Old Frisian language

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Old Frisian
Period 13th to 16th centuries

Formerly spoken in

Language codes
ISO 639-3


The old Frisian language (in older works also simply Frisian or Frisian ) is the common forerunner of the modern Frisian languages . It is handed down in legal books and documents from the 13th to 16th centuries from the area between the Weser and IJsselmeer ( Zuiderzee ).

The Old Frisian language has a rather ancient form and can therefore be placed on the same level of development as Old English , Old Low German or Old High German , even if it was written at the same time as Middle English , Middle Low German and Middle High German .

Comparison with other West Germanic languages

In the following, some Old Frisian words are compared with related equivalents from other West Germanic languages .

(New high) German Old Frisian Old English Old Low German Old High German
barrel fet fæt fat in conclusion
man mon man mon, man man
month month monaþ month, manuth manod
advice red ræd red, rad advice
at the othar or oðar andar
five fif fif fif fimf
us us us us us
announce kuth cuð kuð announce
church tziurke ċiriċe kirika kirihha
lay ledza leċġan leggian lay
Horse hors hors hors, hros hros

Similarities with Old English

Old Frisian went through several sound developments together with Old English , while Old Low German occupies an intermediate position between High German (on the one hand) and Old Frisian and Old English (on the other hand).

Similarities with the Old Norse

Interestingly, there are features in Old Frisian that North Germanic also has, but not Old English or Old Low German. Examples:

  • The plural ending for male nouns in -ar : Old Frisian dagar and Old Norse dagar ("days"), opposite Old English dagas and Old Low German dagōs .
  • The numeral “two” with an r ending: Old Frisian twēr (“two”) next to twēn , Old Norse tveir , opposite Old English twēǥen and Old Low German twēne , twēna
  • The linguist Ernst Schwarz also counts the sound change from in to jun to these Frisian-North Germanic parallels. For example, Old Frisian sjunga and Old Danish sjungæ , opposite Old English singan (New English to sing ).
  • He also counts the ascending diphthongs : Old Frisian sjuka and Old Norse sjúkna ("ill", "sick") compared to Old Low German siok and Old High German sioh ("sick", "sick"). In Old Low German and Old High German, io is a falling diphthong, i.e. with the emphasis on the first part i . In Old Frisian and Old Norse, the emphasis is on the second part of the diphthong, the u .

Similarities with neighboring languages ​​in the south

Old Frisian also has similarities with other West Germanic languages ​​that cannot be found in Old English. One example of this is the lack of Rhotazism . Rhotazism here is the transition from s to r (named after the Greek letter name Rho , "R"). This missing transition from s to r can be found in the Old Frisian word hasa (Old High German haso , New High German Hase ). In Old English, however, this word is hara , in New English hare .


The old Frisian texts use the Latin alphabet without additional letters. For the dental fricatives one wrote th (as in modern English). See Voiced Dental Fricative and Voiceless Dental Fricative . For the u vowel and the consonants v and w , u , v and w were written quite randomly . See also U , V and W . The spellings for k and c were also pretty much arbitrary. The sounds i and j were both usually written as i . The length of a vowel is only given in West Frisian (i.e. younger) Old Frisian texts, namely by double written vowels, e.g. ee for the long e . In some cases , oe for long u was also written, following the Dutch model . In modern editions of Old Frisian texts the length of a vowel with a horizontal line or a circumflex is above the grapheme specified, as in AGE or age ( "eye"). See also edition guidelines .

Variants of Old Frisian

Older and younger old Frisian

Within Old Frisian, a distinction is made between an older and a younger form of Old Frisian. The limit is around 1450. The differences between the older and the younger form of Old Frisian are at least as great as between Old High German and Middle High German . The term Old Frisian for the older and the younger language form had already become established when the younger language form had not yet been sufficiently researched and the great differences between the two language forms could not yet be overlooked. Today the names are also used in Classical Old Frisian and Post- Classical Old Frisian .

Old East Frisian and Old West Frisian

In the past, research assumed that the differences between the two Old Frisian language forms were not chronological (older versus younger), but dialect differences (east versus west). Because Frisian was superseded by Low German as a written language in Groningerland and East Frisia , there are no more Old Frisian manuscripts from these areas from 1450. More recent manuscripts come from the area of ​​today's Dutch province of Friesland . The younger Old Frisian was therefore Altwestfriesisch called the older Old Frisian Altostfriesisch .

Language area

Largest expansion of the Frisian language area in the 7th century

Frisian was spoken in a much larger area in the Middle Ages than it is today. According to Klaas Fokkema, the following areas belonged to the medieval Frisian language area:

The graphic opposite shows the Frisian language area with some deviations, especially in the river delta of the Rhine and Maas, and in South Holland. The discrepancies result from the fact that the graphic shows the largest expansion of the Frisian settlement area in the 7th century (the Frisia Magna ), which was reduced again soon afterwards by the expansion of Franconian rule.

It is not even clear whether Frisian was actually spoken as the mother tongue throughout the Frisia Magna ; possibly it was only superficially dominated by Frisians in the peripheral areas in question or occasionally populated by Frisians and Frisian was at best the lingua franca there.


  • R. Rask : Frisisk Sproglære udarbejdet efter a plan som den islandske og angelsaksiske . Copenhagen 1825.
    • R. Rask, FD Buss: Frisian language teaching, worked on according to the same plan as the Icelandic and Angelsaschsische by R. Rask, professor of literary history and sub-librarian. Translated from Danish, and with a foreword on the importance of language studies for thorough research in the field of law and political science, accompanied by Dr. FD Buss, Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Freiburg. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1834.
  • WL van Helten: Old East Frisian grammar. Published on behalf of the Friesch Genootschap voor Geschied-, Oudheid- en Taalkunde te Leeuwarden . Leeuwarden 1890.
  • Wilhelm Heuser: Old Frisian reading book with grammar and glossary . First volume of the third series of the collection of Germanic elementary books edited by Wilhelm Streitberg. Heidelberg 1903.
  • Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr .: An Introduction to Old Frisian. History, Grammar, Reader, Glossary . John Benjamin, Amsterdam / Philadelphia 2009, ISBN 978-90-272-3255-7

Web links

Wikisource: (Old) Frisian grammars  - sources and full texts
Wikisource: Old Frisian dictionaries  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr .: An Introduction to Old Frisian: History, Grammar, Reader, Glossary . Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2009, pp. 119f.
  2. a b c d Bo Sjölin: The Old Frisian. In: Anthonia Feitsma, Wybe Jappe Alberts, Bo Sjölin: The Frisians and their language (= neighbors. No. 32, ISSN  0945-0092 ). Press and Culture Department of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, ​​Bonn 1987, pp. 15–18.
  3. ^ A b Claus Jürgen Hutterer : The Germanic languages. Your story in outline. 2nd German edition. Drei-Lilien-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN 3-922383-52-1 .