What Is Gronings? Where Is It Spoken? Why Learn It?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Gronings or Grunnegers locally is traditionally spoken in the province of Groningen, which is situated within the borders of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Groningen in 2019 has a population of more than half a million and is growing. By contrast, Gronings in 2019 is spoken by approximately a quarter of a million people and is declining. Gronings was spoken by an overwhelming majority of people in the beginning of the 20th century. One hundred years later in the 21st century, Gronings has lost its dominance in Groningen and has largely been displaced by Dutch. Groningen has turned from a Gronings-speaking province into a Dutch-speaking province within one century.

Gronings is not a dialect of Dutch, which is part of the Low Frankish/Franconian language family. Gronings belongs to the language family of Low Saxon. However, Gronings takes a special place within this family being classified as Friso-Saxon (which means ‘Frisian Saxon’). Gronings derives its distinct character from the fact that Gronings is Low Saxon with Frisian characteristics. Gronings has inherited a Frisian substrate (which means it may show Frisian influences on the level of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation), because Gronings itself is a result of language death in the Middle Ages. Namely, East Frisian, which is distinct from the West Frisian of the province Friesland, used to be spoken in Groningen and was displaced by Low Saxon.

Eilauners, the language of Schiermonnikoog, which has been in continued existence since the Middle Ages, is closely related to the language once spoken in Groningen in the Middle Ages and may actually be the last surviving remnant of the language that was originally spoken in Groningen. We are interested in exploring this notion further and that is why we are studying Gronings alongside Eilauners this January. This year I hope to produce a short course or treatise on the language of Schiermonnikoog written in Gronings, because Gronings has many more speakers than Eilauners, which has only about 30 speakers in 2019, and the speakers of Gronings may be interested in the link between the original language of Groningen and the language of Schiermonnikoog, which is a link that is certain to exist in one form or another (although its exact form still needs to be determined by further investigation).

Eilauners is particularly interesting as heritage of Groningen due to its linguistic continuity, but Eilauners was until recently highly vulnerable and we are making efforts to revitalise it. A great accomplishment for the preservation of the language of Schiermonnikoog would be if a few speakers of Gronings adopted Eilauners, recognising it as their authentic heritage due to its historcal continuity. This can be made possible by providing a wealth of information about the language of Schiermonnikoog in Gronings, and so it is required that we be able to speak and write Gronings very well, which is why we are very eager to study Gronings and to perfect our knowledge of Gronings as much as possible. Moreover, the link between Groningen and Schiermonnikoog may be our chief reason for studying Gronings, but we also have other important reasons: (a) We want to study the (East) Frisian substrate in Gronings, and (b) we see Gronings as one of the languages of the Kingdom of the Netherlands that one ought to master for integration with the local people of the Netherlands.

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