Frisians – Frisian Language – North Frisian Institute      
Table of Content:

I.  The North Frisians and their language
lI.  The Frisian Movement  
lII.  Nordfriisk Instituut (North Frisian Institute)  
lV. The institute's library and archives
V.  The cultivation of the Frisian language
VI.  Working groups of the Nordfriisk Instituut
VII. The Nordfriisk Instituut as a publisher

The Nordfriisk Instituut is the central scientific institution in North Frisia for the preservation and promotion of and research on the Frisian language, culture and history. It is the central meeting point for all those who are interested in North Frisian topics and to whom Frisian interests are of greater importance. The institute is scientifically active specifically in the fields of language, history and national geography. Furthermore it supports with advice and action all the honorary assistants who work in the Frisian associations, and also students, teachers and scientists researching regional subjects. It is available to anybody being somehow engaged or interested in North Frisia. In this way the institute likes to link theory with practice, science with non-professional research. It wants to work scientifically on the one side and to support, promote and activate cultural activities of the local people on the other side.

The institute runs a professional library and a record office. Anybody interested can join its working parties. Various magazines and books are published by the institute itself and in co-operation with other publishing houses.

The Nordfriisk Instituut is an independent, state subsidised institution and is maintained by the Nordfriesisches Institut e.V. ("North Frisian Institute"), an association founded in 1948.


I.The North Frisians and their language

There is hardly any other region throughout Europe with such a linguistic diversity as the "North Frisian Language Country". Within a very small area we find High German and Low German, High Danish and Low Danish as well as Frisian, co-existing side by side. Frisian is not a German or Danish dialect, but an independent language, in its own right. Just like English, Dutch, High German and Low German it belongs to the West Germanic language group. The language is split into North, East and West Frisian branches; there is no homogenous leading form of this language. The East Frisian language has died out in its country of origin and is in these days spoken by only approximately 2.000 people in the Saterland, a region in the district of Oldenburg, whereas the West Frisian language community in the Dutch province of Friesland counts almost 400.000 speakers.

As compared to the two other minorities in the border region of Schleswig, the Germans in Denmark and the Danes in Germany, the Frisians cannot feel part of any nation state. In this case their status in Germany is similar to that of the Sorbs in the States of Brandenburg and Saxony (southeast of unified Germany), and in Europe, for example, to that of the Bretons in France or the Saami people ("Lapps") in northern Scandinavia.

The North Frisians are numerically a minority in their own homeland. Among the nearly 160.000 inhabitants living in the District of North Frisia founded in 1970, appproximately a third would consider themselves as Frisians. Considerably smaller is the number of Frisians speaking Frisian as their mother tongue. In the last century it was estimated at about 30.000; today 10.000 people at the most speak Frisian in North Frisia, that includes the island of Heligoland. The North Frisian language community belongs thereby to the smallest of Europe.

There are two main dialect groups which can be further devided into nine smaller dialects: six exist on the mainland (including the Halligen) and three on the islands of Sylt, Föhr-Amrum and Heligoland. Although this diversity of dialects makes any efforts to preserve the North Frisian language much more difficult, it represents a multitude of fascinating linguistic variations and cultural richness at the same time.

Throughout the centuries Frisian was the language commonly used in the families and villages. After the Reformation at the latest Low German was the official, ecclesiastical and school language, though since the 17th century that has been High German. North Frisian was restricted to pure verbal usage for a long time. Only since the 18th century it has also become more frequently a written language. Those North Frisians that could see ahead recognized that in order for a language to survive at all it also has to exist in writing.


II: The Frisian Movement

The term "Frisian Movement" encapsules any efforts for the preservation, cultivation and development of the Frisian language and culture. Initial steps towards an independent North Frisian Movement were made around the forties of the 19th century. "Never cease to be Frisians" were the warning words of one North Frisian to his countrymen at that time. Deeply influenced by the ideas of Romanticism, he became convinced that he was neither German nor Dane, but Frisian. At the same time, however, national differences evolved between Germans and Danes in the Duchy of Schleswig, a fact which constantly hampered any Frisian aspirations.

When the Nordfriesischer Verein für Heimatkunde und Heimatliebe (North Frisian Association) was founded in 1902 it was the the first and is still the biggest home-land association for the whole of North Frisia, up to now. It emphasizes the close links of North Frisians to the German people and it joined the association Schleswig-Holsteiner Heimatbund. The local calendar Zwischen Eider und Wiedau published for the first time in 1958 is widely distributed.

