Dutch language

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For other uses of "Dutch", see Dutch (disambiguation).
Nederlands, Vlaams
Pronunciation [ˈneːdərlɑnts]
Native to Mainly the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname; also in Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, as well as France (French Flanders).
Region Mainly Western Europe, today also in Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
Native speakers
22 million (2012)[1]
Total (L1 plus L2 speakers): 28 million (2012)[2][3]
Early forms
Latin (Dutch alphabet)
Dutch Braille
Signed Dutch (Nederlands met Gebaren)
Official status
Official language in
 Sint Maarten
European Union
Union of South American Nations
Regulated by Nederlandse Taalunie
(Dutch Language Union)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 nl
ISO 639-2 dut (B)
nld (T)
ISO 639-3 Variously:
nld – Dutch/Flemish
vls – West Flemish (Vlaams)
zea – Zealandic (Zeeuws)
Glottolog mode1257[4]
Linguasphere 52-ACB-a (varieties:
52-ACB-aa to -an)
Map Dutch World scris.png
Dutch-speaking world (included are areas of daughter-language Afrikaans)
Idioma neerlandés.PNG
Distribution of the Dutch language and its dialects in Western Europe
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Dutch (About this sound Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language that is spoken in the European Union by about 23 million people as a first language—including most of the population of the Netherlands and about sixty percent of that of Belgium—and by another 5 million as a second language.[2][3][5][6]

Outside of the Low Countries, it is the native language of the majority of the population of Suriname, and also holds official status in the Caribbean island nations of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Historical minorities remain in parts of France and Germany, and to a lesser extent, in Indonesia,[n 1] while up to half a million native speakers may reside in the United States, Canada and Australia combined.[n 2] The Cape Dutch dialects of Southern Africa have evolved into Afrikaans, a mutually intelligible daughter language[n 3] which is spoken to some degree by at least 16 million people, mainly in South Africa and Namibia.[n 4]

Dutch is one of the closest relatives of both German and English[n 5] and is said to be roughly in between them.[n 6] Dutch, like English, has not undergone the High German consonant shift, does not use Germanic umlaut as a grammatical marker, has largely abandoned the use of the subjunctive, and has levelled much of its morphology, including the case system.[n 7] Features shared with German include the survival of three grammatical genders—albeit with few grammatical consequences[n 8]—and the use of modal particles,[7] final-obstruent devoicing, and V2 with subject–object–verb word order.[n 9] Dutch vocabulary is mostly Germanic and incorporates more Romance loans than German but fewer than English.[n 10]


While "Dutch" generally refers to the language as a whole, Belgian varieties are sometimes collectively referred to as "Flemish". In both Belgium and the Netherlands, the native official name for Dutch is Nederlands, and its dialects have their own names, e.g. Hollands "Hollandish", West-Vlaams "Western Flemish", Brabants "Brabantian".[8]

The language has been known under a variety of names. In Middle Dutch, dietsc (in the South) and diutsc, duutsc (in the North) were used to refer variably to Dutch, Low German, and German. This word is derived from diet "people" and was used to translate Latin (lingua) vulgaris "popular language" to set apart the Germanic vernacular from Latin (the language of writing and the Catholic Church) and Romance.[9] An early form of this word appears Latinized in the Oaths of Strasbourg (842) as teudisca (lingua) to refer to the Rhenish Franconian portion of the oath, underlies dialectal French thiois "Luxembourgish language", "Lorraine Franconian", and has survived in Italian as tedesco, "German".

During the Renaissance in the 16th century, duytsch (modern Duits) "German" and nederduytsch "Low German" began to be differentiated from dietsch or nederlandsch "Dutch",[10] a distinction that is echoed in English later the same century with the terms High Dutch "German" and Low Dutch "Dutch". However, owing to Dutch commercial and colonial rivalry in the 16th and 17th centuries, the English term came to refer exclusively to the Dutch. In modern Dutch, Duits has narrowed in meaning to refer to "German". Diets went out of common use because of its Nazi associations[11] and now somewhat romantically refers to older forms of Dutch,[12] whereas Vlaams is sometimes used for the language as a whole when referring to the varieties spoken in Belgium.[13]

Nederlands, the official Dutch word for "Dutch", did not become firmly established until the 19th century. The repeated use of neder- or "low" to refer to the language is a reference to the Netherlands' downriver location at the mouth of the Rhine (harking back to Latin nomenclature, e.g. Germania Inferior vs. Germania Superior) and its position at the lowest dip of the North European Plain.[14][15][16]


Dutch belongs to its own West Germanic sub-group, West Low Franconian, paired with its sister language Limburgish, or East Low Franconian, both of which stand out as combining characteristics of Low German and High German.[17] Dutch is at one end of a dialect continuum known as the Rhenish fan where German gradually turns into Dutch. Dutch is also at one end of a dialect continuum with Low German, but these dialects however are gradually becoming extinct.

All three languages have shifted earlier /θ/ > /d/, show final-obstruent devoicing (Du brood "bread" [broːt]), and have experienced lengthening of short vowels in stressed open syllables, which has led to contrastive vowel length that is used as a morphological marker. Dutch contrasts with Low German and High German in its retention of the clusters /sp/ and /st/, while shifting /sk/ to /sx/. It did not develop i-mutation as a morphological marker, although some eastern dialects did. In earlier periods, Low Franconian of either sort differed from Low German by maintaining a three-way plural verb conjugation (Old Dutch -un, -it, -untMiddle Dutch -en, -t, -en).

In modern Dutch, the former 2nd-person plural (-t) took the place of the 2nd-person singular, and the plural endings were reduced into a single form -en (cf. Du jij maakt "you(sg) make" vs. wij/jullie/zij maken "we/you(pl)/they make"). However, it is still possible to distinguish it from German (which has retained the three-way split) and Low German (which has -t in the present tense: wi/ji/se niemmet "we/you(pl)/they take"). Dutch and Low German show the collapsing of older ol/ul/al + dental into ol + dental, but in Dutch wherever /l/ was pre-consonantal and after a short vowel, it is vocalized, e.g., Du goud "gold", zout "salt", woud "woods" : LG Gold, Solt, Woold : Germ Gold, Salz, Wald.

With Low German, Dutch shares:

  • The development of /xs/ > /ss/ (Du vossen "foxes", ossen "oxen", LG Vösse, Ossen vs. Germ Füchse, Ochsen)
  • /ft//xt/ though it is far more common in Dutch (Du zacht "soft", LG sacht vs. Germ sanft, but Du lucht "air" vs. LG/Germ Luft)
  • Generalizing the dative over the accusative case for certain pronouns (Du mij "me" (MDu di "you (sg.)"), LG mi/di vs. Germ mich/dich)
  • Lack of the second consonant shift
  • Monophthongization of Germanic *ai > ē and *au > ō, e.g., Du steen "stone", oog "eye", LG Steen, Oog vs. G Stein, Auge, although this is not true of Limburgish (cf. sjtein, oug). Exceptions include klein "small" and geit "goat" (but West Flemish kleene, geet).
  • Loss of Germanic -z (which later became -r) in monosyllabic words. For example, the German pronoun wir "we" corresponds to Du wij (but Limburgish veer), LG wi.

With German (but not with Low German), Dutch shares:

  • The reflexive pronoun zich (Germ sich). This was originally borrowed from Limburgian, which is why in most dialects (Flemish, Brabantine) the usual reflexive is hem/haar or z'n eigen, just like in the rest of West Germanic.
  • Diphthongization of Germanic ē² > ie > i and ō > uo > u (Du hier "here", voet "foot", Germ hier, Fuß (from earlier fuoz) vs. LG hier [iː], Foot [oː])
  • Voicing of pre-vocalic initial voiceless alveolar fricatives, e.g., Du zeven "seven", Germ sieben [z] vs. LG söven, seven [s].
  • Final-obstruent devoicing

Geographic distribution[edit]

Country Speakers Year
Netherlands[n 11] 15,700,000[18] 2012
Belgium 5,660,000[18] 2012
Suriname 200,000[18] 1997
Caribbean Netherlands 20,900[18] N/A
Curaçao 11,400[18] 2011
Aruba 5,290[18] N/A
Sint Maarten 2,000[18] 2011
Total worldwide 21,944,690[18] N/A

Dutch is an official language of the Netherlands proper, Belgium, Suriname and the Dutch Antilles: Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Dutch is also an official language of several international organisations, such as the European Union, Union of South American Nations [19] and the Caribbean Community.


