Classification of Frisian

john at john at
Thu Dec 30 14:37:51 UTC 2010

Dear Funknetters (just in case any of you know the answer to this
question or can refer me to someone who knows),
I am confused about the categorization of Frisian within West Germanic.
I understood that Anglo-Frisian has been categorized as a separate branch
of West Germanic (as against Low German (including Dutch and Afrikaans), etc.).
I also understood that there is basically a dialect continuum for the
rest of Continental West Germanic, that is, people can always understand
neighboring dialects (as opposed to North Germanic=Scandinavian, which
even though it is Germanic and borders on West Germanic on the Jutland
Peninsula, has no mutually intelligibility with it). I assumed that this meant
that there is NOT a dialect continuum between Frisian (in its various
forms) and neighboring Low German dialects--that is, there is a discrete change
generally similar to (although less drastic in scope than) the change between
Danish and Low German and that none of the Frisian dialects are mutually
intelligible with neighboring Low German dialects. But on investigating the
situation more (on Wikipedia...), it looks like the differences between
Anglo-Frisian and neighboring Low German dialects are relatively minor, and
some of them seem even to have occurred in historical times (like the
first millenium CE). But if this is the case, then why is Frisian popularly
considered to be a different language from both Dutch and German while e.g.
traditional Low German dialects of what is today northern Germany are not?
This can't be just because Frisian was written until 1500 or so, because this
was already true of Low German. Dutch is popularly considered a separate
language from German because the United Provinces used Dutch rather than
German as its written language, but Frisian wasn't used anywhere at the time as
an official written language. So why is it popularly considered to be a
separate language today? Is it really discretely different from Low German
dialects (including Dutch) in a lot of significant ways which aren't being
described in Wikipedia?
Any help with this would be appreciated.
Thanks and best wishes,

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