Frisian: Fryske Google Translate Day yn Grins English: Frisian Google Translate Dei in Groningen

You may be familiar with Google Translate: the translator of Google that provides everyone with translations from all over the world. Among these languages are minority languages such as Basque, Catalan, Māori, and Welsh. Anne Dijkstra, initiator of the online Frisian language resource thought it was time for Frisian to earn its place on this online platform as well. After contact with Google, it was clear that in order to make the online dictionary work, a significant amount of English example sentences had to be translated. Hence, Frisian speakers had to be organised to get the show on the road, or to say in Frisian: “It gie oan!”

The Frisian Google Translate week was opened on September 21st by deputee Sietske Poepjes. Primary schools, secondary schools, and libraries in Fryslân organised translation events. And even here at the University of Groningen an event was organised by Willem Visser and Anne Popkema on September 26 – also the day of European languages. As foreseen, some M&M students were present during the translate event at the Harmony building.

Around 10 o’clock the interested people started translating. The ones present were focussed and aimed towards the goal that was set beforehand: translate over 200 so called ‘strings’ and you will receive the Frisian translation of Edgar Allen Poe! Of course, those who were really competitive created their own goals. It was nice to see that both young (Frisian) students and older (Frisian) people were present. To us it felt like an avowal of the fact that Frisian in general is still ‘hip’.

Google Translate already collected many Frisian words and added them to their database by gathering information from (online) resources. This left us with more colloquial, modern sentences and words that are sometimes difficult to translate. At first, this didn’t seem to be much of a problem. Occasionally, however, you could hear people burst out in laughter. Words and sentences such as “golden showers”, “Chat random girls, is for adults only”, and “toss off” crossed our screens not once, not twice, but multiple times. We couldn’t contain ourselves: we laughed like a couple of 14 year olds in Sex Ed. class.

Some examples were impossible to translate however: samples with artist names (though some did translate Mariah Carey as Anneke Douma), titles of songs, films, or books, or grammatically ambiguous sentences such as “let it bee,” or “your gay.” Our instructions were clear with these examples: just skip them and let them be(e). Even Google itself gave some moral support when it gave the sentence “when everything is wrong, you make it right.” It was a great pleasure though, to find fun new translations for slang you’ve been accustomed to, even to find out Frisian rhymes as good as English. “Meet and greet” becomes “moetsje en groetsje,” or “bro’s before ho’s” “bruorren foar huorren.”

Nonetheless, everyone translates differently, so it will be interesting to find out what the eventual translations will be. The Fryske Akademy will validate the input to create some kind of unity in the mass of inventive translations.Hopefully, the translations will soon be made accessible on Google as to secure Frisian in yet another place of the online world. In the meantime, we rewarded our efforts (a combined total of 16,500 translations) of the day with a cold beer at F.F.J. Bernlef, a Frisian student association with it’s 50-something square meters of ‘neutral territory’ within the borders of Groningen. After all, despite age, we all remain students in our hearts.


Daniël Hofstede
Ydwine Scarse
(Students BA Minorities & Multilingualism)