The honorary activities of the local Frisian associations, which are run with great enthusiasm, constitute the most important support to the Frisian cultural work. These associations offer Frisian language courses, promote Frisian theatre, support groups for traditional costumes and folk dance groups, partly organize the Biikebrennen (a long-standing traditional Frisian gathering, now open to everyone, which takes place every year on february 21st to "banish the winter", when huge bonfires are lit), encourage the preservation and conservation of nature and monuments, and many other things besides.

One smaller association, the Foriining for nationale Friiske (Association for National Frisians, founded in 1923 as the Frisian-Schleswig Association) presumes the existence of an independent Frisian people and also works together with the Danish minority. It irregularly publishes a leaflet in Frisian language called "Nais aw frasch" (News in Frisian). The passionate dispute once existing between both groups has disappeared and changed into close co-operation in a friendly atmosphere.

For a long time the North Frisians have had strong links with their "relatives" in East and West Frisia. Every three years common Frisian congresses take place. The Friesenrat (Frisian Council) with delegates from North, East and West Frisia constitutes a link crossing national borders. North Frisians also participate in the activities of minority groups at a European level, especially for the purposes of the "European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages", Dublin, and the "Federal Union of European Nationalities" (FUEN).

The University of Kiel has had a chair of Frisian since 1978. As early as 1950 the North Frisian Dictionary Centre (Nordfriesische Wörterbuchstelle) was founded there. At the  Scientific College of Education - University of Flensburg seminars on Frisian language and literature and its dialectic are offered mainly to train teachers of Frisian.

There is also governmental support to the Frisian efforts. Since 1988/89 a board has been established in the State Parliament (Landtag) of Schleswig-Holstein, charged with affairs of the Frisian ethnic group. Since 1990 the Schleswig-Holstein Constitution has guaranteed the Frisian ethnic group "the right to protection and promotion".


Nordfriisk Instituut (North Frisian Institute)

The Nordfriisk Instituut in Bredstedt was established in 1965. Situated in the geographical centre of North Frisia's landscape, it is the central coordination point for any queries and topics relating to North Frisia. By organising publications, lectures, courses and seminars the institute aims to disperse and enlarge the public's knowledge about North Frisia and the Frisian language. It intends to stimulate ideas and to strengthen the people's own initiatives on North Frisia. In this way the institute hopes to contribute to North Frisia's cultural and, eventually, its economic development as well.

The institute corresponds with national and international scientific institutions. It has especially strong links with its two sister institutions, which are the Fryske Academy of Ljouwert/Leeuwarden in West Frisia (the Netherlands) and the Ostfriesische Landschaft of Aurich in East Frisia.

The Nordfriisk Instituut was, and still is, a model for the cultural promotion in a border region. It is financed by subsidies from the State of Schleswig-Holstein, the District of North Frisia, the Town of Bredstedt and the Danish minority. Additionally there are membership fees, donations, and funds raised by the sale of publications.

The institution is maintained by the association Nordfriesisches Institut e.V. ("North Frisian Institute"), founded in 1948. It was established with the aim to work for the Frisian culture on the basis of scientific objectivity as well as national and party-political neutrality. This was an attempt at building bridges during the time of national antagonism.

A decisive feature throughout the Frisian history was its autonomy in the important sections. The association "North Frisian Institute" continues this tradition in the field of Frisian culture. The association is governed by the executive committee, who are elected by the general meeting, where the North Frisian Association, the Foriining for nationale Friiske and the Heimatbund Landschaft Eiderstedt also have a seat and vote. An advisory body of elected representatives of the region North Frisia and a board of trustees to whom notable national and international scientists belong as well as personages of the public life, both work alongside the institute.


IV. The institute's library and archives

The library and the archives are the most important working aids of the Nordfriisk Instituut. They are open to anybody with an interest.

This library, specialising in North Frisia, is run as a reference library and numbers approximately 15.000 volumes. Every year nearly 500 more are added, and it subscribes to about 160 specialist national and international magazines and annuals. It collects publications topical to North Frisia, East and West Frisia and their border regions. The library "Jan-Tjittes-Pibenga-Bibleteek" of the Nordfriisk Instituut is the biggest collection of West Frisian publications within Germany.

The record office of the institute contains several legacies of North Frisian local scientists, a collection of photographs and maps as well as other valuable material. The collection of newspaper cuttings consists of 70.000 articles covering all fields of general knowledge. Eight daily newspapers and a certain number of weekly papers have to be evaluated for this purpose. The "North Frisian Emigrant Archive" includes data of more than 5.000 oversea emigrants from North Frisia.

