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Fryske Akademy Research Agenda 2023-2027

• Area of expertise: Language and multilingualism

Research theme: The multilingual society
Research theme: Language variation and change
Research theme: Language description and standardisation

This area of expertise centres on the Frisian language and the language variants of Frisian and Dutch in Friesland, such as Hindeloopers, Stadsfries, Schiermonnikoogs, and Bildts etc. Research is carried out on purely linguistic topics, such as the study of phonetics, morphology or syntax, as well as lexicography. This area focuses on the language of today as well as the language of the past, and is concerned with both written and spoken language. In addition, we focus on the Dutch language in Friesland and the influence of the language contact between Dutch and Frisian. As a result, language sociology and sociolinguistics are also research topics. This area further examines how Frisian is changing (or not) in the multi­lingual context in which the language operates.


Research theme: The multilingual society

Friesland is a multilingual province where several dialects and migrant languages are spoken in addition to Frisian and Dutch. How the inhabitants of Friesland cope with this multilingualism is studied in the context of The multilingual society research theme. Aspects could include the study of language proficiency, behaviour, and attitudes towards Frisian or multilingualism. And how children in Friesland grow up hearing multiple languages and Frisian from an early age. Other questions, such as how teachers can best accommodate the linguistic diversity of students in the classroom, or what multilingual language policy looks like, also come to mind.

There are many regions in Europe where minority languages are spoken. The Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning, which is part of the Fryske Akademy, carries out much comparative research into a number of different subjects in the Frisian context and with regard to other European minority languages. This includes research into best practices with regard to language policy and multilingualism in pre-pri­mary, primary, and secondary education, both in Friesland and other European areas where minority languages are spoken. This way, the Mercator Research Centre is forging a link between Friesland and Europe.

Multilingualism is by no means a recent phenomenon. It has played a significant role in the former Frisian lands for centuries. This is why we find, for instance, elements of other languages in Frisian and of Old Frisian in modern Dutch. These phenomena are of interest to researchers because they explain much about today’s Frisian. Therefore, research into these phenomena often provides links with the research theme of Language description and standardisation, as well as the Heritage in the Frisian lands and Law and freedom in the Frisian lands themes.



Research theme: Language variation and change

Under this research theme, we study the varia­tion in the Frisian language from today and from the past. We also study the linguistic variation of the other language varieties spoken and written in Friesland. Among other things, we study how these language varieties have changed in the multilingual context over the centuries and how the modern varieties are changing in our time. Central questions are how language change in Friesland through contact (e.g., the influence of Dutch on Frisian) and internal language change (developments in Frisian itself) relate to and influence each other and what linguistic, socio-geographic, and cognitive factors play a part in this. In so doing, we focus on all language components (grammar, vocabulary, and pronun­ciation) and study the relationship between the production of language variation (spoken and written), the perception of variation (the differences distinguished by language users), and speaker attitudes towards language variation.

This research theme primarily focuses on funda­mental research in the area of sociolinguistics, making use of the natural laboratory that is Friesland. With laboratory sociolinguistics, it introduces a new approach to the study of language variation and change, and aims to bring about advances in theoretical and meth­odological understanding. It also provides many insights, especially in the area of the pronun­ciation of Frisian, which are directly applicable to modern language tools (such as speech recognition, speech synthesis, and teaching aids). Speech technology is a very important tool for a minority language such as Frisian. It is therefore also one of the flagship topics of the Fryske Akademy. For example, a bilingual speech recognition tool has been developed, which is currently undergoing further development for various applications.

Several projects overlap with the research themes Heritage in the Frisian lands, The multilingual society and Language description and standardisation. This could include projects that transfer (old) sound recordings into written texts, creating a searchable corpus of spoken Frisian. Another topic could be the speech of Frisians who constantly switch from Frisian to Dutch and back, a phenomenon known as code-switching.



Research theme: Language description and standardisation

This research theme is about describing the Frisian language in spoken and written form over time, from the Old Frisian of the Middle Ages to today’s Frisian. We describe the sounds used in Frisian, how they can be combined, and how they interact. We also describe the struc­ture of words and how words can be combined to form a sentence. In addition, the Fryske Akademy has a long lexicographical tradition. Years of accumulated know-how in this field have made lexicography one of the cornerstones of the Fryske Akademy. With its experience in Frisian lexicography, the Fryske Akademy also sets an example for other minority languages everywhere in the world. Today, lexicography is manifested in the digital dictionaries that can be found on and which are available to all. Other language tools, such as our automatic translator, can be found there as well.

By accurately describing all the facets of the Frisian language, the Fryske Akademy plays an important part in the standardisation of Frisian. Among other things, one of the goals of this standardisation is to allow new speakers and language users to learn the language better. Language description and, to some extent, the standardisation create room for variation within the Frisian language and other Frisian language variants. Therefore, there is also considerable overlap with the research theme of Language variation and change.

Within this theme, Old Frisian is studied and described from a linguistic point of view. We find this oldest form of Frisian in legal texts dating from the Middle Ages and elsewhere. Thus, the study of Old Frisian links the research themes of Language description and standardisation and Law and freedom in the Frisian lands.

Language description is a task that will never be finished because language will keep changing. We see it as our task to provide an up-to-date description of Frisian and make it available to other linguists, at home and abroad, via the Language Portal. Our description of Frisian covers the general characteristics of the language, but we also focus, of course, on the features of Frisian not found in other languages, which set Frisian apart.