In Europe, Dutch is the majority language in the Netherlands (96%) and Belgium (59%) as well as a minority language in Germany and northern France's French Flanders. Though Belgium as a whole is multilingual, the two regions into which the country is divided (Flanders, francophone Wallonia, bilingual Brussels and small 'facility' zones) are largely monolingual. The Netherlands and Belgium produce the vast majority of music, films, books and other media written or spoken in Dutch.[20] Dutch is a monocentric language, with all speakers using the same standard form (authorized by the Dutch Language Union) based on a Dutch orthography employing the Latin alphabet when writing. In stark contrast to its written uniformity, Dutch lacks a prestige dialect and has a large dialectal continuum consisting of 28 main dialects, which can themselves be further divided into at least 600 distinguishable varieties.[21][22]

Outside of the Netherlands and Belgium, the dialect around the German town of Kleve (South Guelderish) both historically and genetically belongs to the Dutch language. In Northeastern France, the area around Calais was historically Dutch-speaking (West Flemish) of which an estimated 20,000 daily speakers. The cities of Dunkirk, Gravelines and Bourbourg only became predominantly French-speaking by the end of the 19th century. In the countryside, until World War I, many elementary schools continued to teach in Dutch, and the Catholic Church continued to preach and teach the catechism in Flemish in many parishes.[23]

During the second half of the 19th century Dutch was banned from all levels of education by both Prussia and France and lost most of its functions as a cultural language. In both Germany and France the Dutch standard language is largely absent and speakers of these Dutch dialects will use German or French in everyday speech. Dutch is not afforded legal status in France or Germany, either by the central or regional public authorities and knowledge of the language is declining among younger generations.[24]

Asia and Australasia[edit]

Despite the Dutch presence in Indonesia for almost 350 years, as the Asian bulk of the Dutch East Indies, the Dutch language has no official status there[25] and the small minority that can speak the language fluently are either educated members of the oldest generation, or employed in the legal profession,[26] as some legal codes are still only available in Dutch.[27] Many universities include Dutch as a source language, mainly for law and history students (roughly 35,000 of them nationally).[28][29]

Unlike other European nations, the Dutch chose not to follow a policy of language expansion amongst the indigenous peoples of their colonies.[30] In the last quarter of the 19th century, however, a local elite gained proficiency in Dutch so as to meet the needs of expanding bureaucracy and business.[31] Nevertheless, the Dutch government remained reluctant to teach Dutch on a large scale for fear of destabilising the colony. Dutch, the language of power, was supposed to remain in the hands of the leading elite.[31]

After independence, Dutch was dropped as an official language and replaced by Malay. Yet the Indonesian language inherited many words from Dutch: words for everyday life as well as scientific and technological terms.[32] One scholar argues that 20% of Indonesian words can be traced back to Dutch words,[33] many of which are transliterated to reflect phonetic pronunciation e.g. kantoor (Dutch for "office") in Indonesian is kantor, while bus ("bus") becomes bis. In addition, many Indonesian words are calques on Dutch, for example, rumah sakit (Indonesian for "hospital") is calqued on the Dutch ziekenhuis (literally "house of the sick"), kebun binatang ("zoo") on dierentuin (literally "animal garden"), undang-undang dasar ("constitution") from grondwet (literally "ground law"). These account for some of the differences in vocabulary between Indonesian and Malay.


After the declaration of independence of Indonesia, Western New Guinea, the 'wild east' of the Dutch East Indies, remained a Dutch colony until 1962, known as Netherlands New Guinea.[34] Despite prolonged Dutch presence, the Dutch language is not spoken by many Papuans, the colony having been ceded to Indonesia in 1963.

Immigrant communities can be found in Australia and New Zealand. The 2006 Australian census showed 36,179 people speaking Dutch at home.[35] At the 2006 New Zealand Census, 26,982 people, or 0.70 percent of the total population, reported to speak Dutch to sufficient fluency that they could hold an everyday conversation.[36]


The location of Suriname in South America
The location of the Dutch Caribbean in the southern Caribbean

In contrast to the colonies in the East Indies, from the second half of the 19th century onwards, the Netherlands envisaged expansion of Dutch in its colonies in the West Indies. Until 1863, when slavery was abolished in the West Indies, slaves were forbidden to speak Dutch. However, as most of the people in the Colony of Surinam (now Suriname) worked on Dutch plantations, this reinforced the use of Dutch as a means for direct communication.[31][37]

In Suriname today, Dutch is the sole official language,[38] and over 60 percent of the population speaks it as a mother tongue.[5] A further twenty-four percent of the population speaks Dutch as a second language.[39] Suriname gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1975 and has been an associate member of the Dutch Language Union since 2004.[40] The lingua franca of Suriname, however, is Sranan Tongo,[41] spoken natively by about a fifth of the population.[20][42]

In Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, all parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch is the official language but spoken as a first language by only 7% to 8% of the population,[43] although most native-born people on the islands can speak the language since the education system is in Dutch at some or all levels.

In the United States, an almost extinct dialect of Dutch, Jersey Dutch, spoken by descendants of 17th-century Dutch settlers in Bergen and Passaic counties, was still spoken as late as 1921.[44] Other Dutch-based creole languages once spoken in the Americas include Mohawk Dutch (in Albany, New York), Berbice (in Guyana), Skepi (in Essequibo, Guyana) and Negerhollands (in the United States Virgin Islands). Pennsylvania Dutch is not a member of the set of Dutch dialects and is less misleadingly called Pennsylvania German.[45]

Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, spoke Dutch as his first language and is the only U.S. President to have spoken a language other than English as his first language. Dutch prevailed for many generations as the dominant language in parts of New York along the Hudson River. Another famous American born in this region who spoke Dutch as a first language was Sojourner Truth.

According to the 2000 United States census, 150,396 people spoke Dutch at home,[46] while according to the 2006 Canadian census, this number reaches 160,000 Dutch speakers.[47] In Canada, Dutch is the fourth most spoken language by farmers, after English, French and German,[48] and the fifth most spoken non-official language overall (by 0.6% of Canadians).[49]


Main article: Afrikaans
The distribution of Afrikaans across South Africa: proportion of the population speaking Afrikaans in the home

The largest legacy of the Dutch language lies in South Africa, which attracted large numbers of Dutch, Flemish and other northwest European farmer (in Dutch, boer) settlers, all of whom were quickly assimilated.[50] The long isolation from the rest of the Dutch-speaking world made the Dutch as spoken in Southern Africa evolve into what is now Afrikaans.[51] In 1876, the first Afrikaans newspaper called Die Afrikaanse Patriot was published in the Cape Colony.[52]

European Dutch remained the literary language[51] until the start of the 1920s, when under pressure of Afrikaner nationalism the local "African" Dutch was preferred over the written, European-based standard.[50] In 1925, section 137 of the 1909 constitution of the Union of South Africa was amended by Act 8 of 1925, stating "the word Dutch in article 137 [...] is hereby declared to include Afrikaans".[53][54] The constitution of 1983 only listed English and Afrikaans as official languages. It is estimated that between 90% to 95% of Afrikaans vocabulary is ultimately of Dutch origin.[55][56]

Both languages are still largely mutually intelligible, although this relation can in some fields (such as lexicon, spelling and grammar) be asymmetric, as it is easier for Dutch speakers to understand written Afrikaans than it is for Afrikaans speakers to understand written Dutch.[57] Afrikaans is grammatically far less complex than Dutch, and vocabulary items are generally altered in a clearly patterned manner, e.g. vogel becomes voël ("bird") and regen becomes reën ("rain").[58]

It is the third language of South Africa in terms of native speakers (~13.5%),[59] of whom 53 percent are Coloureds and 42.4 percent Whites.[60] In 1996, 40 percent of South Africans reported to know Afrikaans at least at a very basic level of communication.[61] It is the lingua franca in Namibia,[50][62][63] where it is spoken natively in 11 percent of households.[64] In total, Afrikaans is the first language in South Africa alone of about 6.8 million people[59] and is estimated to be a second language for at least 10 million people worldwide,[65] compared to over 23 million[5] and 5 million respectively, for Dutch.[2]

Dutch colonial presence elsewhere on the black continent, notably Dutch Gold Coast, was too ephemerous not to be wiped out by prevailing colonizing European successors. Belgian colonial presence in Congo and Rwanda-Urundi (Burundi and Rwanda, held under League of Nations mandate and later UN trust) left little (Flemish) Dutch legacy, as French was the main colonial language.


