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2 Introductory remarks on The Syntax of Saterland Frisian

For writing about the syntax and morphology of Saterland Frisian, we could make use of our earlier work, the Sprachlehre des Saterfriesischen 2022 (Slofstra & Hoekstra 2022). However, the present work is not a translation of all that we wrote earlier in the Sprachlehre. The Sprachlehre was set up as a traditional grammar. In it, we wanted to bring together a rich collection of example sentences, which were loosely classified and discussed for a general audience from a classic grammatical perspective. Our purpose here, however, is to produce a scientific grammar which meets the needs of theoretical linguists. Hence we adopted the writing format of the Taalportaal, which forced us to look for different data and to present them in a different descriptive theoretical format. Hence the Grammar of Saterland Frisian 2023 is truly a companion piece to the Sprachlehre des Saterfriesischen 2022.


Our point of departure in 2021 was Pyt kramers Kute Seelter Sproakleere (1982). An important data source was Marron Fort’s epic Saterfriesisches Wörterbuch (2015). In addition, we used Pyt Kramer’s valuable transcriptions of spoken Saterland Frisian. And of course, we also used Saterland Frisian literature and linguistic articles about the language as our sources. Our grammar describes the language as it existed in the past sixty years. Wherever possible, we noted both speaker variation (dialect variation) and chronological variation.

While working on this project, we were hard pressed for time, having to produce the English grammar at very short notice, because the subsidies involved were yearly subsidies. We selected the best and most interesting example sentences for this grammar, keeping track of register and chronology, attempting to get a grasp on the historical changes in the language and on the interferences from Low and High German. We noticed that we profited in several respects from the existing description of West Frisian (and Afrikaans and Dutch) in the Taalportaal. In the first place, the Taalportaal offered us an ordered structure in which to present the material, so we didn’t need to invent a structure of our own. However, the Taalportaal also served as a heuristic instrument, forcing us to investigate all sorts of questions and data patterns. We couldn’t always follow up on this, for lack of time and accessible data, but in the large majority of cases we were able to uncover new information about Saterland Frisian grammar, to hunt down the examples which we were looking for in the existing sources. Nevertheless, we were also able to occasionally improve on the West Frisian Taalportaal, as a result of new insight, or to flesh a matter out in more detail. Hence, whenever we will update the West Frisian Taalportaal, we can profit from the fresh experiences and improvements made in the Saterland Taalportaal. What is especially valuable is that the Taalportaal treats the example sentences like real gems, presenting an extensive focused gloss and a clear translation, which is so often lacking in scholarly works on, for example, Old Germanic languages, as too much knowledge of the language studied is presupposed on the part of the reader. The Taalportaal not only contains an impressive amount of new grammatical insights, it also provides extensive descriptions of morphology and phonology.

The morphological part of our grammar profited from a retrograde word list, which we compiled with the aid of Eduard Drenth of ICT. For users we want to point out that information on a certain phenomenon can be found in various places, because a simple classification is not possible in the field of syntactic categories which affect one another. Some practical points:

  • When we were not sure whether an interference was from Low or High German, as we often were, we just used the phrase “from German”.
  • Out of necessity, we also used translations as a source of example sentences. We had them checked, though, by native speakers.
  • We are aware that our examples stem from a large time slice, roughly 1960-2020. We took care to point out tendencies towards change in the language.
  • Occasionally we make a statement without providing example sentences. Such statements are equivalent to Wikipedia stubs. Likewise we sometimes singled out interesting phenomena by explicitly remarking that they deserve further study.
  • Our glosses contain the grammatical information relevant for the phenomenon under discussion. For example, an R-pronoun is glossed R when the phenomenon of R-pronouns is discussed, otherwise it may just be glossed as ‘there’ or ‘it’, and so on.
  • The literal translation in the glosses is a compromise. The glosses present a literal translation, though sometimes a translation is preferred which indicates the etymological relation between a Frisian word and its English counterpart. Sometimes a slightly different translation is chosen that facilitates understanding of the data and their analysis.
  • A set of Saterland Frisian pronouns is ambiguous between a neutral reading (‘it’) and a demonstrative reading (‘that’). This ambiguity, and others, is not indicated in the glosses.
  • Prepositions are a subclass of adpositions. In many concrete instances, either term can be used and was used. This also applies to other technical terms.
  • Phrases like ‘the sentence above/below’ always refer to the closest sentence above or below.

The Grammar of Saterland Frisian consists of three parts, apart from this introduction:

  • Phonology and phonetics
  • Morphology
  • Syntax

The syntax of Saterland Frisian consists of the following parts:

  • The AP in Saterland Frisian
  • The NP in Saterland Frisian
  • The PP in Saterland Frisian
  • The VP in Saterland Frisian

All parts of the syntax have been richly illustrated with example sentences, for after all, theories come and go, empirical insights may last longer, but a well-glossed example sentence is a gem that future linguists and lovers of Saterland Frisian will cherish.

What is exciting, is that West Frisian has already been described in the Taalportaal. The inclusion of Saterland Frisian is important for the study of the Frisian language family and for the reconstruction of the development of Old Frisian into the three present-day Frisian languages: North Frisian, Saterland Frisian and West Frisian. It is our hope that the grammar may constribute not only to the theory of language and grammar, not only to the comparative study of the three Frisian languages from a synchronic and from a diachronic point of view, but we also hope that this grammar may contribute to the continued existence of the Saterland language, however small and threatened it is.

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