With the aid of the library and the record office the employees of the institute support and advise members of Frisian associations, for example, teachers who want to treat Frisian topics in their lessons or students who have to write an examination paper or a thesis on North Frisia.

Furthermore the institute continually gets phonecalls and letters with various questions about the Frisian language, history and regional geography. Here are some of the most frequent questions :

a) What is the meaning of the Frisian slogan "Rüm hart - klaar kiming"?

b) When does the North Frisian "national" festival Biikebrennen take place?

c) What are the meanings of the different components on the North Frisian Coat-of-Arms?

d) Who was the first to write a history for the whole of North Frisia?

e) What does the Frisian name Paysen mean?

f) Where was the location of Rungholt? (A prosperous village, submerged by an enormous high tidal flood - Sturmflut - in the middle of the 14th century.)


a) "Wide heart - clear horizon"; represents the knowledge of the world the island-Frisian captains had.

b) Each year on February 21st (see above).

c) Crown: stands for the sovereign of the time, the Danish king (middle of the 19th century);

porridge pot: It is said that Frisian women put their enemies to flight with hot porridge when their husbands became weary of fighting.

German Reich Eagle: refers to the right of freedom, which supposedly was granted to the Frisians by German emperors.

d) The chronicler Peter Sax (1597 - 1662) from Koldenbüttel; his works were edited by H. Lühr & Dircks and the Nordfriisk Instituut.

e) The first syllable "Pay" is the Frisian nickname for Paul, the second syllable "sen" derives from Sohn von which means "son of".

f) Nearby the actual Hallig Südfall (in the southwest of the North Frisian sandbanks).


V. The cultivation of the Frisian language

The Frisian language is the most important characteristic of identity of the Frisians. Without its language North Frisia would not be North Frisia. The Nordfriisk Instituut has made it its aim to work for the preservation and promotion of the Frisian language; it co-operates with the Frisian associations and the universities of Kiel and Flensburg.

For a long time it was particularly difficult to be deeply involved in the promotion of the Frisian language. But today smaller languages and cultures enjoy a fair wind in Europe from which also North Frisia can profit.

For decades people were prejudiced that children growing up with Frisian or Low German as their mother tongue, would only have disadvantages at school. Modern scientific language research shows the opposite though: bi- and multilinguism during childhood is an asset for the future.

The teaching of Frisian at schools has been developing to an encouraging extent in the last years. In order to favour this the Nordfriisk Instituut provides appliances for instruction. The Frisian reading contest for school children, which takes place every three years and is co-sponsored by the Saving Banks, has proved a great success.

The Nordfriisk Instituut

- publishes brochures and books in Frisian,

- is involved in Frisian language courses and conversation groups,

- works on Frisian texts published in the newspapers of North Frisia,

- co-operates in Frisian broadcasts,

- continuously publishes topical Frisian articles in its newspaper NORDFRIESLAND,

- publishes once a year a list of printed Frisian texts in the North Frisian almanac,

- encourages the North Frisian people to write texts in their own language,

- works on material in Frisian for school and kindergarten,

- organizes an annual meeting of coordination with those who actively take part in the cultivation of the Frisian language,

- supplies continous up-to-date information on the Frisian language in North Frisia  in books, brochures, lectures etc., in the region and further afield.


VI. History and Geography

The Frisian history is as colourful and fascinating as the language region North Frisia. The Frisian trade in the "Frisian Sea", whaling and seal culling, tidal waves ("Sturmfluten") and land reclamation, emigration to North America - these are only a few chapter headings of the North Frisian history. Are you interested in learning more about it? Would you like to research your family's background? Do you want to know about the history of where you live? Would you like to participate in the work on the chronicle of an association, a country house or a business?

In these cases you can apply to the Nordfriisk Instituut. There you will get advice on how to put your plan into practice.You will be given advice about the literature and resources needed. You will get some historical know-how to support your work, and at the very least, you will be referred to places where you can investigate further.

The history of your homeland is not dusty or dry or looking backwards. Exploring a smaller area has the advantage that history can be traced in detail. It demonstrates the effects of history immediately outside ones own frontdoor, so to speak and results in ones immediate personal involvement and concern.

In numerous locations of North Frisia persons and working teams, who are re-searching the history of their place, their associations or their family, are advised and supported.

The institute also organises lectures and conferences on historical topics and it publishes books and essays. In 1995, an extensive "History of North Frisia" was published for the first time. Working groups are engaged in historical fields. Interested individuals from the three Frieslands gather at the "Historian meeting" of the Nordfriisk Instituut".