Main article: History of Dutch

Three Germanic dialects were originally spoken in the Low Countries: Frisian in the north and along the western coast; Saxon in the east (contiguous with the Low German area); and Franconian in the centre and south. It is the Franconian dialects that is designated as Old Dutch, and that would develop in Middle Dutch and later Modern Dutch. The division in these development phases is mostly conventional, since the transition between them was very gradual. One of the few moments linguists can detect somewhat of a revolution is when the Dutch standard language emerged and quickly established itself. The development of the Dutch language is illustrated by the following sentence in Old, Middle and Modern Dutch:

Irlôsin sol an frithe sêla mîna fan thên thia ginâcont mi, wanda under managon he was mit mi (Old Dutch)
Erlossen sal [hi] in vrede siele mine van dien die genaken mi, want onder menegen hi was met mi (Middle Dutch)
Verlossen zal hij in vrede ziel mijn van degenen die [te] na komen mij, want onder menigen hij was met mij (Modern Dutch, same word order)
Hij zal mijn ziel in vrede verlossen van degenen die mij te na komen, want onder menigen was hij met mij (Modern Dutch, default word order)[66]
He will deliver my soul in peace from those who attack me, because, amongst many, he was with me (English)[67]


Map of the Pre-Roman Iron Age culture(s) associated with Proto-Germanic, ca 500 BC–50 BC. The area south of Scandinavia is the Jastorf culture.

Within the Indo-European language tree, Dutch is grouped within the Germanic languages, which means it shares a common ancestor with languages such as English, German, and Scandinavian languages. All Germanic languages are united by subjection to the sound shifts of Grimm's law and Verner's law which originated Proto-Germanic and define the basic differentiating features from other Indo-European languages. This assumed to have originated in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe.[68]

The distribution of the primary Germanic dialect groups in Europe in around AD 1:
  North Sea Germanic, or Ingvaeonic
  Weser-Rhine Germanic, or Istvaeonic
  Elbe Germanic, or Irminonic

The Germanic languages are traditionally divided into three groups: West, East and North Germanic.[69] They remained mutually intelligible throughout the Migration Period. Dutch is together with English and German part of the West Germanic group, that is characterized by a number of phonological and morphological innovations not found in North and East Germanic.[70] The West Germanic varieties of the time are generally split into three dialect groups: Ingvaeonic (North Sea Germanic), Istvaeonic (Weser-Rhine Germanic) and Irminonic (Elbe Germanic). It appears that the Frankish tribes fit primarily into the Istvaeonic dialect group with certain Ingvaeonic influences towards the northwest, still seen in modern Dutch.

Old Frankish[edit]

Main article: Old Frankish

A Frankish identity emerged and so did their Frankish or Franconian language. The language itself is poorly attested. A notable exception is the Bergakker inscription, found near the Dutch city of Tiel, which may represent a primary record of 5th-century Frankish. Although some placenames recorded in Roman texts could arguably be considered as the oldest "Dutch" single words, like vadam (modern Dutch: wad, English: "mudflat"), the Bergakker inscription yields the oldest evidence of Dutch morphology, but there is no consensus on the interpretation of the rest of the text.[71]

The Franks emerged in the southern Netherlands (Salian Franks) and central Germany (Riparian Franks), and later descended into Gaul where they gave their name to it: France. Although they ruled the Gallo-Romans for nearly 300 years, their language, Old Frankish, went extinct in most of France and also in all of Germany in around the 7th century. It was replaced in France by Old French (a Romance language, with a considerable Old Frankish influence), and in Germany with mostly Alemannic. But the Old Franconian language did not die out completely. Around the same time as it begins to decline in France and Germany it remained in the Low Countries, and evolved into what we know call Old Low Franconian, also known as Old Dutch. in fact, Old Frankish could mostly be reconstructed from Old Dutch and Frankish loanwords in Old French.

Old Dutch[edit]

Main article: Old Dutch
Area in which Old Dutch was spoken

Old Low Franconian or Old Dutch is regarded as the primary stage in the development of a separate Dutch language. The "Low" in Old Low Franconian refers to the Frankish spoken in the Low Countries where it was not influenced by the High German consonant shift, as opposed to Central and high Franconian in Germany. The latter would as a consequence evolve with Allemanic into Old High German. At more or less the same time the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law led to the development of Old Saxon, Old Frisian (Anglo-Frisian) and Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Hardly influenced by either development, Old Dutch remained close to the original language of the Franks, the people that would rule Europe for centuries. The language however, did experienced developments on its own, like final-obstruent devoicing in a very early stage. In fact, by judging from the find at Bergakker, it would seem that the language already experienced this characteristic during the Old Frankish period.

Attestations of Old Dutch sentences are extremely rare. The oldest one first recorded has been found in the Salic law. From this Frankish document written around 510 the oldest sentence has been identified as Dutch: Maltho thi afrio lito (I say to you, I free you, serf) used to free a serf. Another old fragment of Dutch is Visc flot aftar themo uuatare (A fish was swimming in the water). The oldest conserved larger Dutch text is the Utrecht baptismal vow (776-800) starting with Forsachistu diobolae [...] ec forsacho diabolae (Do you forsake the devil? [...] I forsake the devil). Probably the most famous sentence Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan, hinase hic enda tu, wat unbidan we nu (All birds have started making nests, except me and you, what are we waiting for), is dated around the year 1100, written by a Flemish monk in a convent in Rochester, England.

The Utrecht baptismal vow Forsachistu diobolae...

Middle Dutch[edit]

Main article: Middle Dutch

Old Dutch naturally evolved into Middle Dutch. The year 1150 is often cited as the time of the discontinuity, but it actually marks a time of profuse Dutch writing and during this period a rich Medieval Dutch literature developed. The most notable difference between Old and Middle Dutch is in a feature of speech known as vowel reduction. Round vowels in word-final syllables are rather frequent in Old Dutch, in Middle Dutch, such are leveled to a schwa. There was at that time no overarching standard language; Middle Dutch is rather a collective name for a number of closely related dialects whose ancestor was Old Dutch. But they were all mutually intelligible. In fact, since Dutch is a rather conservative language, the various literary works of that time today are often very readable for modern-day speakers.

The Middle Dutch dialect areas were affected by political boundaries. The sphere of political influence of a certain ruler often also created a sphere of linguistic influence, with the language within the area becoming more homogenous. Following the contemporary political divisions they are in order of importance:

  • Flemish with the County of Flanders at its centre. It had been influential during the earlier Middle Ages (the "Flemish expansion") but lost prestige to the neighbouring Brabantian in the 13th century.
  • Brabantian, spoken primarily in the Duchy of Brabant and adjacent parts. It was an influential dialect during most of the Middle Ages, during the so-called "Brabantian expansion" in which the influence of Brabant was extended outwards into other areas.
  • Hollandic, which had the County of Holland as its heartland, where originally Old Frisian was spoken. The people mixed with Frankish setlers from Flanders and Brabant and a new Frankish dialect with a Frisian substrate was created. It was less influential during most of the Middle Ages but became more so in the 16th century during the "Hollandic expansion", in the time the Eighty Years' War took place in the Southern Netherlands.
  • Limburgish, spoken by the people in the modern-day provinces of Dutch and Belgian Limburg, and adjacent lands in Germany. It was over time tied to different political areas and is therefor the most divergent of the dialects. It was even partly influenced by the High German consonant shift and is the most distant to the later developed standard language to which it contributed little. It was however the ealiest Middle Dutch dialect that developed a literary tradition.

Since it has Old Saxon and not Low Franconian (Old Dutch) as ancestor, Dutch Low Saxon is strictly speaking not an Middle Dutch dialect. It was spoken in the Oversticht territories of the Bishopric of Utrecht and adjacent parts of the Duchy of Guelders. It did play a modest part in the formation of the standard Dutch language in later periods.

