Frisian refers to a group of languages that are Germanic in origin. Modern Frisian is spoken in the Netherlands, and is one of the Netherlands’ two official languages. It is also a minority language in Germany. It is also one of the two closet relatives to Anglo-Saxon, or old English, which forms the basis for most English language.
Though this language may be a relative to Anglo-Saxon, a modern English speaker cannot understand most Frisian words. Both Danish and Dutch modern speakers can recognize some words due to contact during the Hanseatic League, though the languages are not directly related.
There are three different varieties of Frisian. The most commonly spoken in the Netherlands is West Frisian. In Germany, East and North Frisian are most commonly used. Each language may have several different dialects. Some of these dialects are no longer used or spoken, and some are considered endangered languages because there are few speakers left.
Ease of understanding one dialect over another depends upon dialectical differences and also upon the degree of variety between the three types. In fact in most cases a speaker of one dialect would not be able to understand a speaker of another. Thus some linguists feel that the three variants are actually three separate languages and should be described as such.
There are few examples Frisian literature in any of the three varieties. No writing exists prior to the 1200s. Gysbert Japix is considered the best-known Frisian poet with works published in the 17th century. He advocated a return to writing in the language, which was followed by later poets and may have helped to preserve the language in the Netherlands. Most often, however, language used for writing in the Netherlands was and is Dutch, since Dutch was named the official language at the end of the 15th century.