Frisian in an international context
In 2013 a new Frisian Language and Culture programme was launched at the University of Groningen. The study of Frisian was now embedded in an international oriented and English-spoken programme: Minorities & Multilingualism. This year is a lustrum year. What has become very clear in the past five years, is that this new approach has been very successful. On an academic level, education about and in the Frisian language functions best when it is embedded in the context of international academic programmes and therefore of our multilingual – and mainly trilingual – society. This model has positive consequences for the status and the scope of education in and about Frisian. Even students who do not specialize in the Frisian language and culture come into contact with the Frisian context and can therefore end up in positions that are important for the ‘Frisian field’. Thanks to this reorganization of our education, Frisian gains more prestige.
A success story
This success can be measured. The number of students has increased from less than 2 students per year before 2012 to 23 full-time students in 2017/18 in the Bachelor Minorities & Multilingualism and 16 in the Master Multilingualism. In addition, the programme annually serves approximately 200 subsidiary and Erasmus Exchange students, who all come into contact with and gain scientific knowledge about the Frisian language and culture. In recent years, students have rated the programme as excellent in the National Student Survey conducted by the government (in 2018 the programme ranked eighth on the national list of BA programmes, and was the second best of the Groningen BA degree programmes). The members of the chair group – an international staff with a Frisian touch – teach classes and supervise PhD research (currently 10 PhDs), have seats in editorial boards of important professional journals, hold scientific and public lectures, publish books and contribute in major scientific journals and relevant professional journals and develop apps as a form of ‘citizen science’. The department has also created two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the past period. One was about multilingualism, the other was an ‘Introduction to Frisian’. The MOOCs were an astonishing success: more than 10,000 people from all over the world signed up to learn Frisian online!
The past five years have made it very clear that the programme operates as the top of the field of the study of Frisian in the Netherlands. One can find alumni of our study programme everywhere in key positions concerning Frisian (both socially and scientifically). The chair also cooperates closely with other partners in the field: the Afûk, the NHL / Stenden university, Campus Fryslân of the RUG, the Fryske Akademy), and plays a role in the European Capital of Culture Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018.
What does the future hold?
The Frisian chair wants to continue and expand this success. Exciting, because in The Hague and in Leeuwarden there is currently a lot of discussion about how the programme fits in with the agreement that the province of Fryslân and the government make about Frisian every five years. Frisian is not only an official national language, but also enjoys protection within the framework of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages - for Frisian the highest level of protection is in force. We believe that one of the most important ways to pass Frisian to the next generation is education, and our programme plays a crucial role in this: it is the only academic programme in the Netherlands that has the country’s second language as a central study subject at university level. Let’s hope that the ladies and gentlemen at the negotiating table can work it out!