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Dutch language

Classification and related languages

Dutch is a Germanic language, and within this family it is a West Germanic language. Since it did not experience the High German consonant shift, it is a Low Saxon-Low Franconian language, and it is most closely related to the Low Saxon dialects of German. There was in fact a dialect continuum which blurred any clear boundary between Dutch and Low Saxon, in some minute areas there are still tiny dialect continuums but they continue to go extinct.

Dutch has grammatical cases, but these are now mostly limited to pronouns and set phrases. Dutch has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter although masculine and feminine have merged to form the common gender (de), whilst the neuter (het) remains distinct as before. The inflectional grammar of Dutch, for instance in adjective and noun endings, has been simplified over time.

Even when written Dutch looks similar to German, however, the pronunciation may be markedly different. This is true especially of the diphthongs and of the letter , which is pronounced as a velar continuant similar to the in Swiss German. The rhotic pronunciation of causes some English-speakers to believe Dutch sounds similar to a Northern English accent; this is the reason for Bill Bryson's famous remark that when one hears Dutch one feels one ought to be able to understand it. Dutch pronunciation is, however, difficult to master for Anglophones, many of its diphthongs and gutturals being the greatest obstacles. Germans seem to have an advantage with the Dutch grammar, but suffer the same difficulties as the English when dealing with pronunciation. Dutch is generally not on the curriculum of German schools, except in some border cities, such as Aachen and Oldenburg.

Geographic distribution

Dutch is spoken by practically all inhabitants of the Netherlands and Flanders, the northern half of Belgium. It is also spoken in the bilingual region of Brussels, together with French and other languages. In the northernmost part of France, the Dunkirk arrondissement in the Nord département, Dutch is still spoken as a minority language, often referred to by the dialect name Vlaams (Flemish). On the Caribbean islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, Dutch is used but less so than Papiamento (Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire) and English (Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Saba). Dutch is spoken as a mother tongue by about 60% of the population in Suriname, most of them being bilingual with Sranan Tongo and other ethnic languages. There are also some speakers of Dutch in Indonesia and in countries with a lot of Dutch migrants, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In South Africa and Namibia a language related to Dutch, called Afrikaans is spoken.

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 Nederlandse Taalunie ('Dutch Language Union'). Dutch was an official language in South Africa up until 1961, having fallen into disuse since Afrikaans became an official language in 1925. Of the inhabitants of New Zealand, 0.7% say their home language is Dutch (see article on New Zealand). The number of people coming from the Netherlands, though, is considerably higher but from the second generation on most people changed their language in favour of English.

Standaardnederlands or Algemeen Nederlands ('Common Dutch', abbreviated to AN) is the standard language as taught in schools and used by authorities in the Netherlands, Flanders, Suriname, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch Language Union defines what is AN and what is not, for example in terms of orthography. Since efforts to uplift people became considered rather presumptuous, as reflected by the evolution of the vocabulary heard on television, the earlier name Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands ('Common Civilized Dutch') and its abbreviation ABN have been replaced with Algemeen Nederlands and thus AN.


In Flanders, there are roughly four dialect groups: West Flemish, East Flemish, Brabantian and Limburgish. Some of these dialects, especially West and East Flemish have incorporated some 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 85% of the inhabitants of Brussels speak French.

The Brabantian dialect group, extends to much of the south of the Netherlands, and so does Limburgish. West-Flemish is also spoken in part of the Dutch province of Zeeland, and even in a small part near Dunkirk, France, bordering on Belgium.

The Netherlands also have different dialect regions. In the east there is an extensive Low Saxon dialect area: the provinces of Groningen (Gronings), Drenthe and Overijssel are almost exclusively Low Saxon. Zuid-Gelders is a dialect also spoken in the German land of North Rhine-Westphalia. Brabantian (Noord-Brabant) fades into the dialects spoken in the adjoining provinces of Belgium. Same thing applies to Limburgish (Limburg (Netherlands)), but this variant also has the status of official regional Language in the Netherlands (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 Platt, and has had a somewhat different development since the late Middle Ages.

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