People who study the evolution of the English language have always had a fascination with Frisian.
In their older forms, the two languages shared vocabulary and grammar patterns that differed from other Germanic languages.
It’s less clear today. The Norman invasion of England in 1066 resulted in a French invasion of English, while Dutch has rubbed off on Frisian, or at least the version of Frisian that is spoken in the Netherlands.
English has become the world’s premier language. And Frisian … it has managed to hang on, against the odds. It’s now making a comeback, partly thanks to the European Union and Dutch government support (sometimes begrudgingly) for Frisian language schools, news media and performance arts. Frisians themselves are more likely to say their language has survived because of the determination of the Frisian people. Non-Frisians in the Netherlands sometimes characterize this as stubbornness. Whatever it is, people in villages across the province of Friesland still speak Frisian. And increasingly, young people write in Frisian, especially when using social media.
So what about that connection with English? It goes back at least 1,400 years. The English king Ethelbert oversaw the establishment of the so-called Kentish laws, the first laws that we know of written in any Germanic language. The Kentish Laws are the oldest surviving documents in Old English.
There are about 7,000 languages spoken around the world — and they all have different sounds, vocabularies and structures. But do they shape the way we think? Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky shares examples of language — from an Aboriginal community in Australia that uses cardinal directions instead of left and right to the multiple words for blue in Russian — that suggest the answer is a resounding yes. “The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is,” Boroditsky says. “Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000.”
Moving to the Netherlands from a Western culture is on the whole a painless experience. The Dutch strive for an egalitarian society and are known for their liberalism, welcoming religions and traditions from elsewhere. But this doesn’t mean the Netherlands doesn’t have its own rich cultural heritage – far from it.
Multilingualism is good for the economy, researchers have found. Countries that actively nurture different languages reap a range of rewards, from more successful exports to a more innovative workforce.
“Language matters on a large-scale national level and at the level of smaller businesses,” says Gabrielle Hogan-Brun, a research fellow in Language Studies at the University of Bristol, citing data that links economic growth to linguistic diversity.
Switzerland, for example, attributes 10% of its GDP to its multilingual heritage. The country has four national languages: German, French, Italian and an ancient Latin-based language called Romansh.
Britain, on the other hand, is estimated to lose out on the equivalent of 3.5% of its GDP every year, because of its population’s relatively poor language skills.
This may be partly because languages can help build trade relations. A study of small and medium-size companies in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and France found that those which invested more in languages were able to export more goods. German companies that invested heavily in multilingual staff added 10 export countries to their market. Companies that invested less said they missed out on contracts.
Multilingualism is when a person speaks more than three languages. These people are often called said to be polyglots, and are admired for their ability to speak so many different languages. If you are thinking about broadening your horizons to learn a second, third, or fourth language, you may be wondering what the advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism are.
Reportage over het weer in Nederland uit 1967. Bert Steinkamp praat onder meer met een weerkundige van het KNMI, een bouwvakker, een postbesteller die met een bootje post bezorgt, een molenaar en een boer. Met beelden van een weersonde, het strand, storm op zee, ingesneeuwd Nederland en ijspret.