About Alpita

In this English page I just highlight some aspects of my activities and background.

A short introduction:

My name is Alpita, which sounds rather Italian but was made out of the two old Frisian names of my grandmothers, Aaltje and Pietertje. Nevertheless, it is pure coincidence that Italian and Frisian culture play a central role in my work and interest. I studied General Literature in Leiden, with a special program for Italian language and literature in Leiden. The literature of other dominant languages of Europe also belong to the domain of my interest and work. Frisian, as a language of poems and prose, started to attract my attention not before I read and re-read the Italian novel Il pinguino senza frac. (see ‘anecdote’ below)

I dedicated myself to Frisian cultural history and the Frisian literature for some time, and published in this field in Dutch and Frisian periodicals. In 2000 I published a volume with Italian novels translated in Frisian, as well as a historical anthology of Frisian prose in Dutch. (for titles see Publicaties)

In 2001 I started working at the University of Amsterdam on a thesis on the intellectual debate of European scholars on language and vernaculars in the early nineteenth century. The central figure of her research was the Frisian scholar J.H. Halbertsma (1789-1869) who was in contact with several foreign fellow-scholars like Jacob Grimm, Joseph Bosworth, Rasmus Rask and others. (for more see ‘research’) I finished my thesis in 2009 and published Knooppunt Halbertsma in the same year.(for more detailed information on the thesis see below ‘about my thesis’; for the full title see Publicaties) In these academic years (2001-2009) I also lectured at the University of Amsterdam as well.

My thesis convinced me that a broader elaboration of Halbertsma’s life would offer valuable insights in the intertwining aspects of the literary, scholarly, religious and political situation in the first halve of the nineteenth century. The letters, manuscripts, and library he left made it possible to study with more attention the style of his textst and the practical circumstances of his life, and would reveal details of importance for out understanding of the past… and the present. I started with a new research in order to write a biography of Halbertsma.

About my thesis:

In the department of Modern European Literature at the University of Amsterdam, I studied the contacts of Joost Hiddes Halbertsma, who lived from 1789 to 1869, with foreign fellow-scholars. I elaborated the moral, political and practical aspects of the intellectual debate on language and vernaculars of European scholars in the early nineteenth century.

Halbertsma was well acquainted with the study of languages, and his knowledge was approved by the European scholarly world. Philologists from Germany, England, Denmark and Italy exchanged information on the Gothic and Anglo-Saxon languages, and consulted him on the living Frisian tongue.

Joost Halbertsma though was far more than a philologist. He was highly interested in politics and ethnology, in history and archaeology, and his interests covered more than just some countries in Europe. Nevertheless for the province of Fryslân he had special attention. He was the motivating power behind the Rimen en teltsjes, a vast collection of tales and rhymes in Frisian, written by Joost Halbertsma and his brothers. They had to face serious problems of orthography and a very weak literary tradition in the vernacular. Eventually though, the brothers Halbertsma with their rhymes and tales deliberately created the conditions for the Frisian tongue to develop into a modern language with a rich literature.

An anecdote:

In the spring of 1990 I read Il pinguino senza frac of the Italian novellist Silvio d’Arzo, who lived from 1920 to 1952. Earlier that year I had read a Dutch translation of Casa d’altri, a genuine short novel of the same author. I decided to hunt for everything D’Arzo had written. The somewhat dated but still remarkable essays, ultra-short stories, and unfinished sketches D’Arzo wrote in his short lifetime, surprised me.

I translated D’Arzo’s essay on the prose of Joseph Conrad, and a story about two elderly people who had to re-write the history of their life. The story of the penguin without a jacket (‘senza frac’) moved me, but I did not think of translating it in Dutch. The penguin, however, did not leave me in peace. I never thought of translating a piece of literature in another language than Dutch, but this penguin insisted to be translated in Frisian.

I thought it was just a brainwave, one of those ideas that will never be executed, but in the long run it became a project that had to be started. Soon enough it proved to be really difficult to teach an extremely polite Italian-speaking penguin Frisian. The translation is still unfinished.