Saterland Frisian language

Not to be confused with East Frisian Low Saxon.
Saterland Frisian
Native to Germany
Region Saterland
Native speakers
1,000 (2007)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 stq
Glottolog sate1242[2]
Linguasphere 52-ACA-ca[3]

Present-day distribution of the Frisian languages in Europe:
  Saterland Frisian

Saterland Frisian, also known as Sater Frisian or Saterlandic (Seeltersk), is the last living dialect of the East Frisian language. It is closely related to the other Frisian languagesNorth Frisian, which, like Saterland Frisian, is spoken in Germany, and West Frisian, which is spoken in the Netherlands.

Old East Frisian and its decline

Old East Frisian used to be spoken in East Frisia (Ostfriesland), the region between the Dutch river Lauwers and the German river Weser. The area also included two small districts on the east bank of the Weser, the lands of Wursten and Würden. The Old East Frisian language could be divided into two dialect groups: Weser Frisian to the east, and Ems Frisian to the west. From 1500 onwards, Old East Frisian slowly had to give way in the face of the severe pressure put on it by the surrounding Low German dialects, and nowadays it is all but extinct.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, Ems Frisian had almost completely died out. Weser Frisian, for the most part, did not last much longer, and held on only until 1700, although there are records of it still being spoken in the land of Wursten, to the east of the river Weser, in 1723. It held out the longest on the island of Wangerooge, where the very last Weser Frisian speaker died in 1953. Today, the Old East Frisian language is no longer spoken within the historical borders of East Frisia; however, a large number of the inhabitants of that region still consider themselves Frisians, referring to their dialect of Low German as Freesk. In this dialect, referred to in German as Ostfriesisch, the Frisian substratum is still evident, despite heavy Germanisation.

Sater Frisian

The last remaining living remnant of Old East Frisian is an Ems Frisian dialect called Sater Frisian or Saterlandic (its native name being Seeltersk), which is spoken in the Saterland area in the former State of Oldenburg, to the south of East Frisia proper. Saterland (Seelterlound in the local language), which is believed to have been colonised by Frisians from East Frisia in the eleventh century, was for a long time surrounded by impassable moors. This, together with the fact that Sater Frisian always had a status superior to Low German among the inhabitants of the area, accounts for the preservation of the language throughout the centuries.

Another important factor might be that after the Thirty Years' War, Saterland became part of the bishopric of Münster. As a consequence, it was brought back to the Catholic Church, resulting in isolation from the principal Protestant part of East-Frisia since about 1630, so marriages were no longer contracted with people from the north.


A bilingual sign, with the second line showing the place name in Saterland Frisian

Today, estimates of the number of speakers vary slightly. Saterland Frisian is spoken by approximately 2,250 people, out of a total population of the Saterland area of some 10,000. An estimated 2,000 people speak the language well, of which slightly less than a half are native speakers.[4] The vast majority of native speakers belong to the older generation; Saterland Frisian is thus a seriously endangered language. It might, however, no longer be moribund, as several reports suggest that the number of speakers is rising among the younger generation, some of whom raise their children in Saterlandic.


There are three fully mutually intelligible dialects, corresponding to the three main villages of the municipality of Saterland: Ramsloh (Saterlandic: Roomelse), Scharrel (Schäddel), and Strücklingen (Strukelje). The Ramsloh dialect now somewhat enjoys a status as a standard language, since a grammar and a word list were based on it.


The German government has not committed significant resources to the preservation of Sater Frisian. Most of the work to secure the endurance of this language is therefore done by the Seelter Buund ("Saterlandic Alliance"). Along with North Frisian and five other languages, Sater Frisian was included in Part III of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages by Germany in 1998. Since about 1800, Sater Frisian has attracted the interest of a growing number of linguists. During the last century, a small literature developed in it. Also the New Testament of the Bible has been translated into Sater Frisian.

Phonetics and phonology

The phonology of Saterland Frisian is regarded as very conservative in linguistic terms, as the entire East Frisian language group was conservative with regards to Old Frisian.[5] The following tables are based on studies by Marron C. Fort.[6]



The consonant /r/ is often realised as a vowel [ɐ] in the syllable coda.

Short vowels:

Grapheme Phoneme Example Notes
a [a] fat (fat)
ä [ɛ] Sät (a while)
e [ə] ze (they) Schwa
i [ɪ] Lid (limb)
o [ɔ] Dot (toddler)
ö [œ] bölkje (to shout)
u [ʊ] Buk (book)
ü [ʏ] Djüpte (depth)

Semi-long vowels:

Grapheme Phoneme Example
ie [iˑ] Piene (pain)
uu [uˑ] kuut (short)

Long vowels:

Grapheme Phoneme Example
aa [aː] Paad (path)
ää [ɛː] tään (thin)
ee [eː] Dee (dough)
íe [iː] Wíek (week)
oa [ɔː] doalje (to calm)
oo [oː] Roop (rope)
öä [œː] Göäte (gutter)
üü [yː] Düwel (devil)
úu [uː] Múus (mouse)


