The East Frisian variety called "Seeltersk" in Frisian, "Saterfriesisch" in High German, "Soatersk" in Low German and "Saterlandic" in English, is spoken by about 2000 people or 17.7% of the population in the Saterland community of the Cloppenburg district in the Land of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) in the German Federal Republic. Its major dialectal subdivisions are those of the villages of Ramsloh, Scharrel and Struecklingen. It is a West Germanic language whose earliest attestation goes back to 1415 and is now written in the Roman alphabet in an orthography set down by the Fryske Akademy (cf. Dutch West Frisian). Though recognized by the Land Niedersachsen as a minority language, Saterfriesisch (abbr. as SF in what follows) has no official status in its territory, in which it is in regular contact with Standard High German ("Hochdeutsch" and with Low German ("Plattdeutsch"). The total population of the area is 11,300. It is estimated that approx. 70% of the population have moved there after WW II and due to increasing industrialization of the area. They reside in semi-urban settlements and use High German as their main language.
On a daily basis SF is used by about 1500 of the 2000 speakers. Usage has declined sharply over the past three decades. It is not used in education, administration, business or the media outside of meetings of local clubs and village festivals. SF is occasionally offered as an elective in schools. Most Saterlanders work outside of the Saterland since there are only two small factories and a few service trades in the area. The standard of living is that of most small communities in Niedersachsen. In the small factories the language used is High German, among tradesmen more likely Low German or SF. Most Sater Frisians (abbr. as SFs in what follows) are in favor of maintaining their language but less willing to actively support it. The center of ethnolinguistic activity is the local folk association ("Heimatverein") Saterland "Seelter Buund", which worked for and assured the recognition of SF as eligible for minority language status and for government support. This recognition has considerably raised the consciousness of the SFs.
Standard High German is the language of administration and instruction. SF and Low German are recognized and supported by the State of Niedersachsen as minority languages. The SFs are represented in the European Committee for Endangered Languages. Otherwise there is no offical policy regarding SF.
SF is offered as a subject in a few primary schools. There are very few educational materials, only some for language teaching, history and geography. Its presence in education has further decreased during the past decade. Parents who still know SF are unwilling to pass it on to their children, afraid it might impair their High German. There are, however, again teachers available who are willing and able to teach (in) SF.
At higher levels of education above the elementary level SF is not used or offered, except for one adult education ("Volkshochschul") course with an enrolment of 30 students. Seminars on SF are offered at the universities of Kiel and Goettingen.
SF is not being used in courts of law.
SF is not used in administration. There is no exchange of information between the public and administrative offices in SF.
Road signs and directions are all in German.
The use of SF in the media is permitted, though not regulated by administrative or legal provisions. There are no newspapers or magazines in SF; short articles and notices appear occasionally in the "Muensterlaendische Tageszeitung", the "Nordwest-Zeitung" and in local advertising pamphlets. It is not used on the radio or in TV.
There is no problem in typing it on regular computer keyboards or in producing SF on standard printers. Special software for SF does not exist.
Since 1990 three books have been published in/on SF. Two contain SF poetry and short stories, each with an edition of 1000, the third is the first volume of an exhaustive etymological dictionary of SF (Kramer, 1992). There is no folk or pop music in SF.
Amateur theatre groups perform SF pieces before an audience of about 1000 at the annual folklore evening ("Heimatabend"). Additional SF activities are concentrated at the 'mill festival' ("Muehlenfest"), at the Ramsloh Fair and at thanksgiving celebrations. The popularity of these functions has grown in the past decade. There is a SF folkdance ensemble which uses SF exclusively.
SF is not required for the performance of any jobs, nor is it considered a special asset. It is used primarily agriculture and the trades.
There have been very few advertising campaigns in SF.
Only a small minority of highly motivated parents use SF in conversation with their children. The number of children growing up with SF continues to drop. Even grandparents whose first language is SF, are using High German with their grandchildren. Some of this shift in usage began after 1945, when it appeared that East German refugee children, whose home language was High German, were making better progress in school.
For most young people the communicative medium to form social contacts is High German. The younger generation knows much less SF than their parents. Most SFs are heterogamous. Only about 15% of all marriages are between SF speakers. SF is used more often by females than by males of all ages.
A good command of BOTH High German AND SF makes a person respected as well educated and also ethnically conscious and rooted.
About 75% of the SFs go to church regularly. About 10% of the clergy have a command of SF; the language is used only sporadically in services. There are no bibles or hymnals in SF. The SFs are Roman-Catholics. Few outsiders learn SF; SFs readily accommodate and adjust to visitors and talk to them in High or Low German.
Most speakers do not think that SF has a future. Their attitude towards their language is like that of most Jews outside of Israel towards Israel: They think it's marvellous but they'd rather not move there.
There is frequent contact with the (Dutch) West Frisians through the Fryske Akademy and the Fries Instituut in Groningen.
The following is a very brief summarizing comparison between some easily salient features of the three Frisian minority languages in Europe, i.e., in the Netherlands and in Germany, as reported in the questionnaires supplied by the area correspondents and summarized in the preceding report(s).
Most obviously, the three vary significantly in size. Dutch West Frisian is the "giant" with 400,000 speakers, the two German Frisian groups are small "Davids", with the minuscule East Frisian group at 2000 and the North Frisians at 9000 speakers. They also differ strongly in proportion vis-a-vis the total populations of their respective areas, viz.: 2/3 of the population of Dutch Friesland are Frisian speakers, compared to only 18% in the German Saterland and a mere 7% in North Friesland (note, however, that the Frisian speaking population on the remote North Sea islands is much more highly concentrated.)
Linguistically, West Frisian appears much more unified and standardized than either East or North Frisian, which are both smaller and more dialectalized, especially island North Frisian. West Frisian has developed an accepted orthography, offically authorized by the regional government. North Frisian, perhaps because of the strong internal dialect differences, has not been so unified, and the East Frisians have adopted the orthography of their Dutch Frisian neighbors.
In public usage and visibility, again, Dutch Frisian is way ahead of both German Frisian languages. In Dutch Friesland Frisian is a compulsary subject at the primary and junior high school level, in the German provinces it is merely an elective in primary schools, though with a much more respectable enrolment in North Friesland than in the Saterland. Enrolments are rising in (West) Friesland AND in North Friesland, falling in the Saterland. Even at the academic level much more attention is paid to Frisian in the Netherlands than in Germany. Publications in Frisian number close to one hundred in one year in the Netherlands versus no more than a handful in Germany (4:1 North - East Frisian). There are many publications in pure West Frisian, very few in North and East Frisian, not counting dictionaries. There is a pure Frisian radio station in Dutch Friesland, two minutes weekly news in Frisian in Germany.
Institutional organization is strongest among the West Frisians, who have their own Academy, a Frisian Council, a big Institute in Groningen, and organize an International Frisian Congress every three years. The North Frisians have at least a (small) Institute in Bredstedt, the East Frisians only local clubs.
Official legal and administrative recognition and support appears small in all three cases. Still, there are noticeable differences: The Dutch government has authorized the use of Frisian in courts, the provincial government of Friesland the orthography, and individual municipalities have set offical policies favoring Frisian. For North Frisian there is at least a special counsel at the State ministerial level, while East Frisian is merely recognized (side-by-side with Low German) as a minority language by the state government, with no more specific provisions.
While language use and maintenance of West Frisian appear stable if not rising, that of North Frisian seems on a slow decline, that of East Frisian in more rapid demise.