Dutch is a West Germanic language spoken worldwide
by around 21 million people.

The variety of Dutch spoken in Belgium is also informally called Flemish. The Dutch name for the language is Nederlands or less formal Hollands and Dutch is sometimes called Netherlandic in English. Some speakers resent the name “Dutch”, because it is derived from Dietsch (or Diets in modern Dutch), which has the same meaning as Deutsch (German for ‘German’).

Dutch (Nederlands)
Spoken in: Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles
Total speakers: 21 million

Official status
Official language of: Aruba, Belgium, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles and Suriname

The Dutch language is considered to have originated in about AD 700 (a rather arbitrary date) from the various Germanic dialects spoken in the Netherlands region, mostly of (Low) Frankian origin. A process of standardization started in the Middle ages, especially under the influence of the Burgundian Ducal Court in Dijon (Brussels after 1477).

An early Dutch recorded writing is: “Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan, hinase ic enda tu, wat unbidan we nu”
(“All birds have started making nests, except me and you, what are we waiting for”),
dating around the year 1100, written by a Flemish monk in a convent in Rochester (UK).

For a long time this sentence was considered to be the earliest in Dutch, but since its discovery even older fragments were found, such as “Visc flot aftar themo uuatare” (“A fish was swimming in the water”) and “Gelobistu in got alamehtigan fadaer” (“Do you believe in God the almighty father”). The latter fragment was written as early as 900.

Hebban olla uogala...

Hebban olla uogala…

The dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential around this time. In 1618, in order to make the first Dutch bible translation that people from all over the country could understand, a unified language was created. It consisted of elements from various dialects, but mostly based on the dialects from Holland.

The word Dutch comes from the old Germanic word theodisk, meaning ‘of the people’, ‘vernacular’ as opposed to official, i.e. Latin or later French. Theodisk in modern German has become deutsch and in Dutch has become the two forms: duits, meaning German, and diets meaning something closer to Dutch but no longer in general use (see the diets article).

The English word Dutch has also changed with time. It was only in the early 1600s, with growing cultural contacts and the rise of an independent country, that the modern meaning arose, i.e., ‘designating the people of the Netherlands or their language’. Prior to this, the meaning was more general and could refer to any German-speaking area or the languages there (including the current Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as well as the Netherlands). For example:

William Caxton (c.1422-1491) wrote in his Prologue to his Aeneids in 1490 that an old English text was more like to Dutche than English. In his notes, Professor W.F. Bolton makes clear that this word means German rather than Dutch. Peter Heylyn, Cosmography in four books containing the Chronography and History of the whole world, Vol. II (London, 1677: 154) contains “…the Dutch call Leibnitz,” adding that Dutch is spoken in the parts of Hungary adjoining to Germany. To this day, descendants of German settlers in Pennsylvania are known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”.

Dutch is a Low German language within the West Germanic branch (see the table above). It is therefore most closely related to West Flemish (and Afrikaans, which derives from Dutch) and then, more distantly, to other Low Saxon and East Low German languages.Of all the major modern languages, the closest relative to English is Dutch. (However, if minor languages are also considered, then the closest relative to English is Frisian, which is confined mainly within the Dutch province of Friesland.)

Geographic distribution
Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands, the northern half of Belgium (Flanders, including Belgium’s capital Brussels), the northernmost part of France, the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Suriname and amongst certain groups in Indonesia. The last two are former Dutch colonies.

Official status
Dutch is an official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch, Flemish and Surinamese governments coordinate their language activities in the Dutch Language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie). Algemeen Nederlands (meaning ‘general Dutch’, abbreviated to AN) is the official Dutch language, the standard language as taught in schools and used by authorities in the Netherlands, Flanders (Belgium), Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles.

The Taalunie (Language Union), an association established by Dutch government and the government of Flanders, defines what is AN and what is not, e.g. in terms of orthography and spelling. Prior to the use of Algemeen Nederlands, Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands (general civilized Dutch, abbreviated to ABN) was commonly in use. For reasons of political correctness, the word Beschaafd (civilized) has been left out since this could mean that people who speak variants of Dutch are not civilized. Standaardnederlands (standard Dutch) is also commonly used instead of Algemeen Nederlands.

Flemish is the collective term used for the Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium. It is not a separate language, though the term is often used to distinguish the Dutch spoken in Flanders from that of the Netherlands. The standard form of Netherlandic Dutch differs somewhat from Belgium Dutch or Flemish: Flemish favours older words and is also perceived as “softer” in pronunciation and discourse than Netherlandic Dutch, and some Netherlanders find it quaint. In contrast, Netherlandic Dutch is perceived as harsh and guttural to Belgians, and some Belgians perceive it as overly assertive, hostile and even somewhat arrogant. In Flanders, there are roughly five different main dialects: West-Vlaams, Oost-Vlaams, Antwerps, Brabants/Brussels, and Limburgs.

They have all incorporated French loanwords in everyday language. An example is fourchette in various forms (originally a French word meaning fork), instead of vork. Brussels, especially, is heavily influenced by French because roughly 75% of the inhabitants of Brussels speak French. Limburgs is closely related to Dutch limburgs. An oddity of West-Vlaams (and to a lesser extent, Oost-Vlaams) is that the pronunciation of the “soft g” sound (the voiced velar fricative) is almost identical to that of the “h” sound (the voiced glottal fricative). Some Flemish dialects are so distinct that they might be considered as separate language variants. West Flemish in particular has sometimes been considered as such. It should also be noted that the dialect borders of these dialects do not neatly correspond to geopolitical boundaries. The Antwerp-Brabant dialect group, for instance, also extends to the south of the Netherlands, and so do the dialects of Limburg. West-Flemish is even spoken in a small part of northern France bordering on Belgium.

