Written by Dyami Millarson
We are immensely thankful that we reached 1300 followers on 21 September. It is as a good moment as ever to reflect on the fact that there are far more followers of our blog than the total number of speakers of 3 endangered languages that we learned to speak in the festive year of 2018 when Leeuwarden the geographical capital of Frisia was the European Capital of Culture: Aasters, Eilauners and Hielepes which, with my help, received international recognition as independent Frisian languages, as opposed to being labeled Frisian dialects, in 2019 (read more here). The estimated total number of speakers of aforementioned languages would barely reach 1/3 of our current total of more than 1300 followers.
I was on the beautiful island of Schiermonnikoog, where Eilauners is spoken, from Saturday 21 September to Wednesday 25 September for the 7th time since August 2018 and I seized the occasion to inform the elderly speakers of Eilauners that there are more online supporters of Eilauners than there are speakers of Eilauners. This delighted the elderly speakers of Eilauners, because it gave them hope that their language – with only about 30 active speakers according to an estimation by a local in 2018 (click here to read more) – would survive. The total number of speakers of Eilauners according to aforementioned estimation would fit more than 43 times in the current total number of followers of the Operation X blog.
On 25 September, I told one speaker, who is over 100 years old, that we have regularly published articles written in his language on our blog since 2018. I enquired him why he thought it was important his language survives. He answered without hesitation whilst speaking to me in his language: “If our language vanishes, then our culture vanishes.” He expressed explicitly his hope there would be speakers of Eilauners in the future. When I asked for a revitalisation strategy, his wife had a good idea about how to save the language. I expressed my best wishes to his wife and I said a few encouraging words in private to him before leaving to catch the boat, because I would have an interview about Eilauners the language of Schiermonnikoog with the program Man Bijt Hond for the occasion the European Day of Languages the next day.
I arrived home late in Leeuwarden on Wednesday 25 September. We had taken the last ferry from Schiermonnikoog to Lauwersoog and we had taken the bus from Lauwersoog to Leeuwarden. On our way back, my father and I discussed everything that we had experienced on the island and we talked about the plans for revitalising the language of Schiermonnikoog. Later that night when I was already home, I prepared my clothes for the very next day and I looked forward to the interview.
In the morning of 26 August, I arrived about 25 minutes late for the interview because of a miscommunication on my part. The film crew had been waiting patiently at the agreed upon location, which was PostPlaza Grand Café in Leeuwarden, and we could start filming almost instantly. We talked in Dutch about the idea that the European Day of Language is a dag van verbinding (Dutch: day of social connection). We wanted to emphasise the concept of verbinding (social connection) in relation to the endangered indigenous languages spoken in the Netherlands. I informed them that the speakers of Eilauners had a special word for this as well: bjaun (connection, bond). Man Bijt Hond thought it was special to focus on endangered indigenous languages, because everyone thinks about foreign national languages on the European Day of Languages and usually does not reflect deeply on the fact that there are dozens of endangered indigenous languages spoken in the Netherlands alone. Man Bijt Hond and I hoped to present this as an eye-opener for the Dutch public on the European Day of Languages (whilst the interview would be edited and aired on the same day). I think we succeeded in making Dutch-speaking people cognizant of indigenous languages, such as Aasters and Eilauners and Hielepes, that require urgent care for preservation.
Desiring to expose the people in the streets of Leeuwarden to one of the indigenous language spoken in the Netherlands, namely Eilauners, we took to the streets in the rain. We slowly walked to the city-centre where I knew there would be plenty of young people whom we could interview. I expressed my hope to interview girls, because I thought young females’ support is absolutely necessary for language preservation. I mentioned to the film crew that I have often heard groups of young Frisian girls speak Frisian and this conveys a very positive image for the language, which could help it survive in the long term. Indeed, as I had hoped, girls gave very empathic and interesting responses when I interviewed them in the city-centre. In the final cut, my first interview with a kind-hearted and gorgeous red-haired Frisian young lady and her best friend was included and also my interview with an open-minded, enthusiastic girl and her mother who had moved here from a dominantly Dutch-speaking province of the Netherlands. The young females could explain why preserving Eilauners is important and they presented themselves very sympathetically on camera. I helped them as much as I could to be comfortable during the interview and I thanked them kindly for their generous support.
During the interviews, the rain was pouring down on the notebook we were using to teach a few sentences of Eilauners to the people in the streets of Leeuwarden. The film crew and I noted the symbolism of this: The ink of the letters was fading away just like the indigenous languages of the Netherlands. This scene was captured on camera and made it to the final cut that was first aired 26 September, 7:30 PM. All the people whom we had interviewed, including the ones who were unfortunately not included in the final cut, expressed strong support for our language initiative and they were eager to help. It was a special experience to just speak with random strangers in the streets of Leeuwarden and hear how sympathetic they were to our linguistic charity work.
In the coming months, we hope to publish articles in Elfdalian as well as Saterlandic and Heligolandic. We have been publishing Swedish articles for the last few weeks as one of our final preparations for our first Nordic project: studying Elfdalian language and culture. We would still like to publish more articles in Elfdalian, though. Furthermore, as one of our final preparations for our 2 first projects in Germany, we would like to publish German articles in the coming weeks. Swedish and German are national languages that will be essential for our charity work while communicating with the media and people in the respective European countries where we are going to do our next projects. Just as we have experienced in 2016 with Dutch, Swedish and German are gateways to the study, preservation and promotion of endangered languages that are spoken in the respective countries.