Modern Dutch[edit]

A process of standardisation started in the Middle Ages, especially under the influence of the Burgundian Ducal Court in Dijon (Brussels after 1477). The dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential around this time. The process of standardisation became much stronger at the start of the 16th century, mainly based on the urban dialect of Antwerp. In 1585 Antwerp fell to the Spanish army: many fled to the Northern Netherlands, where the Dutch Republic declared its independence from Spain. They particularly influenced the urban dialects of the province of Holland. In 1637, a further important step was made towards a unified language,[72] when the Statenvertaling, the first major Bible translation into Dutch, was created that people from all over the new republic could understand. It used elements from various, even Dutch Low Saxon, dialects but was predominantly based on the urban dialects of Holland of post 16th century.[73]

In the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium and Luxembourg) developments were different. Under Spanish, then Austrian, and then French rule standardisation of Dutch language came to a standstill. The state, law, and increasingly education used French, yet more than half the Belgian population were speaking a Dutch dialect. In the course of the nineteenth century the Flemish movement stood up for the rights of Dutch, mostly called Flemish. But in competing with the French language the variation in dialects was a serious disadvantage. Since standardisation is a lengthy process, Dutch-speaking Belgium associated itself with the standard language that had already developed in the Netherlands over the centuries. Therefore the situation in Belgium is essentially no different from that in the Netherlands, although there are recognisable differences in pronunciation, comparable to the pronunciation differences between standard British and standard American English. In 1980 the Netherlands and Belgium concluded the Language Union Treaty. This treaty lays down the principle that the two countries must gear their language policy to each other, among other things, for a common system of spelling.


Main article: Dutch dialects

Dutch dialects are primarily the dialects that are both cognate with the Dutch language and are spoken in the same language area as the Dutch standard language. Dutch dialects are remarkably diverse and are found in the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

The province of Friesland is bilingual. The West Frisian language, distinct from Dutch, is spoken here along with standard Dutch and the Stadsfries dialect. A (West) Frisian standard language has also been developed.

First dichotomy[edit]

Low Saxon in the Netherlands

In the east there is a Dutch Low Saxon dialect area: in the provinces of Groningen (Gronings), Drenthe and Overijssel Low Saxon is spoken, and in parts of the province of Gelderland as well. The IJssel river roughly forms the linguistic watershed here. This group, though not being Low Franconian and being close to neighbouring Low German, is regarded as Dutch, because of the superordination of the Dutch standard language in this area ever since the seventeenth century; in other words, this group is Dutch synchronically but not diachronically.

Extension across the borders[edit]

Holland and the Randstad[edit]

In Holland, Hollandic is spoken, though the original forms of this dialect (which were heavily influenced by a Frisian substratum and, from the 16th century on, by Brabantian dialects) are now relatively rare. The urban dialects of the Randstad, which are Hollandic dialects, do not diverge from standard Dutch very much, but there is a clear difference between the city dialects of Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam or Utrecht.

Dutch dialects and their peripheries to the West (French Flemish) and to the East (Meuse-Rhenish)

In some rural Hollandic areas more authentic Hollandic dialects are still being used, especially north of Amsterdam. Another group of dialects based on Hollandic is that spoken in the cities and larger towns of Friesland, where it partially displaced West Frisian in the 16th century and is known as Stadsfries ("Urban Frisian").

Minority languages[edit]

Limburgish has the status of official regional language (or streektaal) in the Netherlands and Germany (but not in Belgium). It receives protection by chapter 2 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Limburgish has been influenced by the Rhinelandic dialects like the Cologne dialect Kölsch, and has had a somewhat different development since the late Middle Ages.

Dutch Low Saxon has also been elevated by the Netherlands (and by Germany) to the legal status of streektaal (regional language) according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Gronings is very much alive in the province of Groningen, although it is not so popular in the city of the same name.

The West Flemish (Vlaemsch) dialect is listed as a minority language in France, however only a very small and aging minority of the French-Flemish population still speaks and understands West Flemish.

Belgium didn't choose to list any dialect as a minority language, because of the already complicated language situation that appears in the country.

Recent use[edit]

Dutch dialects and regional languages are not spoken as often as they used to be. Recent research by Geert Driessen shows that the use of dialects and regional languages among both Dutch adults and youth is in heavy decline. In 1995, 27 percent of the Dutch adult population spoke a dialect or regional language on a regular basis, while in 2011 this was no more than 11 percent. In 1995, 12 percent of the primary school aged children spoke a dialect or regional language, while in 2011 this had declined to 4 percent. Of the three officially recognized regional languages Limburgish is spoken most (in 2011 among adults 54%, among children 31%) and Dutch Low Saxon least (adults 15%, children 1%); Frisian occupies a middle position (adults 44%, children 22%).


In Flanders, there are four main dialect groups: Brabantian, including the dialects of Antwerp and Brussels, West Flemish, including French Flemish, East Flemish and Limburgish.

The different dialects show many sound shifts in different vowels (even shifting between diphthongs and monophthongs), and in some cases consonants also shift pronunciation. For example, an oddity of West Flemings (and to a lesser extent, East Flemings) is that, the voiced velar fricative (written as "g" in Dutch) shifts to a voiced glottal fricative (written as "h" in Dutch), while the letter "h" in West Flemish becomes mute (just like in French). As a result, when West Flemish try to talk Standard Dutch, they're often unable to pronounce the g-sound, and pronounce it similar to the h-sound. This leaves f.e. no difference between "held" (hero) and "geld" (money). Or in some cases, they are aware of the problem, and hyper-correct the "h" into a voiced velar fricative or g-sound, again leaving no difference.

Next to sound shifts, there are ample examples of suffix differences. Often simple suffix shifts (like switching between -the, -ske, -ke, -je, ...), sometimes the suffixes even depend on quite specific grammar rules for a certain dialect. Again taking West Flemish as an example. In that language, the words "ja" (yes) and "nee" (no) are also conjugated to the (often implicit) subject of the sentence. These separate grammar rules are a lot more difficult to imitate correctly than simple sound shifts, making it easy to recognise people who didn't grow up in a certain region, even decades after they moved.

Dialects are most often spoken in rural areas, however, a lot of cities have a distinct city dialect. For example, the city of Ghent has very distinct "g", "e" and "r" sounds, differing a lot from the surrounding villages. The Brussels dialect combines Brabantian with words adopted from Walloon and French.

Some Flemish dialects are so distinct that they might be considered as separate language variants, although the strong significance of language in Belgian politics would prevent the government from classifying them as such. West Flemish in particular has sometimes been considered a distinct variety. Dialect borders of these dialects do not correspond to present political boundaries, but reflect older, medieval divisions. The Brabantian dialect group, for instance, also extends to much of the south of the Netherlands, and so does Limburgish. West Flemish is also spoken in Zeelandic Flanders (part of the Dutch province of Zeeland), and by older people in French Flanders (a small area that borders Belgium).

Sister and daughter languages[edit]

Many native speakers of Dutch, both in Belgium and the Netherlands, assume that Afrikaans and West Frisian are dialects of Dutch but are considered separate and distinct from Dutch: a daughter language and a sister language, respectively. Afrikaans evolved mainly from 17th century Dutch dialects, but had influences from various other languages in South Africa. However, it is still largely mutually intelligible with Dutch. (West) Frisian evolved from the same West Germanic branch as Old English and is less akin to Dutch.


Main article: Dutch phonology

This section gives only a general overview of the phonemes of Dutch. For further details on different realisations of phonemes, dialectal differences and example words, see the full article at Dutch phonology.


Like most Germanic languages, the Dutch consonant system did not undergo the High German consonant shift and has a syllable structure that allows fairly complex consonant clusters. Dutch also retains full use of the velar fricatives that were present in Proto-Germanic, but lost or modified in many other Germanic languages.

Dutch has final-obstruent devoicing: at the end of a word, voicing distinction is neutralised and all obstruents are pronounced voiceless. For example, goede ("good") is /ˈɣudə/ but the related form goed is /ɣut/.

  Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ (ʔ)
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ x ɣ ɦ
Trill r
Approximant ʋ l j


  • [ʔ] is not a separate phoneme in Dutch, but is inserted before vowel-initial syllables within words after /a/ and /ə/ and often also at the beginning of a word.
  • The realization of /r/ phoneme varies considerably from dialect to dialect and even between speakers in the same dialect area. Common realisations are an alveolar trill [r], alveolar tap [ɾ], uvular trill [ʀ], voiced uvular fricative [ʁ], and alveolar approximant [ɹ].
  • The realization of /ʋ/ also varies somewhat by area and speaker. The main realisation is a labiodental approximant [ʋ], but some speakers, particularly in the south, use a bilabial approximant [β̞] or a labiovelar approximant [w].
  • The lateral /l/ is slightly velarized postvocalically in most dialects, particularly in the north.[74]
  • /x/ and /ɣ/ may be true velars [x] and [ɣ], uvular [χ] and [ʁ] or palatal [ç] and [ʝ]. The more palatal realisations are common in southern areas, while uvulars are common in the north.
  • Some northern dialects have a tendency to devoice all fricatives regardless of environment. This is particularly common with /ɣ/ but can affect others as well.
  • /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are not native phonemes of Dutch, and usually occur in borrowed words, like show and bagage ('baggage').
  • /ɡ/ is not a native phoneme of Dutch and only occurs in borrowed words, like garçon.


Dutch has an extensive vowel inventory, as is common for Germanic languages. Vowels can be grouped as back rounded, front unrounded and front rounded. They are also traditionally distinguished by length or tenseness.

Vowel length is not always considered a distinctive feature in Dutch phonology, because it normally co-occurs with changes in vowel quality. One feature or the other may be considered redundant, and some phonemic analyses prefer to treat it as an opposition of tenseness. However, even if not considered part of the phonemic opposition, the long/tense vowels are still realised as phonetically longer than their short counterparts. The changes in vowel quality are also not always the same in all dialects, and in some there may be little difference at all, with length remaining the primary distinguishing feature. And while it is true that older words always pair vowel length with a change in vowel quality, new loanwords have reintroduced phonemic oppositions of length. Compare zonne(n) [ˈzɔnə] ("suns") versus zone [ˈzɔːnə] ("zone") versus zonen [ˈzoːnə(n)] ("sons"), or kroes [krus] ("mug") versus cruise [kruːs] ("cruise").

Short/lax vowels
Central Back
Close ɪ ʏ
Mid ɛ ə ɔ
Open ɑ
Long/tense vowels
Close i ~ y ~ u ~
Close-mid øː
Open-mid (ɛː) (œː) (ɔː)


  • The distinction between /i y u/ and /iː yː uː/ is only slight, and may be considered allophonic for most purposes. However, some recent loanwords have introduced distinctively long /iː yː uː/, making the length distinction marginally phonemic.
  • The long close-mid vowels /eː øː oː/ are realised as slightly closing diphthongs [eɪ øʏ oʊ] in many northern dialects.
  • The long open-mid vowels /ɛː œː ɔː/ only occur in a handful of loanwords, mostly from French.
  • The long close and close-mid vowels are often pronounced more closed or as centering diphthongs before an /r/ in the syllable coda. This may occur before coda /l/ as well.

Dutch also has several diphthongs. All of them end in a close vowel (/i y u/), but may begin with a variety of other vowels. They are grouped here by their first element.

Short/lax diphthongs
Mid ɛi œy (ɔi)
Open ɑu (ɑi)
Long/tense diphthongs
Close iu yu ui
Mid eːu oːi
Open aːi


  • /ɛi œy ɑu/ are the most common diphthongs and commonly the only ones considered "true" phonemes in Dutch. /ɑi/ and /ɔi/ are rare and occur only in some words. The "long/tense" diphthongs, while they are indeed realised as proper diphthongs, are generally analysed phonemically as a long/tense vowel followed by a glide /j/ or /ʋ/.


The syllable structure of Dutch is (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C)(C). Many words, as in English, begin with three consonants; for example, straat /straːt/ (street). There are words that end in four consonants, e.g., herfst /ɦɛrfst/ 'autumn', ergst /ɛrxst/ 'worst', interessantst 'most interesting', sterkst /stɛrkst/ 'strongest', the last three of which are superlative adjectives.

The highest number of consonants in a single cluster is found in the word slechtstschrijvend /ˈslɛxtstˌsxrɛi̯vənt/ 'writing worst' with 7 consonant phonemes. Similar is angstschreeuw About this sound /ˈɑŋstsxreːu̯/  "scream in fear", with six in a row.

Polder Dutch[edit]

A notable change in pronunciation has been occurring in younger generations in the provinces of Utrecht, North and South Holland, which has been dubbed "Polder Dutch" by Jan Stroop.[75] These speakers pronounce ij/ei, ou/au, and ui, which used be pronounced as /ɛi/, /ʌu/, and /œy/, increasingly lowered, as [ai], [au], and [ay] respectively. Instead, /eː/, /oː/, and /øː/ are pronounced as diphthongs now, as [ɛi], [ɔu], and [œy] respectively, which makes this change an instance of a chain shift.

This change is interesting from a sociolinguistic point of view because it has apparently happened relatively recently, in the 1970s, and was pioneered by older well-educated women from the upper middle classes.[76] The lowering of the diphthongs has long been current in many Dutch dialects, and is comparable to the English Great Vowel Shift, and the diphthongisation of long high vowels in Modern High German, which centuries earlier reached the state now found in Polder Dutch. Stroop theorizes that the lowering of open-mid to open diphthongs is a phonetically "natural" and inevitable development and that Dutch, after having diphthongised the long high vowels like German and English, "should" have lowered the diphthongs like German and English as well.

Instead, he argues, this development has been artificially frozen in an "intermediate" state by the standardisation of Dutch pronunciation in the 16th century, where lowered diphthongs found in rural dialects were perceived as ugly by the educated classes and accordingly declared substandard. Now, however, in his opinion, the newly affluent and independent women can afford to let that natural development take place in their speech. Stroop compares the role of Polder Dutch with the urban variety of British English pronunciation called Estuary English.

Among Belgian and Surinamese Dutch speakers and speakers from other regions in the Netherlands, this vowel shift is not taking place.


Main article: Dutch grammar
See also: DT-Manie

Dutch is grammatically similar to German, such as in syntax and verb morphology (for a comparison of verb morphology in English, Dutch and German, see Germanic weak verb and Germanic strong verb). Dutch has grammatical cases, but these are now mostly limited to pronouns and a large number of set phrases. Inflected forms of the articles are also often found in surnames and toponyms.

Standard Dutch uses three genders to differentiate between natural gender and three when discerning grammatical gender. But for most non-Belgian speakers, the masculine and feminine genders have merged to form the common gender (de), while the neuter (het) remains distinct as before. This gender system is similar to those of most Continental Scandinavian languages. As in English, but to a lesser degree, the inflectional grammar of the language (e.g., adjective and noun endings) has simplified over time.

Verbs and tenses[edit]

When grouped according to their conjugational class, Dutch has four main verb types: weak verbs, strong verbs, irregular verbs and mixed verbs.

Weak verbs are the most numerous verbs, constituting about 60% of all verbs. In weak verbs, the past tense and past participle are formed with a dental suffix:

  • Weak verbs with past in -de
  • Weak verbs with past in -te

Strong verbs are the second most numerous verb group. Here the past tense is formed by changing the vowel of the stem. This pattern is not uniform and Dutch distinguishes between 7 classes of strong verbs, of which 5 have an internal variant allowing for 12 different patterns of strong verb conjugation.

Verb class Verb Present Past Perfect
1 kijken (to watch) kijk keek gekeken
2a bieden (to offer) bied bood geboden
2b stuiven (to gush) stuif stoof gestoven
3a klimmen (to climb) klim klom geklommen
3b zenden (to send) zend zond gezonden
4 breken (to break) breek brak gebroken
5a geven (to give) geef gaf gegeven
5b zitten (to sit) zit zat gezeten
6a dragen (to carry) draag droeg gedragen
6b heffen (to lift) hef hief geheven
7a roepen (to call) roep riep geroepen
7b vangen (to catch) vang ving gevangen

Mixed verbs are verbs which have a weak past tense (-de or -te), but strong past participle (-en) or a strong past tense (vowel change), but weak past participle.

In Dutch the irregular verbs are the least numerous, but most used verb forms.