The Netherlands itself also has different regions and within these regions other dialects can also be found. In the region “Groningen”, they speak standard Dutch as well as Gronings. Drents is spoken in Drenthe. Limburgs (Limburg) and Brabants (Brabant) are quite similar to the Flemish dialects. The Zeeuws of most of Zeeland is closer to Flemish dialects than to standard Dutch, and the similar Zeeuws of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is a form of West Flemish. Some dialects such as Limburgs and several Low Saxon-influenced dialects are sometimes elevated to the status of streektaal (area language), and then discussed as separate languages. Some dialects are unintelligible to some speakers of Standard Dutch.

Dutch dialects aren’t spoken as much as they used to be. Nowadays only older people speak these dialects in the smaller villages, with the exception of the streektalen, which are actively promoted by some provinces. Most towns and cities stick to standard Dutch – although many cities have their own city dialect, which continues to prosper. In both the Netherlands and Belgium, many cities also have distinct smaller dialects. By many native speakers of Dutch, both in Belgium and the Netherlands, Afrikaans and Frisian are often assumed to be very deviant dialects of Dutch. In fact, they are two different languages, Afrikaans having evolved mainly from Dutch, and Frisian being closer to English than Dutch.

In addition to the many dialects of the Dutch language many provinces and larger cities have their own accents, which sometimes are also called dialects. Naturalized migrants also tend to have similar accents: for example many people from the Dutch Antilles or Suriname (regardless of race) speak with a thick “Surinaams” accent, and the Moroccan and Turkish youth have also developed their own accents, which in some cases are enhanced by a debased Dutch slang with Arabic or Turkish words thrown in, which serves in making their speech nearly unintelligible to the Dutch people.

Derived languages
Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa and Namibia, is derived primarily from 16th century Dutch dialects, and a great deal of mutual intelligibility still exists.

Like all other continental West Germanic languages, Dutch has a rather complicated word order that is markedly different from English, which presents a problem for Anglophones learning Dutch. Dutch is also known for its ability to glue words together to form very long words.
Examples of this are de randjongerenhangplekkenbeleidsambtenarensalarisbesprekingsafspraken (the agreements for the negotiations concerning the salary of public servants who decide on the policy for areas where unemployed youth is allowed to hang out), hottentottententententoonstellingsmakersopleidingsprogramma (the curriculum of an education teaching the makers of exhibitions about the tents of the Hottentots), and a number with dozens of digits can be written out as one word. Though grammatically correct, it is never done to this extent; at most two or three words are glued together.

The Dutch grammar has simplified a lot over the past 100 years: cases are now only used for the pronouns (for example: ik = I, me = me, mij = me, mijn = my, wie = who, wiens = whose, wier = whose). Nouns and adjectives are not case inflected (except for the genitive of nouns: -(‘)s or -‘).

Inflection of adjectives is a little more complicated: nothing with indefinite (een “a”, “an”…), neuter nouns in singular and -e in all other cases.

een mooi huis (a beautiful house)
het mooie huis (the beautiful house)
mooie huizen (beautiful houses)
de mooie huizen (the beautiful houses)
een mooie vrouw (a beautiful woman)

More complex inflection is still used in certain expressions like de heer des huizes (litt.: the man of the house), ter hulp komen (to come to help), etc. These are usually remnants of cases and other inflections no longer in general use today.

Dutch nouns are, however, inflected for size: -je for singular diminuitive and -jes for plural diminuitive. 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

Dutch has more French loanwords than German, but fewer than English. The number of English loanwords in Dutch is quite large, and is growing rapidly. New loanwords are almost never pronounced or spelled differently than the original English word. There are also some German loanwords, like überhaupt and sowieso. Dutch also has a lot of Greek and Latin loanwords.

Writing system
Dutch is written using the Latin alphabet, see Dutch alphabet. The diaeresis is used to mark vowels that are pronounced separately, and called trema. It has nearly disappeared from Dutch spelling after the most recent spelling reform, which introduced the use of a hyphen in most cases where a trema was used: zeeëend is now spelled zee-eend. The Acute accent (Accent aigu) occurs mainly on loanwords like café, but 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).

The Grave accent (Accent grave) , when used for emphasis and differentiation between two forms, has been completely dropped in the recent spelling reform, so that Hè? must according to new spelling rules be spelled Hé?. This is, however, not noticeable in pronunciation. Other diacritical marks such as the circumflex only occur on a few words, most of them loanwords from French.

The most important dictionary of the modern Dutch language is the Van Dale groot woordenboek der Nederlandse taal[1] (http://www.vandale.nl), more commonly referred to as the Dikke van Dale (“dik” is Dutch for “fat” or “thick”), or as linguists nicknamed it: De Vandaal (the vandal). However, it is dwarfed by the “Woordenboek der Nederlandsche taal”, a scholarly endeavour that took 147 years from initial idea to first edition, resulting in over 45,000 pages.

The official spelling is given by the Woordenlijst Nederlandse taal, more commonly known as “het groene boekje” (i.e. “the green booklet”, because of its colour.)

Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.