Sunday, December 18, 2005

Frisian and English

I've always liked knowing that English has a sister language, Frisian. It's still spoken, mostly in the Netherlands, but also in Northern Germany and Southwestern Denmark. There are features that mark both it and English off from all other West Germanic languages (that is, from Dutch, High and Low German, and Yiddish), forming an "Anglo-Frisian" subgroup. Anyways, insomnia drove me to try to find Frisian radio online, and I was ultimately successful. I listened for a while, and I must admit that I wouldn't have been able to tell it from Dutch or some form of Plattdeutsch. What did strike me, though was the quality of the "r" sounds. Before vowels they were just a lingual trill, but after them they were alveolar approximants. Isn't that amazing? That is, they were the same as English "r" sounds. I do not know if this means both languages preserve this odd (and rare) sound from their common ancestor, or if Frisian somehow picked it up from English. In fact, I think this fact is barely known - I had a hard time finding it mentioned at all, and I found nothing that described it having different pre- and postvocalic qualities.

On another note, while listening to Frisian radio I heard a cool song called "Yesterday Man" by a certain Chris Andrews. Turns out it was a big hit in England and Europe in 1965, but was unknown here. In fact, there is a surprising number of such songs, many of which are quite good. I'll write more about this later.


the chocolate lady said...

Buruma article

Ben said...

Which - the NYRB piece from a few years ago? I read it and liked it, but can't remember for the life of me what he said.

the chocolate lady said...

Whoops, Sorry--
Yes, that't the one I meant. He starts out talking about Frisian, and then attacks people concerned with language preservation (Or "ecolinguists", as he calls them)for their cluelessness. some comments as well about certain languages being dead or dying.

november said...

Have you ever heard Latin on the radio?

Radio Finland used to read the news in classical Latin, and perhaps they still do.

It's wonderful!



Ben said...

Nope - never have; don't know why not, though. I studied Classics in college as an undergraduate, and we always talked about phenomena such as Latin radio and newspapers, though I never got around to investigating them. I think the same things exist in Sanskrit too, though that'd be lost on me. But I'll definitely have a listen to Latin radio - thanks for the tip!