Genders and cases[edit]

Modern Dutch has mostly lost its case system.[77] However, certain idioms and expressions continue to include now archaic case declensions. The article has just two forms, de and het, more complex than English, which has only "the". The use of the older inflected form den in the dative or accusative as well as use of 'der' in the dative are restricted to numerous set phrases, surnames and toponyms.

Masculine singular Feminine singular Neuter singular Plural (any gender)
Nominative de de het de
Genitive van de / des van de / der van het / des van de / der
Dative (aan / voor) de (aan / voor) de (aan / voor) het (aan / voor) de
Accusative de de het de

In modern Dutch, the genitive articles 'des' and 'der' are commonly used in idioms. Other usage is typically considered archaic, poetic or stylistic. In most circumstances, the preposition 'van' is instead used, followed by the normal definitive article 'de' or 'het'. For the idiomatic use of the articles in the genitive, see for example:

  • Masculine singular: "des duivels" (litt: of the devil) (common proverbial meaning: Seething with rage)
  • Feminine singular: het woordenboek der Friese taal (the dictionary of the Frisian language)
  • Neuter singular: de vrouw des huizes (the lady of the house)
  • Plural: de voortgang der werken (the progress of (public) works)

In contemporary usage, the genitive case still occurs a little more often with plurals than with singulars, as the plural article is 'der' for all genders and no special noun inflection must be taken account of. 'Der' is commonly used in order to avoid reduplication of 'van', e.g. het merendeel der gedichten van de auteur instead of het merendeel van de gedichten van de auteur ("the bulk of the author's poems").

There are also genitive forms for the pronoun die/dat ("that [one], those [ones]"), namely diens for masculine and neuter singulars and dier for feminine singular and all plurals. Although usually avoided in common speech, these forms can be used instead of possessive pronouns to avoid confusion, these forms often occur in writing . Compare:

  • Hij vertelde van zijn zoon en zijn vrouw. – He told about his son and his (own) wife.
  • Hij vertelde van zijn zoon en diens vrouw. – He told about his son and the latter's wife.

Analogically, the relative and interrogative pronoun wie ("who") has the genitive forms wiens and wier (corresponding to English "whose", but less frequent in use).

Dutch also has a range of fixed expressions that make use of the genitive articles, which can be abbreviated using apostrophes. Common examples include "'s ochtends" (with 's as abbreviation of des; in the morning) and "desnoods" (lit: of the need, translated: if necessary).

The Dutch written grammar has simplified over the past 100 years: cases are now mainly used for the pronouns, such as ik (I), mij, me (me), mijn (my), wie (who), wiens (whose: masculine or neuter singular), wier (whose: feminine singular; masculine, feminine or neuter plural). Nouns and adjectives are not case inflected (except for the genitive of proper nouns (names): -s, -'s or -'). In the spoken language cases and case inflections had already gradually disappeared from a much earlier date on (probably the 15th century) as in many continental West Germanic dialects.

Inflection of adjectives is more complicated. The adjective receives no ending with indefinite neuter nouns in singular (as with een /ən/ 'a/an'), and -e in all other cases. (This was also the case in Middle English, as in "a goode man".) Note that fiets belongs to the masculine/feminine category, and that water and huis are neuter.

Masculine singular or feminine singular Neuter singular Plural (any gender)
(with definite article
or pronoun)
de mooie fiets (the beautiful bicycle) het mooie huis (the beautiful house) de mooie fietsen (the beautiful bicycles)
de mooie huizen (the beautiful houses)
(with indefinite article or
no article and no pronoun)
een mooie fiets (a beautiful bicycle)
koude soep (cold soup)
een mooi huis (a beautiful house)
koud water (cold water)
mooie fietsen (beautiful bicycles)
mooie huizen (beautiful houses)

An adjective has no e if it is in the predicative: De soep is koud.

More complex inflection is still found in certain lexicalized expressions like de heer des huizes (literally, the man of the house), etc. These are usually remnants of cases (in this instance, the genitive case which is still used in German, cf. Der Herr des Hauses) and other inflections no longer in general use today. In such lexicalized expressions remnants of strong and weak nouns can be found too, e.g. in het jaar des Heren (Anno Domini), where "-en" is actually the genitive ending of the weak noun. Also in this case, German retains this feature. Though the genitive is widely avoided in speech.

Word order[edit]

Dutch exhibits subject–object–verb word order, but in main clauses the conjugated verb is moved into the second position in what is known as verb second or V2 word order. This makes Dutch word order almost identical to that of German, but often different from English, which has subject–verb–object word order and has since lost the V2 word order that existed in Old English.[78]

An example sentence used in some Dutch language courses and textbooks is "Ik kan mijn pen niet vinden omdat het veel te donker is", which translates into English word for word as "I can my pen not find because it far too dark is", but in standard English word order would be written "I cannot find my pen because it is far too dark". If the sentence is split into a main and subclause and the verbs highlighted, the logic behind the word order can be seen.

Main clause: "Ik kan mijn pen niet vinden "
Verbs are placed in the final position, but the conjugated verb, in this case "kan" (can), is made the second element of the clause.

Subclause: "omdat het veel te donker is "
The verb or verbs always go in the final position.

In an interrogative main clause the usual word order is: conjugated verb followed by subject; other verbs in final position: "Kun jij je pen niet vinden?" (literally "Can you your pen not find?") "Can't you find your pen?"
In the Dutch equivalent of a wh-question the word order is: interrogative pronoun (or expression) + conjugated verb + subject; other verbs in final position: "Waarom kun jij je pen niet vinden?" ("Why can you your pen not find?") "Why can't you find your pen?""
In a tag question the word order is the same as in a declarative clause: "Jij kunt je pen niet vinden?" ("You can your pen not find?") "You can't find your pen?""
A subordinate clause does not change its word order: "Kun jij je pen niet vinden omdat het veel te donker is?" ("Can you your pen not find because it far too dark is?") "Can you not find your pen because it's too dark?""


Dutch nouns can take endings for size: -je for singular diminutive and -jes for plural diminutive. Between these suffixes and the radical can come extra letters depending on the ending of the word:

boom (tree) – boompje
ring (ring) – ringetje
koning (king) – koninkje
tien (ten) – tientje (a ten-euro note)

These diminutives are very common. As in German, all diminutives are neuter. In the case of words like "het meisje" (the girl), this is different from the natural gender. A diminutive ending can also be appended to an adverb or adjective (but not when followed by a noun).

klein (little, small) – een kleintje (a small one)

In Belgian Dutch, diminutives are frequently formed with -ke(n), being similar to German -chen, but only occur rarely in writing, instead giving preference to the diminutives using -je.


Dutch language street sign in the Netherlands

Like most Germanic languages, Dutch forms noun compounds, where the first noun modifies the category given by the second (hondenhok = doghouse). Unlike English, where newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in open form with separating spaces, Dutch (like the other Germanic languages) either uses the closed form without spaces (boomhuis = tree house) or inserts a hyphen (VVD-coryfee = outstanding member of the VVD, a political party). Like German, Dutch allows arbitrarily long compounds, but the longer they get, the less frequent they tend to be.

The longest serious entry in the Van Dale dictionary is About this sound wapenstilstandsonderhandeling  (ceasefire negotiation). Leafing through the articles of association (Statuten) one may come across a 30-letter About this sound vertegenwoordigingsbevoegdheid  (authorisation of representation). An even longer word cropping up in official documents is ziektekostenverzekeringsmaatschappij (health insurance company) though the shorter ziektekostenverzekeraar (health insurer) is more common.

Notwithstanding official spelling rules, some Dutch people, like some Scandinavians and Germans, nowadays tend to write the parts of a compound separately, a practice sometimes dubbed de Engelse ziekte (the English disease).[79]

Vocabulary, spelling and writing system[edit]

Main articles: Dutch orthography and Dutch Braille
Dutch uses the digraph IJ as a single letter. Shown is a bus road marking.
A comparison of letter frequency between Dutch, English and German

Dutch vocabulary is predominantly Germanic in origin. The main foreign influence on Dutch has been (northern) French, though at the beginning of the 20th century German became the main contributor of new loan words and after World War Two English has become the main contributor of new loanwords. The main Dutch dictionary is the Van Dale groot woordenboek der Nederlandse taal containing some 268,826 headwords.[80] In the field of linguistics, the 45,000-page Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal is also readily used. This scholarly endeavor took 147 years to complete and contains all recorded Dutch words from the Early Middle Ages onward, making it the largest dictionary in the world in print with over 430,000 entries.[81]

The official spelling is set by the Wet schrijfwijze Nederlandsche taal (Law on the writing of the Dutch language; Belgium 1946, Netherlands 1947; based on a 1944 spelling revision; both amended in the 1990s after a 1995 spelling revision). The Woordenlijst Nederlandse taal, more commonly known as "het groene boekje" (i.e. "the green booklet", because of its color), is usually accepted as an informal explanation of the law.

