Chapter published in:Studies in West Frisian Grammar
Selected papers by Germen J. de Haan
[Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 161] 2010
► pp. 25–46
Chapter 2. Why Old Frisian is really Middle Frisian
Traditionally the history of the development of the Frisian language is divided into he following periods: Pre-Old Frisian before ca 1275, Old Frisian ca 1275–1550, Middle Frisian ca 1550–1800, Modern Frisian ca 1800 – present. Several aspects of this periodization have been discussed in the literature, in particular the discongruity between the labels Old/Middle Frisian and the corresponding labels for related Germanic languages. We note that the bulk of the arguments for the traditional periodization of Frisian is based on non-linguistic evidence. This is true in particular for the Old Frisian period. This leads to the central question of this paper: is the traditional notion of Old Frisian linguistically spoken really ‘Old Germanic’, or may be rather ‘Middle Germanic’, or something in between? We approach this question by looking at linguistic criteria that have been used in the literature for distinguishing between ‘old’ and ‘middle’ stages of closely related Germanic languages. These criteria involve mainly changes in unstressed syllables and inflection. Applying these criteria to Frisian, we conclude there is ample evidence to replace the term ‘Old Frisian’ with ‘Middle Frisian’.