This paper considers the relationship between orthographic knowledge, standardisation and language change in a study of the realisation of the Frisian word-final cluster (sk).
The Language Contact Situation in Fryslân
Frisian is a minority language spoken in the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands. The speech community is currently experiencing intense cultural pressure from the Dutch-speaking majority. Previous studies of language change in Frisian have attested contact features from Dutch on all levels of the Frisian grammar. De Haan (1996) argues that the contact situation between Frisian and Dutch can be compared to that of dialect levelling in other European countries, but this claim has never been investigated empirically. Practically all speakers of Frisian are bilinguals. The minority language is not used throughout the schooling system, and Frisian speakers often have higher literacy skills in Dutch than in their L1. Only 12% of the Frisian population reports a high proficiency in the Frisian written standard.
The Linguistic Feature in Focus
The word-final cluster (sk) in Frisian has two variants: [sk] and [s]. [sk] is the canonical Frisian variant, represented in Frisian orthography with <sk>, while [s] is the variant used in equivalent Dutch words, represented in Dutch orthography with <s>. Previous literature reports, anecdotally, that [sk] is disappearing from spoken Frisian.
Our paper reports two investigations: a production and a perception task. Results from the production task with 31 Frisian speakers show that while age and gender are non-significant predictors of variation, education level as well as the ability to write Frisian is a significant predictor of the usage of [sk] in speech. Preliminary analyses of the perception data indicate that the usage of [sk] is associated with formality and an associative distancing from the Dutch language. Our results lead to a discussion of social identity and literacy skills in minority language communities. We argue that writing proficiency has a strong influence on the retention of minority speech variants. The role of standard language ideology (i.e. notions held about the superiority of standardised language forms) has been known to play a role also in situations where certain dialectal variants are retained while others are not. We thus end our paper considering certain correspondences that exist between processes at work in bilingual and bidialectal language contact.