Dutch is written using the Latin script. Dutch uses one additional character beyond the standard alphabet, the digraph IJ. It has a relatively high proportion of doubled letters, both vowels and consonants, due to the formation of compound words and also to the spelling devices for distinguishing the many vowel sounds in the Dutch language. An example of five consecutive doubled letters is the word voorraaddoos (food storage container). The diaeresis (Dutch: trema) is used to mark vowels that are pronounced separately when involving a pre- or suffix. Whereas a hyphen is used when this problem occurs in compound words. For example; "beïnvloed" (influenced), but zee-eend (sea duck). Generally, other diacritical marks only occur in loanwords, though the acute accent can also be used for emphasis or to differentiate between two forms. Its most common use is to differentiate between the indefinite article 'een' (a, an) and the numeral 'één' (one).

Dutch as a foreign language[edit]

As a foreign language, Dutch is mainly taught in primary and secondary schools in areas adjacent to the Netherlands and Flanders. In French-speaking Belgium, over 300,000 pupils are enrolled in Dutch courses, followed by over 23,000 in the German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, and about 7,000 in the French region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais (of which 4,550 are in primary school).[82] Dutch is the obligatory medium of instruction in schools in Suriname, even for non-native speakers.[83] Dutch is taught in various educational centres in Indonesia, the most important of which is the Erasmus Language Centre (ETC) in Jakarta. Each year, some 1,500 to 2,000 students take Dutch courses there.[84] In total, several thousand Indonesians study Dutch as a foreign language.[85]

At an academic level, Dutch is taught in about 175 universities in 40 countries. About 15,000 students worldwide study Dutch at university.[29] The largest number of faculties of neerlandistiek can be found in Germany (30 universities), followed by France and the United States (20 each). Five universities in the United Kingdom offer the study of Dutch.[82][86] Owing to centuries of Dutch rule in Indonesia, many old documents are written in Dutch. Many universities therefore include Dutch as a source language, mainly for law and history students.[28] In Indonesia this involves about 35,000 students.[29] In South Africa, the number is difficult to estimate, since the academic study of Afrikaans inevitably includes the study of Dutch.[29] Elsewhere in the world, the number of people learning Dutch is relatively small.

Popular misconceptions[edit]

The language of Flanders[edit]

Main article: Flemish (linguistics)

Dutch is the language of government, education, and daily life in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. There is no officially recognized language called "Flemish", and both the Dutch and Belgian governments adhere to the standard Dutch (Algemeen Nederlands) defined by the Nederlandse Taalunie ("Dutch Language Union").

The actual differences between the spoken standard language of Dutch and Belgian speakers are comparable to the differences between American and British English or the German spoken in Germany and Austria.[citation needed] In other words, most differences are rather a matter of accent than of grammar. Some of these differences are recognized by the Taalunie and major dictionaries as being interchangeably valid, although some dictionaries and grammars may mark them as being more prevalent in one region or the other.

The use of the word Vlaams ("Flemish") to describe Standard Dutch for the variations prevalent in Flanders and used there, is common in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Dutch and German as sister languages[edit]

The dialect group from which Dutch is largely derived, Low Franconian, belongs to the whole of the continental West Germanic dialect set. This whole is sometimes imprecisely indicated by the word "German", but it might as well be called "Dutch". Indeed, the Low Franconian dialects and languages are morphologically closer to the original form of Western Germanic than the High German from which standard German is derived. It is quite appropriate to call modern Dutch and High German sister languages, only they are derived not from one and the same common variety, but from cognate mother vernaculars of Continental West Germanic. The view about mutual intelligibility between Dutch and German varies.[87][88]

No intrinsic quality of the whole of the component dialects favours one standard over the other: both were rivals and historical contingency decided the range of their use. The state border does not reflect dialectal subdivisions. Only since the dialect continuum of continental West Germanic was broken by the 19th century introduction of mass education have the respective ranges been fixed; in the 18th century standard Dutch was still used as the normal written standard in the Lower Rhine, the county of Bentheim and East Frisia, now all part of Germany. See also Meuse-Rhenish.

Low Dietsch[edit]

Low Dietsch (Dutch: Platdiets, Limburgish: Platduutsj, French: Thiois or Platdutch) is a term mainly used within the Flemish terminology for the transitional Limburgish-Ripuarian dialects of a number of towns and villages in the north-east of the Belgian province of Liege, such as Gemmenich, Homburg, Montzen and Welkenraedt.

Dutch and English as sister languages[edit]

Dutch has a relatively close genetic relationship to the descendants of Old and Middle English (such as English and Scots), though less than the Frisian languages (such as West Frisian) have to English. Both Dutch and English belong to the West Germanic languages and both lack most or all of the High German consonant shift that characterizes the descendants of Middle High German (such as German and Yiddish). Because of their close common relationship many English words are essentially identical to their Dutch lexical counterparts, either in spelling (begin) or pronunciation (boek = book, diep = deep), or both (lip); these cognates or in other ways related words are excluded from this list.

Though Dutch and English are relatively closely related, Dutch is less influenced by the French language and therefore contains fewer French loan words than the English language.

Pennsylvania Dutch[edit]

Pennsylvania Dutch, a West Central German variety called Deitsch by its speakers, is not a form of Dutch. The word "Dutch" was historically used for all speakers of continental West Germanic languages, including, the Dutch people, Flemish, Austrians, Germans, and the German-speaking Swiss. It is cognate with the Dutch archaism Diets, meaning "Dutch", and the German self-designation Deutsch. The use of the term "Dutch" exclusively for the language of Belgium, or for the inhabitants of the Netherlands or some of its former colonies, dates from the early 16th century. The name "Dutch" for the Pennsylvania dialect also stems from the way "Deutsch" is pronounced in the dialect itself.

Pennsylvania Dutch must not be confused with Jersey Dutch as spoken in Upstate New York in former ages, and even until the 1950s in New Jersey, being Dutch-based creole or pidgin languages.

Confusion between "Dutch", "Duits", and "Deutsch"[edit]

The resemblance of the English word "Dutch" (referring to the Dutch language of the Netherlands and Flanders) with the Dutch word Duits and German word Deutsch (meaning the German language of Germany, Austria and Switzerland) is not accidental, since both derive from the Germanic word þiudiskaz ("Theodiscus", meaning "of the people, popular, vulgar, vernacular"; that is, as opposed to Latin).

Until roughly the 16th century, speakers of all the varieties of West Germanic languages from the mouth of the Rhine to the Alps had been accustomed to refer to their native speech as the vernacular. This was Dietsch or Duitsch in Middle Dutch and what would eventually stabilize as Deutsch further south.

