Frisian is spoken by about 362.000 people. The speakers live in the Netherlands and in Germany.
Frisian belongs to the Western branch of the Germanic languages. It is closely related to English, Dutch and German. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.
Frisian is subdivided into three major dialect groups: 1) Western Frisian spoken by 350.000 native speakers in the Netherlands, 2) Northern Frisian spoken by 10.000 people in Schleswig Holstein in Northern Germany, and 3) Saterfriesisch spoken by 2.000 people in Saterland in the German province of Lower Saxony.
The West Frisian dialect has developed a literary standard.
Frisian has a large stock of vowels and diphtongs. For instance the West Frisian vocalism features nine short vowels, nine long vowels and 13 diphtongs. The vowel systemis affected by several phonological processes: vowels can be nasalized, shortened, 'breaking' of diphtongs occurs when a suffix is added.
Obstruents are always devoiced in word-final position. The same kind of word-final devoicing is found in German and Dutch.
In Frisian pronunciation differs from spelling to a certain extend due to the impact of various phonological processes on vocalism and consonantism.
The position of stress varies according to the following rules: Stress is on the first syllable in native monomorphemic words with more than one morpheme. Non-native words often are stressed on the last syllable. Compounds are stressed on the first syllable, when the first element is a noun. They are stressed on the second syllable when the first element is an adjective.
Definite and indefinite article precede the head noun. The indefinite article is invariant, whereas the definite article has a common and a neuter form according to the gender of the head noun.
Nouns are inflected for number (singular and plural). Gender is indicated in the definite article and the adjective (common and neuter). The only remnant of case inflection is the 'genitive' -s. Northern Frisian has preserved an archaic three gender distinction in the noun system: male, female and neuter.
Attributive adjectives are inflected before common and plural nouns, viz. they have a suffixed ending -e. Predicative adjectives are not inflected. Adjectives havesuffixed comparative and superlative endings.
Personal pronouns are inflected for case and number: they have different subject, object and possessor forms. Third person pronouns are also inflected for gender (male, female and neuter). Northern Frisian has preserved the archaic dual number in its pronominal system.
Verbs have subdivided into two inflectional classes depending on their infinitive forms.
Verbs are inflected for person, number (singular and plural), tense (analytic: present, past, synthetic: perfect, pluperfect, future) and mood (indicative, imperative and conditional). In the past tense there is a distinction between weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form the past tense stem by adding a dental suffix to the root, strong verbs use vowel alternation to form the past tense stem. The weak form are mostly regular and productive, whereas the strong forms are irregular and not productive any more.
Adjectives can be used as adverbs without any additional morphological marking. However, there are also special adverbs, which are used only as adverbs.
There are various kinds of compounds: The most common type consists of noun and noun, often with an interposed linking morpheme. Compounds of the types noun-verb and adjective-noun occur frequently, as well.
Alongside with composition derivation is used to create new lexemes. Derivation by prefixing creates verbs and adjectives and derivation by suffixing creates nouns, adjectives and adverbs.
Attributive adjectives precede their nominal heads. Numerals and quantifiers precede the head noun and attributive adjectives.
Possession can be expressed by a prepositional phrase following the head noun. If the possessor is animate it can be followed by a possessive pronoun and both precede the possessed noun. The genitive -s is almost obsolete in Frisian, it is, however, still employed with proper names.
Frisian uses prepositions and postpositions. Postpositions, however, only take pronouns as complement. Frisian uses cicumpositions, as well.
In main clauses the verb occupies the second position, in embedded clauses it is found in final position.
The subject of the verb has to be expressed overtly, at least by a pronoun. Exceptional to this pattern is the second singular pronoun, which can be omitted when not used emphatically.
Frisian lexis is heavily infuenced by Danish, but also by Dutch, Low German and High German. Native vocabulary is closely related to English.