Working groups of the Nordfriisk Instituut - Come and join us !

The Working group "Frisian language and literature"

The members of this group meet twice a year to familiarise themselves with new developments in the fields of Frisian language and literature, and to give new impulses for the practical cultivation of the language. Their special interest is the promotion of the Frisian language.

The Working group "History"

Approximately twice a year this group invites to meetings where questions and results, which concern local and regional research on the history of North Frisia, are discussed. It offers a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences.

The Working group "Genealogy"

In this group experiences, ideas and discoveries in relation to the genealogy of North Frisia are exchanged and discussed. Of special interest is the harmonization of research and its results gained from the various parishes and communities, thereby making the most effective use of the established data.

The Working group "Archaeology"

Already several initiatives have been taken by this group as well. The most important objective here is to preserve the numerous archaeological monuments

in North Frisia, which are widely unknown, and to make the public more aware of their existence.

The "Youth group"

Association members of under 35 years of age belong to the "Youth group" of the Nordfriisk Instituut. They have links to other youth groups and co-operate with the association Jugend Eoropäischer Volksgruppen - JEV ("Youth of European Ethnic Groups").

"Interessengemeinschaft Bauplege Nordfriesland e.V."(IGB in German, cummunity of interests for the preservation of buildings in North Frisia)

Since 1979 this association has been engaged in the preservation of as many typical buildings as possible in the North Frisian landscape. Old buildings are testimonies to the people who built them and who lived in them - and to the North Frisian history. They deserve to be taken care of, to be restored with intelligence and to be carefully adapted to modern needs. But new buildings, too, should blend into the landscape and fit in with traditional buildingmethods.

The IGB wants to sharpen people's perception towards this purpose. They offer free and informal consultation to anybody interested in building or restoration.They arrange visits to exemplarily restored houses and establish contacts. The members of the IGB meet once a month to discuss the latest developments regarding the preservation and restoration of old buildings (these meetings are announced in the daily newspapers).

Come and join the working groups of the North Frisian Institute !


VII. The Nordfriisk Instituut as a publisher

Since 1965 the Nordfriisk Instituut has published around 300 books and many issues of its periodicals. Its list of publications includes studies of the region with a general appeal as well as scientific essays, works of North Frisian literature, dictionaries, language textbooks and Frisian children's books.

The magazines, almanac and calendar :

The quarterly magazine NORDFRIESLAND is the only one which relates to the whole of North Frisia with all kinds of topics. It has been published since 1965 and presents documantaries, up-to-date information, critical appraisals and new publi-cations.

Since 1965 a new series of the NORDFRIESISCHES JAHRBUCH ("North Frisian Almanac") has continued the almanacs of the association Nordfriesischer Verein für Heimatkunde und Heimatliebe (since 1903/04, North Frisian Association). Its essays present new discoveries about regional topics. During almost one century such a valuable database about North Frisia has been collected.

A quarterly brochure, DER MAUERANKER, is published by the IGB (see above). It deals with the preservation of worthwhile buildings and wants to generate under-standing of and interest for the construction of buildings typical for the landscape. Additionally DER MAUERANKER also offers help with regard to problems in the restoration of old buildings.

The photographic calendar JARLING:("Jarling" is North Frisian for "This year") does not only reflect the individuality of the country through its pictures. It is also special in its multitude of ethnic languages in the language country North Frisia - Frisian, Low German and Low Danish. Every picture is accompanied by a text in one of these languages.

Sequences :

Studies and material

Thesis, dissertations and other essays as well as documentations on the fields of Linguistics, History, Geography and Ethnology, etc.

North Frisian curriculums vitae

Personal records and memoirs of North Frisian people

North Frisia reprints

Reprints of earlier and significant works about North Frisia

Written works of the IGB

Descriptions of general appeal and illustrated volumes

Material for Frisian school lessons


Why become a member ?

- With your membership in the association "North Frisian Institute" you support the Nordfriisk Instituut's work for the cultivation, promotion and research of the Frisian language, history and culture. The association "North Frisian Institute" is recognized as an association of general benefit for the community. Membership fees and donations can be set against income-tax. Membership is also open to institutions, associations and communes.

- As a member of the association you will be invited to various meetings. You can participate in working groups and have an influence on the work of the institute.

- You will receive the quarterly magazine NORDFRIESLAND and the almanac NORDFRIESISCHES JAHRBUCH free. Other publications of the institute are available at a reduced price (usually at a 20% discount).