English speakers took the word Duitsch from their nearest Germanic-speaking neighbours in the Low Countries, and, having anglicized it as Dutch,[89] used it to refer to those neighbours and to the language they spoke. Meanwhile, however, especially after their secession from the Holy Roman Empire (i.e., Germany) in 1648, the Dutch began increasingly to refer to their own language as Nederlandsch (from which became the modern name of their language, Nederlands) in distinction from the people and speech of the Empire itself – Duitsch (now shortened to Duits) – with the result that 'Dutch' and Deutsch now refer to two different languages. About that time (as in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels), the English called the current Dutch language "Low Dutch" and the current German language "High Dutch", but eventually "German" won out over "High Dutch" due to the German-speaking territories being known as "Germany",[90] which was named after Germania.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In France, a historical dialect called French Flemish is spoken. There are about 80,000 Dutch speakers in France; see Simpson 2009, p. 307. In French Flanders, only a remnant of between 50,000 to 100,000 Flemish-speakers remain; see Berdichevsky 2004, p. 90. Flemish is spoken in the north-west of France by an estimated population of 20,000 daily speakers and 40,000 occasional speakers; see European Commission 2010.
    A dialect continuum exists between Dutch and German through the South Guelderish and Limburgish dialects.
    In 1941, 400,000 Indonesians spoke Dutch, and Dutch exerted a major influence on Indonesian; see Sneddon 2003, p. 161. In 1941, about 0.5% of the inland population had a reasonable knowledge of Dutch; see Maier 2005, p. 12. At the beginning of World War II, about one million Asians had an active command of Dutch, while an additional half million had a passive knowledge; see Jones 2008, p. xxxi. Many older Indonesians speak Dutch as a second language; see Thomson 2003, p. 80. Some of the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia speak Dutch amongst each other; see Tan 2008, pp. 62–64, Erdentuğ & Colombijn 2002, p. 104. Dutch is spoken by "smaller groups of speakers" in Indonesia; see Bussmann 2002, p. 83. Some younger Indonesians learn Dutch as a foreign language because their parents and grandparents may speak it and because in some circles, Dutch is regarded as the language of the elite; see Vos 2001, p. 91. At present, only educated people of the oldest generation, in addition to specialists who require knowledge of the language, can speak Dutch fluently; see Ammon 2006, p. 2017. Around 25% of present-day Indonesian vocabulary can be traced back to Dutch words, see Maier 2005, p. 17.
  2. ^ 410,000 in USA, 159,000 in Canada, 47,000 in Australia; see Simpson 2009, p. 307. Between 200,000 and 400,000 in USA alone; see McGoldrick, Giordano & Garcia-Preto 2005, p. 536.
  3. ^ Afrikaans is a daughter language of Dutch; see Booij 1995, p. 2, Jansen, Schreuder & Neijt 2007, p. 5, Mennen, Levelt & Gerrits 2006, p. 1, Booij 2003, p. 4, Hiskens, Auer & Kerswill 2005, p. 19, Heeringa & de Wet 2007, pp. 1, 3, 5.
    Afrikaans was historically called Cape Dutch; see Deumert & Vandenbussche 2003, p. 16, Conradie 2005, p. 208, Sebba 1997, p. 160, Langer & Davies 2005, p. 144, Deumert 2002, p. 3, Berdichevsky 2004, p. 130.
    Afrikaans is rooted in 17th century dialects of Dutch; see Holm 1989, p. 338, Geerts & Clyne 1992, p. 71, Mesthrie 1995, p. 214, Niesler, Louw & Roux 2005, p. 459.
    Afrikaans is variously described as a creole, a partially creolised language, or a deviant variety of Dutch; see Sebba 2007, p. 116.
  4. ^ It has the widest geographical and racial distribution of all official languages of South Africa; see Webb 2003, pp. 7, 8, Berdichevsky 2004, p. 131. It has by far the largest geographical distribution; see Alant 2004, p. 45.
    It is widely spoken and understood as a second or third language; see Deumert & Vandenbussche 2003, p. 16, Kamwangamalu 2004, p. 207, Myers-Scotton 2006, p. 389, Simpson 2008, p. 324, Palmer 2001, p. 141, Webb 2002, p. 74, Herriman & Burnaby 1996, p. 18, Page & Sonnenburg 2003, p. 7, Brook Napier 2007, pp. 69, 71.
    An estimated 40 percent of South Africans have at least a basic level of communication in Afrikaans; see Webb 2003, p. 7 McLean & McCormick 1996, p. 333. Afrikaans is a lingua franca of Namibia; see Deumert 2004, p. 1, Adegbija 1994, p. 26, Batibo 2005, p. 79, Donaldson 1993, p. xiii, Deumert & Vandenbussche 2003, p. 16, Baker & Prys Jones 1997, p. 364, Domínguez & López 1995, p. 399, Page & Sonnenburg 2003, p. 8, CIA 2010.
    While the number of total speakers of Afrikaans is unknown, estimates range between 15 and 23 million. Afrikaans has 16.3 million speakers; see de Swaan 2001, p. 216. Afrikaans has a total of 16 million speakers; see Machan 2009, p. 174. About 9 million people speak Afrikaans as a second or third language; see Alant 2004, p. 45, Proost 2006, p. 402. Afrikaans has over 5 million native speakers and 15 million second language speakers; see Réguer 2004, p. 20. Afrikaans has about 6 million native and 16 million second language speakers; see Domínguez & López 1995, p. 340. In South Africa, over 23 million people speak Afrikaans, of which a third are first-language speakers; see Page & Sonnenburg 2003, p. 7. L2 "Black Afrikaans" is spoken, with different degrees of fluency, by an estimated 15 million; see Stell 2008–11, p. 1.
    Dutch and Afrikaans share mutual intelligibility; see Gooskens 2007, p. 453, Holm 1989, p. 338, Baker & Prys Jones 1997, p. 302, Egil Breivik & Håkon Jahr 1987, p. 232. For written mutual intelligibility; see Sebba 2007, p. 116, Sebba 1997, p. 161.
    It is easier for Dutch speakers to understand Afrikaans than the other way around; see Gooskens 2007, p. 454.
  5. ^ Dutch and English are the closest relatives of German; see Abraham 2006, p. 124. Dutch is the closest relative of German; see Czepluch & Abraham 2004, p. 13. Dutch and English are closely related; see Ingram 1989, p. 494, Todd 2004, p. 37, Kager 1989, p. 105, Hogg 2002, p. 134, De Bot, Lowie & Verspoor 2005, pp. 130, 166, Weissenborn & Höhle 2001, p. 209, Crisma & Longobarde 2009, p. 250. Dutch and English are very closely related languages; see Fitzpatrick 2007, p. 188. Dutch is, after Frisian, the closest relative of English; see Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 23, Classe 2000, p. 390, Hogg 2002, p. 3, Denning, Kessler & Leben 2007, p. 22. English is most closely related to Dutch; see Lightfoot 1999, p. 22, and more so than to German; see Sonnenschein 2008, p. 100, Kennedy Wyld 2009, p. 190.
  6. ^ Dutch is traditionally described as morphologically between English and German, but syntactically closer to German; see Clyne 2003, p. 133. Dutch has been positioned to be between English and German; see Putnam 2011, p. 108, Bussmann 2002, p. 83, Müller 1995, p. 121, Onysko & Michel 2010, p. 210. Typologically, Dutch takes a midway position between English and German, with a similar word order to that of German, grammatical gender, and a largely Germanic vocabulary. It is morphologically close to English, and the case system and subjunctive have largely fallen out of use; see Swan & Smith 2001, p. 6.
  7. ^ Dutch shares with English its simplified morphology and the abandonment of the grammatical case system; see Booij 1995, p. 1, Simpson 2009, p. 309. In contrast to German, case markings have become vestigial in English and Dutch; see Hogg 2002, p. 134, Abraham 2006, p. 118, Bussmann 2002, p. 83, Swan & Smith 2001, p. 6. The umlaut in Dutch and English matured to a much lesser extent than in German; see Simpson 2009, p. 307, Lass 1994, p. 70, Deprez 1997, p. 251.
  8. ^ Dutch has effectively two genders; see Booij 1995, p. 1, Simpson 2009, p. 309, De Vogelaer 2009, p. 71. Grammatical gender has little grammatical consequences in Dutch; see Bussmann 2002, p. 84
  9. ^ Simpson 2009, p. 307, Booij 1995, p. 1 Dutch and German not have a strict SVO order as in English; see Hogg 2002, pp. 87, 134. In contrast to English, which has SVO as the underlying word order, for Dutch and German this is SV1OV2 or (in subordinate clauses) SOV; see Ingram 1989, p. 495, Jordens & Lalleman 1988, pp. 149, 150, 177. Dutch has almost the same word order as German; see Swan & Smith 2001, p. 6.
  10. ^ Dutch vocabulary has more Germanic words than English and more Romance words than German; see Simpson 2009, p. 309, Swan & Smith 2001, p. 17. Dutch vocabulary is mostly Germanic; see Swan & Smith 2001, p. 6. Dutch has the most similar vocabulary to English; see Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 1.
  11. ^ There are 15,700,000 native speakers in the Netherlands.[citation needed]


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External links[edit]