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Re-voicing Cultural Landscapes: intangible heritage of Fryslân, Cornwall and Livonia

Re-voicing cultural landscapes

How can you explore intangible cultural heritage of local minority language areas such as Fryslân, Cornwall (UK) and Livonia (Estonia/Latvia) through cultural events such as theatre and festivals?

Re-voicing cultural landscapes is a collaboration between three universities in Groningen, Falmouth, and Tartu. Since 2020, the Mercator Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning (Fryske Akademy) is one of the associated partners in the project. The project received funding from the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change (JPICH) and Horizon 2020 and started officially in January 2021. 


Languages and communities

Berber Aardema, Junior Researcher at the University of Groningen, explains:

The aim of the project is to research the intangible cultural heritage of local minority language areas Fryslân (Netherlands), Cornwall (UK) and Livonia (Estonia/Latvia), through live cultural events such as theatre, festivals, and ancestry gatherings. These events serve as a lens through which we observe how minority cultural heritage is engaged with by individuals and organisations, the way languages and communities function, and what dynamics are at play during and outside the events. Our central question regards the ‘interplay between minority and majority perspectives’, and how identity and insider-outsider dynamics affect these live cultural events.


Frisian-spoken theatre

The team of researchers working on this project at the University of Groningen has observed and investigated three forms of Frisian-spoken theatre; a village-based amateur performance (Fordivedaesje Top & Twel), a semi-professional open-air performance (Iepenloft Jorwert), and a professional performance (Tryater), on top of a pilot study conducted with Tryater.

The team has engaged in conversations with organisers, policy-makers, audience members, and others that surround or influence these cultural events. We aimed to gather varied responses and opinions from a diverse selection of respondents about what the events and the cultural tradition mean to them, the community, and could, perhaps, mean beyond the province borders. 


Frisian language and identity

In our publications based on this field work we will explore the use and meaning of Frisian language and identity as a whole, to see how it functions in practice and what is required to belong. Through this, we hope to gain more insight into the importance of Frisian culture in the context of social changes like globalization and urbanization. We also hope to find ways to strengthen the position of Frisian-spoken theatre (as intangible cultural heritage) and give advice on how to provide the practise with the means to continue flourishing.

At this point in time, we are nearing the end of our data collection and are working towards analysis and eventual publication of our results, which we hope will help make the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Cornwall, Fryslân and Livonia more visible and resilient.


A few quotes from the data

“We Frisians switch too easily. Right? When I go to the shops, you’re addressed in Dutch and you respond in Dutch, even though you can tell from the inflection that someone’s Frisian. And still you speak Dutch. I think that’s a shame.”

“One guy indicated he could not understand Frisian and the whole performance was done in Dutch. The two farmers, whose native language was clearly Frisian, had to tell their story in Dutch. And I thought, this is fine, but you can tell there’s a barrier there. They noticeably had to think and translate and that made it less natural and maybe, even, less pure.”

“First all that complaining and the objections [about going to see a Frisian show]. And I’m like ‘come on’. But it’s also great that that exists, because then when they’ve been won over afterwards, that shows its value. It has overruled all those fears and bumps in the road. Those don’t matter anymore. [...] That is the power of theatre, it’s an experience. People experience something, go through something [...] that overrides any preconceptions they might have had. But the conversation about it is always so time-consuming, like you have to defend something.”

“In language, it matters what you say and how you say it. When I talk about something, that’s the way I put it out into the world and I cause people to see it in that way. I feel that sense of care. The words we choose matter.”

More information is to be found at the Re-voicing Cultural Landscapes website of Falmouth University.