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Old Frisian
RegionNetherlands, Germany, Southern Denmark
Era8th to 16th centuries
Early forms
Anglo–Frisian runes
Language codes
ISO 639-3ofs
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Old Frisian was a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries along the North Sea coast, roughly between the mouths of the Rhine and Weser rivers. The Frisian settlers on the coast of South Jutland (today's Northern Friesland) also spoke Old Frisian, but there are no known medieval texts from this area. The language of the earlier inhabitants of the region between the Zuiderzee and Ems River (the Frisii mentioned by Tacitus) is attested in only a few personal names and place-names. Old Frisian evolved into Middle Frisian, spoken from the 16th to the 19th century.

In the early Middle Ages, Frisia stretched from the area around Bruges, in what is now Belgium, to the Weser River in northern Germany.[1] At the time, the Frisian language was spoken along the entire southern North Sea coast. This region is referred to as Greater Frisia or Magna Frisia, and many of the areas within it still treasure their Frisian heritage. However, by 1300, their territory had been pushed back to the Zuiderzee (now the IJsselmeer), and the Frisian language survives along the coast only as a substrate.

A close relationship exists between Old Frisian and Old English; this is due to a shared history, language and culture of the people from Northern Germany and Denmark who came to settle in England from around 400 A.D. onwards.

Phonological development

See also: Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law

The Codex Roorda is a medieval document with Latin and Old Frisian law texts.


Generally, Old Frisian phonologically resembles Old English. In particular, it shares the palatalisation of velar consonants also found in Old English. For example, whereas the closely related Old Saxon and Old Dutch retain the velar in dag, Old Frisian has dei and Old English has dæġ [dæj]. When initial and followed by front vowels the Germanic /k/, changed to the sounds /ts/ and /j/. Proto-Germanic /ɣ/ became /j/ after /e/, and word-initially before front vowels. Proto-Germanic /g/, where it existed, became /dz/. The Old Frisian for church was tzirke or tzerke, in Old English it was ċiriċe [ˈtʃiritʃe], while Old Saxon and Old Dutch have the unpalatalised kirika. Palatalization postdated fronting, and predated monophthongization and i-umlaut.[2]

Between vowels, h generally disappears (sian from *sehwaną), as in Old English and Old Dutch. Word-initial h- on the other hand is retained.[3] Old Frisian retains th in all positions for longer than Old Dutch and Old Saxon do, showing the gradual spread of the shift from th to d from south to north, beginning in southern Germany in the 9th century, but not reaching Frisian until the 13th or 14th century.[3]


Another feature shared between Old Frisian and Old English is the Anglo-Frisian brightening, which fronted a to æ except in certain conditions:[4]

Much later, after breaking, /æ/ became /e/.[5]

Before /xx/, /xs/, /xt/, short /e/, /i/ became /iu/ in a process known as "breaking".[6] An unrelated sound change where /i/ became /iu/ if /u/ or /w/ followed in the next syllable occurred later, after I-mutation.[7]

Vowels were fronted or raised in before /i/, /j/ a process called I-mutation:[8]

The old Germanic diphthongs *ai and *au become ē/ā and ā, respectively, in Old Frisian, as in ēn/ān ("one") from Proto-Germanic *ainaz, and brād from *braudą ("bread"). In comparison, these diphthongs become ā and ēa (ān and brēad) in Old English, and ē and ō (ēn and brōd) in Old Saxon. The diphthong *eu generally becomes ia, and Germanic *iu is retained. These diphthongs initially began with a syllabic (stressed) i, but the stress later shifts to the second component, giving to and . For example, thiād ("people") and liūde from Proto-Germanic *þeudō and *liudīz.[9]


Type Front Back
short long short long
Close i u
Mid e , ɛː o o:, ɔː
Open ɑ ɑː
Old Frisian Consonants [11]
Type Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m(ː) n(ː) (ŋ)
Stop p(ː) b(ː) t(ː) d(ː) k(ː) ɡ(ː)
Fricative f(ː) (v) θ(ː) (ð) s(ː) z x(ː) (ɣ)
Approximant j w
Liquid r(ː) l(ː)


Old Frisian (c. 1150 – c. 1550) retained grammatical cases. Some of the texts that are preserved from this period are from the 12th or 13th century, but most are from the 14th and 15th centuries. Generally, all these texts are restricted to legal writings. Although the earliest written examples of Frisian—stray words in a Latin context—are from approximately the 9th century, there are a few examples of runic inscriptions from the region which are older and in a very early form of the Frisian language. These runic writings however usually consist of no more than inscriptions of a single or few words.

Old Frisian had three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), two numbers (singular and plural), and four cases (Nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, although traces of an instrumental and locative case exist)[12]


First and second person pronouns[13]
First person Second person
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative ik thū jī, ī, gī
Accusative ūs þī iu, io
Genitive mīn ūser þīn iuwer
Dative/instrumental ūs þī iu, io

Dual forms are unattested in Old Frisian but their presence is confirmed by their continued existence in later Frisian dialects until the mid-20th century.[14]


A significant portion of Old Frisian nouns fall into the a-stem declension pattern. Most a-stem nouns are masculine or neuter.

a-stem declension[15]
Case Masculine
bām « beam»
skip « boat »
word « word»
Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative−Accusative bām bāmar, -er, -an, -a skip skipu word word
Genitive bāmes bāma skipes skipa wordes worda
Dative bāme bāmum, -em, -im skipe skipum worde wordum

Certain words like dei "day" have "g" in the plural endings.[16]

All nouns in the ō-stem declension were feminine. The nominative Singular -e comes from the accusative case.[17]

Text sample

The Creation of Adam
English Old Frisian
God created the first man, that was Adam, from eight things: God scop thene eresta meneska - thet was Adam - fon achta wendem:
the bones from the rock, thet benete fon tha stene,
the flesh from the earth, thet flask fon tha erthe,
the blood from the water, thet blod fon tha wetere,
the heart from the wind, tha herta fon tha winde,
the thoughts from the clouds, thene thogta fon tha wolkem,
the sweat from the dew, thet swet fon tha dawe,
the (hair)locks from the grass, tha lokkar fon tha gerse,
the eyes from the sun, tha agene fon there sunna,
and then He breathed holy breath on it. and tha ble'r'em on thene helga om.
And then He created Eve from his rib, Adam's beloved. And tha scop'er Eva fon sine ribbe, Adames liava.


There are some early Frisian names preserved in Latin texts, and some runic (Futhorc) inscriptions, but the oldest surviving texts in Old Frisian date from the 13th century, in particular official and legal documents. They show a considerable degree of linguistic uniformity.

Further information: Eibert


  1. ^ Hines, John; IJssennagger, Nelleke, eds. (2021). Frisians of the Early Middle Ages. Studies in historical archaeoethnology. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-78327-561-8. OCLC 1201655870.
  2. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 30–32.
  3. ^ a b Bremmer 2009, pp. 36–37.
  4. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 29–30.
  5. ^ Bremmer 2009, p. 30.
  6. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 33–35.
  7. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 35–36.
  8. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 32–33.
  9. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 27–29.
  10. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 42, 43.
  11. ^ Bremmer 2009, p. 47.
  12. ^ Bremmer 2009, p. 53.
  13. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 55–56.
  14. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 56.
  15. ^ Bremmer 2009, pp. 60–62.
  16. ^ Bremmer 2009, p. 61.
  17. ^ Bremmer 2009, p. 62.