Frisian".

The earliest definite written examples of Frisian are from approximately the 9th century. A few examples of runic inscriptions from the region are probably older and possibly in the Frisian language. These runic writings however usually do not amount to more than single- or few-word inscriptions, and cannot be said to constitute literature as such. Actual Frisian writings appear a few centuries later, and are generally restricted to legalistic writings -- this the Old Frisian[?] period.

See also: Common phrases in different languages.

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