The Frisian languages are a closely related group of Germanic languages, spoken by about 500,000 members of Frisian ethnic groups, who live on the southern fringes of the North Sea in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. Frisian languages are the most closely related living European languages to Old English, but modern English and Frisian are mostly unintelligible to each other. It has been asserted that fishermen from Great Yarmouth could understand fishermen from Harlingen in Friesland. Frisian languages bear similarities to Low German, Dutch (from which many Frisian words have been borrowed) and Danish, and Danish speakers are able to understand some spoken Frisian. Additional shared linguistic characteristics between the Great Yarmouth area, Friesland, and Denmark are likely to have resulted from the close trading relationship these areas maintained during the centuries-long Hanseatic League of the Late Middle Ages.
The situation in the Dutch province of Groningen and the German region of East Frisia is more complex: The local Low Saxon dialects of Gronings and East Frisian Low Saxon are a mixture of Frisian and Low Saxon dialects, though it is believed that Frisian was spoken here at one time and has been gradually replaced by the town language of Groningen City, which in turn is now being replaced by standard Dutch.
In the Nordfriesland (North Frisia) region of the German province of Schleswig-Holstein, there are 10,000 North Frisian speakers. While many of these Frisians live on the mainland, most are found on the islands, notably Sylt, Föhr, Amrum, and Helgoland. The local corresponding North Frisian dialects are still in use.
fyand ISO 639-2 code
frywere assigned to "Frisian", but that was changed in November 2005 to "Western Frisian". According to the ISO 639 Registration Authority the "previous usage of [this] code has been for Western Frisian, although [the] language name was "Frisian".
The new ISO 639 code
stq is used for the Saterland Frisian language a variety of Eastern Frisian (not to be confused with East Frisian Low Saxon, a West Low German dialect).
The new ISO 639 code
frr is used for the North Frisian language variants spoken in parts of Schleswig-Holstein.
Saterland Frisian and most dialects of North Frisian are seriously endangered.
Frisian is the language most closely related to English apart from Scots, but after at least five hundred years of being subjected to the influence of Dutch, modern Frisian in some aspects bears a greater similarity to Dutch than to English; one must also take into account the centuries-long drift of English away from Frisian. Thus the modern languages are unintelligible to each other today, partly due to the marks which Dutch and Low German have left on Frisian, and partly due to the vast influence some languages (in particular French) have had on English throughout the centuries. Monolingual English-speakers, newly exposed to the language, would not only fail to understand it at all, except for some simple sentences, but would likely mistake it for Dutch.
Old Frisian, however, did bear a striking similarity to Old English. This similarity was reinforced in the late Middle Ages by the Ingaevonic sound shift, which affected Frisian and English, but only affected the other West Germanic varieties slightly, if at all. Historically, both English and Frisian are marked by the suppression of the Germanic nasal in a word like us (ús), soft (sêft) or goose (goes): see Anglo-Frisian nasal spirant law. Also, when followed by some vowels, the Germanic k softened to a ch sound; for example, the Frisian for cheese and church is tsiis and tsjerke, whereas in Dutch it is kaas and kerk, and in German the respective words are Käse and Kirche. Contrarily, this did not happen for chin and (to)choose, which are kin and kieze.
One rhyme demonstrates the palpable similarity between Frisian and English: "Butter, bread, and green cheese is good English and good Fries," which is pronounced more or less the same in both languages (Frisian: "Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.")
One major difference between Old Frisian and modern Frisian is that in the Old Frisian period (c.1150-c.1550) grammatical cases still existed. Some of the texts that are preserved from this period are from the twelfth or thirteenth, but most are from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Generally, all these texts are restricted to legalistic writings. Although the earliest definite written examples of Frisian are from approximately the 9th century, there are a few examples of runic inscriptions from the region which 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. The transition from the Old Frisian to the Middle Frisian period (c.1550-c.1820) in the sixteenth century is based on the fairly abrupt halt in the use of Frisian as a written language.
Afterwards this practice was continued under the Habsburg rulers of the Netherlands (the German Emperor Charles V and his son, the Spanish King Philip II), and even when the Netherlands became independent, in 1585, Frisian did not regain its former status. The reason for this was the rise of Holland as the dominant part of the Netherlands, and its language, Dutch, as the dominant language in judicial, administrative and religious affairs.
In this period the great Frisian poet Gysbert Japiks (1603-66), a schoolteacher and cantor from the city of Bolsward, who largely fathered modern Frisian literature and orthography, was really an exception to the rule.
His example was not followed until the nineteenth century, when entire generations of Frisian authors and poets appeared. This coincided with the introduction of the so-called newer breaking system, a prominent grammatical feature in almost all West Frisian dialects, with the notable exception of Southwest Frisian. Therefore, the Modern Frisian period is considered to have begun at this point in time, around 1820.
It is interesting to identify a migration from German to English via Dutch and Frisian: zurück (German) -> terug (Dutch) -> tebek (Frisian) -> back (English) (Note however that the second element of the Dutch and German words is cognate with English ridge, so-called due to being the shape of an animal's back); Schafe (German) -> schapen (Dutch) -> skiep (Frisian) -> sheep (English). It is interesting that the plural of sheep in Frisian and English (and also several German dialects) is identical to the singular form.
The English translation in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
(NB: Which was changed to "who", in earth to "on earth," and them to "those" in the 1928 version of the Church of England prayer book and used in other later Anglican prayer books too. However, the words given here are those of the original 1662 book as stated)