Frisians - Orientation

Identification. The Frisians are a linguistic and cultural minority of the Netherlands (with some pockets of Frisian speakers living in Germany as well).

Location. The majority of Frisians live in Friesland, a Province in the north of the Netherlands that is bordered on the south by the Zuider Zee (IJsselmeer) and on the east and north by the North Sea. Most of Friesland lies below sea level, subject to storms and flooding through much of the year. The soil is mixed: sand, clay, and peat. The coastal terp region, socalled for the mounds (terpen) built by early inhabitants to raise their dwelling sites above the flood line, is essentially sandy soil. To the east, two ecological zones can be distinguished: the "low middle" area of flat wetlands formed by the silting-in of old riverbeds; and the marshy forest area in the southeast.

Demography. Frisian speakers today number approximately 730,000, with about 400,000 living in Friesland Province, 300,000 living elsewhere in the Netherlands, and the remainder living in Germany, Denmark, and North America.

Linguistic Affiliation. Frisian is a member of the North Sea Branch of the Western Germanic Family of Indo-European languages and bears strong linguistic resemblance to both English and Dutch. Most speakers are bilingual in Dutch. There are three dialects: West, Eastern, and Northern Frisian. Frisian has an official orthography in the Netherlands.

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