Good butter and good cheese, is Good English and Good Fries

To clarify, this is a thread about language, not food.

I’ve often heard the couplet “Good butter and good cheese, is Good English and Good Fries”, used to show the close relationship between English and Frisian, the language of northwest Holland and some Danish islands that is supposed to be English’s closest relative. I’ve also seen the first line written “Good bread and good cheese”, “Good beer and good cheese”, “Good milk and good cheese”, and “Bread, butter, and green cheese”.

For whatever reason, I decided today to look into the situation a little more. I had a hard time believing that nearly a thousand years after the Norman conquest, two languages separated by a rather inconvenient stretch of North Sea could still be so closely-related, while tongues like Dutch and German are no longer intelligible to us. A quick Google search turned up the following sample of Frisian:
It Frysk Ynternasjonaal Kontakt is in jongereinferiening mei it doel om de Fryske jongerein bewust te meitsjen fan syn eigen taal en kultuer. Dêrby steane foaral de ynternasjonale kontakten sintraal. If I concentrate, I can pick out the odd word here and there, but most it looks like a kind of mutant Dutch or something Scandinavian.

Therefore I ask my fellow dopers, some of whom will hopefully be better-acquainted with Frisian than I:

[li]Was “good butter and good cheese” ever good English and good Fries(ian)?[/li][li]Is it still? If not, how recently were English and Frisian mutually intelligible?[/li][/ul]

(I’ll assume that the above couplet refers to pronunciation, not spelling)

McDonald’s has the best Fries.

English-Frisian Online Dictionary.

The way I heard it, the words aren’t spelled exactly the same nor are they pronounced exactly the same, but the pronounciations are close enough to be recognizable. But with such common words as these, that is more-or-less true of the West Germanic languages in general.

Eng. good = Frisian goed = Duch goed = German gut
Eng. and = Frisian en = Dutch en = German und
Eng. cheese = Frisian tsiis = Dutch kaas = German Käse
Eng. butter = Frisian bûter = Dutch boter = German Butter
Eng. bread = Frisian brea = Dutch brood = German Brot
Eng. milk = Frisian molke = Dutch melk = German Milch
Eng. green = Frisian grien = Dutch groen = German = grün

Another version:

bûter, brea, en griene tsiis, wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries

Butter, bread, and green cheese, whover cannot say that is no upright Fries.

I think this more closely shows Frisian’s relationship to English:

Grien es deat lunn - roa es de cant - witt es de sunn - deat senn the cloern van Hilligelunn."

In English it would change to:

“Green is the land - red is the cant - white is the sand - these are the colors of Heligoland.”

And in German it would sound:

“Gruen ist das Land - rot ist die Kant -weiss ist der Sand - das sind die Farben von Helgoland.”

accordning to:

I am a Frisian myself, so I should be able to answer this;

There was a certain time in history where Frisian and English people spoke the same language, this was called ‘‘Anglo-Frisian’’. This language was spoken at the west- and north coast of the netherlands (at that time it was still Frisia).

I guess a couple of people decided to take the boat to Britannia and because of that, the language became seperated -> English and Frisian. Today, the Frisian language is only spoken in the province of Friesland (Fryslân) and Frisian varieties are spoken in some parts of South-West Denmark and in the city of Leer (Ost-Friesland, Germany).

Thanks for answering, but you might notice that this discussion was held almost 12 years ago. None of the participants are still around.

Yeah, but the languages have completed diverged since the thread was first started, so the answer is no longer the same!

Hey, a late bump that adds relevant information is always welcome, and I’d say input from a native speaker of the language in question counts as relevant.

Oh ghee, I’m glad the butter situation was clarified.

The claim has never been (by people who actually know about languages) that English and Frisian are mutually intelligible. The claim is that Frisian is the language that is closest to English. The people who spoke the earliest version of what we can call English left the continent of Europe for the British Islands about 450 A.D. (and some came a couple of centuries later). Even if there had been no other influences on either language, you generally expect two groups that speak the same language at one point to have diverged enough just by the ordinary evolution of language that they won’t be mutually intelligible more than 1500 years later. And there have been many influences on English (and on Frisian too, but I won’t talk of them). Beside the Norman Conquest, there were Norse invaders in Great Britain before that. What you expect after 1500 years of separation is that the languages won’t be mutually intelligible, but a speaker of one will recognize many of the words of the other, especially if they can train themselves to know the sound shifts of the two languages. And that’s exactly what you see.

John McWhorter has a article on English in a recent issue of The Week magazine:

Of course, defining “the language most closely related to English” is inherently tricky, because if you get too close, it’s debatable whether it’s still a different language. Scots Braids, for instance, is significantly closer than Frisian, but it might or might not just be an extreme dialect and accent.

I think there are probably several things in that article that people would argue with. Some might be merely quibbles, but the part quoted above, in particular, is true only if you don’t consider Scots to be a separate language to English. I realise that there’s still debate about the matter, but the official position of the UK government is that it is, and that ought to count for something.

Really? Why? It’s almost certainly a political position. If the consensus of linguists and other academic experts happened to agree, then I would pay attention. But that’s not what you’re saying.

Glad to hear it.

Because the consensus among linguists and other academic experts is that there’s no clear dividing line between dialect and separate language, and that the distinction is principally a political one. :smiley:

Would you consider Ethnologue (a group effort by linguists and other experts) to count for attention-paying purposes?

Here is the Ethnologue entry with the tree for English:

Here is the Glottolog (a similar sort of classification of the world’s languages) entry with the tree for English:

Quiet, you.

This is how I understood it, and the cheese ditty is composed of words from the overlap in the languages.

Adding a useless datapoint, I met someone who lives in Friesland and asked about this subject. She wasn’t born there, doesn’t speak Frisian, never heard anyone who does, and had no idea what I was talking about.