The Frisian studies program at the University of Groningen is at risk as the University has only found a temporary replacement for emeritus professor Goffe Jensma. But despite the University’s promises of a permanent solution, this has drawn much criticism.
According to UG spokesperson Elies Kouwenhoven, the University is ‘working hard to find a structural solution in the near future’. Still, this has been denounced by prominent voices in the field like Arjen Dijkstra, Director of Tresoar, who said it is ‘not how it should be.’ Tresoar is a digital library, archive, and cultural center focused on Frisian history, located in Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland.
The UG’s lack of efforts – heavily criticized
The University of Groningen has appointed Dr. Anne Merkuur as an interim professor of Frisian studies after backlash following the departure of the last professor of Frisian, who retired last year. ‘This is a temporary solution. Behind the scenes we are working hard to find a structural solution to replace the professor who is emeritus’ the UG spokesperson explained.
In an interview with the GO, Mr. Dijkstra expressed frustration at the UG’s lack of efforts in finding a permanent replacement, especially as it was ‘not a surprise Jensma retired.’ He added that it is ‘beyond belief’ as there are ‘numerous options’ despite the limited size of the field.
The University of Groningen is the only university where people can obtain a degree in Frisian language and culture. However, the program is now at risk as it does not have a permanent professor and the UG has only found a temporary solution.
While Mr. Dijkstra did not find fault with Dr. Merkuur herself, he said ‘the University never properly searched’ for someone from the field to take over permanently. ‘If you don’t search, you don’t find,’ he said, condemning the UG for not appointing a committee to look for a professor of Frisian studies as it normally does for other subjects.
An endangered language?
Frisian is the official language of Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. It is spoken by approximately 60% of Frisians, or 400, 000 people. Alongside Dutch, it is also one of the two official languages of the Netherlands. Frisian holds protected status in the Netherlands and the University receives an annual subsidy of €110, 000 from the provincial government to run the Frisian studies program per a DutchNews.nl article.
Marleen Reudink, a University of Groningen student who works in Leeuwarden, said ‘Frisian culture is very rich and deep and has a lot to offer.’ She added that for the Frisian people, ‘their language is a really important part of who they are’ and expressed that ‘it would be kind of sad’ if they lost it.
On that, Mr. Dijkstra disagreed and said ‘Frisian language is here to stay and won’t go away’ anytime soon. However, he added that this situation affects current and future students as well as ‘those working in the field’.
According to Minority Rights Group International, Frisian language and culture are promoted by the Council of the Frisian Movement (RfdFB). Despite having signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) as well as the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Netherlands is still not doing enough to teach Frisian and has ‘failed to protect and encourage’ its use according to the RfdFB.