There are three varieties of Frisian: West Frisian, Saterland Frisian, and North Frisian. Some linguists consider these three varieties, despite their mutual unintelligibility, to be dialects of one single Frisian language, whereas others consider them to be three separate languages, as do their speakers. West Frisian is strongly influenced by Dutch, and, like Dutch, is described as being "between" English and German. The other Frisian languages, meanwhile, have been influenced by Low German and German. The North Frisian language especially is further segmented into several strongly diverse dialects. Stadsfries and West Frisian Dutch are not Frisian, but Dutch dialects influenced by West Frisian. Frisian is called Frysk in West Frisian, Fräisk in Saterland Frisian, and Frasch, Fresk, Freesk, and Friisk in the dialects of North Frisian.
The situation in the Dutch province of Groningen and the German region of East Frisia is more complex: The local Low German/Low Saxon dialects of Gronings and East Frisian Low Saxon are a mixture of Frisian and Low Saxon dialects; it is believed that Frisian was spoken there at one time, only to have been gradually replaced by Low Saxon. This local language is now, in turn, being replaced by standard Dutch and German.
Most Frisian speakers live in the Netherlands, primarily in the province of Friesland, since 1997 officially using its West Frisian name of Fryslân, where the number of native speakers is about 400,000, which is about 75% of the inhabitants of Friesland. An increasing number of native Dutch speakers in the province are learning Frisian as a second language.
In Germany, there are about 2,000 speakers of Saterland Frisian in the Saterland region of Lower Saxony; the Saterland's marshy fringe areas have long protected Saterland Frisian speech there from pressure by the surrounding Low German and standard German, but Saterland Frisian still remains seriously endangered because of its exclusion to agrarian community and its lack of a sizable and educated community to help preserve and spread the language.
In the North Frisia (Nordfriesland) region of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, there were 10,000 North Frisian speakers in the 1970s. Although many of these live on the mainland, most are found on the islands, notably Sylt, Föhr, Amrum, and Heligoland. The local corresponding North Frisian dialects are still in use.
As a regional language in the Netherlands, West Frisian is only spoken by a certain demographic, specifically rural, lower-income people in contrast with the Dutch speaking upper-class.
West Frisian-Dutch bilinguals are split into two categories: Speakers who had Dutch as their first language tended to maintain the Dutch system of homophony between plural and linking suffixes when speaking West Frisian, by using the West Frisian plural as a linking morpheme. Speakers who had West Frisian as their first language often maintained the West Frisian system of no homophony when speaking West Frisian.
Speakers of the many Frisian dialects may also be found in the United States and Canada.
Saterland and North Frisian are officially recognised and protected as minority languages in Germany, and West Frisian is one of the two official languages in the Netherlands, the other being Dutch.
ISO 639-1 code
fy and ISO 639-2 code
fry were assigned to "Frisian", but that was changed in November 2005 to "Western Frisian". According to the ISO 639 Registration Authority the "previous usage of [this] code has been for Western Frisian, although [the] language name was 'Frisian'".
The new ISO 639 code
stq is used for the Saterland Frisian language, a variety of Eastern Frisian (not to be confused with East Frisian Low Saxon, a West Low German dialect). The new ISO 639 code
frr is used for the North Frisian language variants spoken in parts of Schleswig-Holstein.
The Ried fan de Fryske Beweging is an organization which works for the preservation of the West Frisian language and culture in the Dutch province of Fryske Academy also plays a large role, since its foundation in 1938, to conduct research on Frisian language, history, and society, including attempts at forming a larger dictionary. Recent attempts have allowed Frisian be used somewhat more in some of the domains of education, media and public administration. Nevertheless, Saterland Frisian and most dialects of North Frisian are seriously endangered and West Frisian is considered as vulnerable to being endangered. Moreover, for all advances in integrating Frisian in daily life, there is still a lack of education and media awareness of the Frisian language, perhaps reflecting its rural origins and its lack of prestige Therefore, in a sociological sense it is considered more a dialect than a standard language, even though linguistically it is a separate language.
For L2 speakers, both the quality and amount of time Frisian is taught in the classroom is low, concluding that Frisian lessons do not contribute meaningfully to the linguistic and cultural development of the students. Moreover, Frisian runs the risk of dissolving into Dutch, especially in Friesland, where both languages are used.