Grapheme Phoneme Example
ai [aːi] Bail (bail)
au [aːu] Dau (dew)
ääu [ɛːu] sääuwen (self)
äi [ɛɪ] wäit (wet)
äu [ɛu] häuw (hit, thrust)
eeu [eːu] skeeuw (skew)
ieu [iˑu] Grieuw (advantage)
íeu [iːu] íeuwen (even, plain)
iu [ɪu] Kiuwe (chin)
oai [ɔːɪ] toai (tough)
oi [ɔy] floitje (to pipe)
ooi [oːɪ] swooije (to swing)
ou [oːu] Bloud (blood)
öi [œːi] Böije (gust of wind)
uui [uːɪ] truuije (to threaten)
üüi [yːi] Sküüi (gravy)



Today, voiced plosives in the syllable coda are usually terminally devoiced. Older speakers and a few others may use voiced codas.

Grapheme Phoneme Example Notes
p [p] Pik (pitch)
t [t] Toom (bridle)
k [k] koold (cold)
b [b] Babe (father) Occasionally voiced in syllable coda
d [d] Dai (day) May be voiced in syllable coda by older speakers
g [a] Gäize (goose) A realization especially used by younger speakers instead of [ɣ].


Grapheme Phoneme Example Notes
g [ɣ,x] Gäize (goose), Ploug (plough) Voiced velar fricative, unvoiced in the syllable coda and before an unvoiced consonant. Younger speakers show a tendency towards using the plosive [a] instead of [ɣ], as in German, but that development has not yet been reported in most scientific studies.
f [f,v] Fjúur (fire) Realised voicedly by a suffix: ljoof - ljowe (dear - love)
w [v] Woater (water) Normally a voiced labio-dental fricative like in German, after u it is however realised as bilabial semi-vowel (see below).
v [v,f] iek skräive (I scream) Realised voicelessly before voiceless consonants: du skräifst (you scream)
s [s,z] säike (to seek), zuuzje (to sough) Voiced [z] in the syllable onset is unusual for Frisian dialects and also rare in Saterlandic. There is no known minimal pair s - z so /z/ is probably not a phoneme. Younger speakers tend to use [ʃ] more, for the combination of /s/ + another consonant: in fräisk (Frisian) not [frɛɪsk] but [fʀɛɪʃk]. That development, however, has not yet been reported in most scientific studies.
ch [x] truch (through) Only in syllable nucleus and coda.
h [h] hoopje (to hope) Only in onset.

Other consonants

Grapheme Phoneme Example Notes
m [m] Moud (courage)
n [n] näi (new)
ng [ŋ] sjunge (to sing)
j [ɪ] Jader (udder)
l [l] Lound (land)
r [r,ɐ] Roage (rye) Traditionally, a rolled or simple alveolar [r] in onsets and between vowels. After vowels or in codas, it becomes [ɐ]. Younger speakers tend to use a uvular [ʀ] instead. That development, however, has not yet been reported in most scientific studies.
w [w] Kiuwe (chin) Like in English, it is realised as bilabial semivowel only after u.

Sample text

Saterland Frisian: Die Wänt strookede dät Wucht uum ju Keeuwe un oapede hier ap do Sooken.
North Frisian (Mooring dialect): Di dreng aide dåt foomen am dåt kan än mäket har aw da siike.
West Frisian: De jonge streake it famke om it kin en tute har op 'e wangen.
East Frisian Low Saxon: De Jung straktde dat Wicht üm't Kinn to un tuutjede hör up de Wangen.
German: Der Junge streichelte das Mädchen ums Kinn und küsste sie auf die Wangen.
Dutch: De jongen aaide/streelde het meisje over haar kin en kuste haar op haar wangen.
Afrikaans: Die seun streel die meisie oor haar ken en soen haar op haar wange.
English: The boy stroked the girl on the chin and kissed her on the cheeks.

Of note in the above sentences is the capitalization of all nouns in Saterland Frisian, as a direct influence of High German dialects.

Further reading

See also

Saterland Frisian edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


  1. Saterland Frisian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Saterfriesisch". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "s" (PDF). The Linguasphere Register. p. 252. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  4. A number of 6,370 speakers is cited by Fort, Marron C., "Das Saterfriesische", in Munske (2001), p. 410. A 1995 poll counted 2,225 speakers: Stellmacher, Dieter (1995). Das Saterland und das Saterländische (in German). Florian Isensee GmbH. ISBN 978-3-89598-567-6. Ethnologue refers to a monolingual population of 5,000 but this number was originally not meant for speakers but for persons counting themselves among the Saterland Frisian ethnic group.
  5. Versloot, Arjen: "Grundzüge Ostfriesischer Sprachgeschichte", in Munske (2001).
  6. Fort, Marron C., "Das Saterfriesische", in Munske (2001), pp. 411–412. Fort, Marron C. (1980). Saterfriesisches Wörterbuch. Hamburg. pp. 64–65.
Works cited
  • Munske, Horst Haider, ed. (2001). Handbuch des Friesischen – Handbook of Frisian Studies (in German and English). Tübingen: Niemeyer. ISBN 3-484-73048-X. 
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