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Dutch Citations   Dutch Links   Select a New Language

Number of Speakers: 20,000,000

Key Dialects: West-Flemish and Zeeland, Brabant, Holland, Limburg, and Saxon

Geographical Center: Netherlands

There are about 4,600,000 Dutch speakers in Belgium, 80,000 in France and 200,000 native speakers in Suriname, many of whom are bilingual in Sranan. Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, Aruba, one of the official languages of Belgium, and a national language of Suriname.

Dutch is in the West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family along with English and German. It is in the Low-Franconian sub-group, and is most closely related to Afrikaans and Flemish of the same sub-group.

The West Flemish and Zeeland dialects are spoken in the Dutch province of Zeeland-Flanders. Flemish is also used to refer to Dutch as spoken in Belgium. This Belgian Flemish is accepted by most to be a dialect of Dutch, as opposed to a separate language, as there are only a few pronunciation differences and a few lexical items which differ between Flemish and standard Dutch. There is a dispute, however, especially among Flemish.

The Brabant dialects are spoken in south central Netherlands, the Holland dialects in north central, the Limburg in southeastern, and the Saxon in northeastern Netherlands.

Frisian is spoken in two provinces in northern Netherlands. Some scholars have considered Frisian to be a dialect of Dutch in the past, though most recognize it as a separate language today. Frisian is more closely related to English than to Dutch or German.

Dutch is written using the Latin alphabet. The Dutch writing system was standardized in 1863, and revised and simplified in 1947, with many reforms and proposed reforms before and after.

Nineteen consonants, thirteen vowels, and eight diphthongs make up the phonemic inventory of Dutch. Dutch has both regressive and progressive voicing assimilation, as well as word-final devoicing. Stress most commonly occurs on the first syllable in a word, except when there is a weak prefix, although stress in compounds is unpredictable.

Dutch nouns are divided into two genders – common and neuter. Nouns of the common gender take the singular definite article de, while neuter nouns take het. Both genders take the plural definite article de, and the indefinite article een.

The Dutch attributive adjective precedes the noun. When the adjective modifies a common gender noun, the adjective takes an ending –e: een goede man ‘a good man’, but een goed boek ‘a good book’.

The personal pronouns for first and third persons have both a full and a reduced form, whether used as an object or a subject:
1st sg. subject: ik ‘k object: mij me
3rd sg. m. subject: hij –ie object: hem ‘m
3rd sg. f. subject: zij ze object: haar ‘r

The second person pronouns have familiar singular and plural forms jij and jullie, and a formal form u.

The verb has two simple tenses in the indicative mood: present and past. The present is formed with the verb stem for the first person singular, the infinitive for first person and third person plural, and with a –t suffix for other forms: ik kom – wij kommen – hij komt. The past tense is formed in two ways, depending on whether the verb is strong or weak. Weak verbs add –te for singular and –ten for plural: ik kookte, wij kookten. Strong verbs form the past tense through single or two-stage umlaut: bidden ‘pray’, bad – gebeden, slapen ‘to sleep’ sliep – geslapen, liggen ‘to lie’ lag – gelegen.

The future tense is formed with the auxiliary zullen. The perfect is formed with the auxiliary zijn for intransitive verbs involving a change of state, and with hebben for transitive verbs.

Word order is SVO for main clauses, SOV for subordinate clauses, and VSO for interrogatives.

Dutch is the national language of the Netherlands and Suriname, and one of the national languages of Belgium. Dutch enjoyed a wider sphere of influence in the past due to Dutch colonization. At various points in history Dutch was widely used or was the language of the ruling classes in South Africa, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, the American colonies, and Brazil.

With the independence of these former colonies, Dutch for the most part fell out of use. In South Africa Afrikaans was named the official language in 1925 mostly as a move to ward off increasing British influence. Small colonies of Dutch speakers in Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and the American colonies were soon absorbed by the local populations.

Belgium began its history as a French-speaking nation, but the Dutch-speaking population to the north soon began to object and push for the use of Dutch in the local governments, the military, universities, and in the courts. Laws began to be enacted to enforce the use of Dutch in Dutch-speaking regions (or the Flemish counties) and French in French-speaking regions (or Wallonia), with the capital Brussels as a bilingual area. This situation exists today, and the Dutch speakers outnumber the French speakers in present-day Belgium.

Scholars distinguish three periods in the history of the Dutch language: Old Dutch, from the eight century to the beginning of the eleventh century; Middle Dutch, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century; and Modern Dutch, from the sixteenth century to the present. Very few records remain from the Early Dutch period, and so that classification is in most ways merely a formality. The Middle Dutch period is characterized by a reduction of final unstressed vowels of nouns and verbs; the th sound, similar to what exists in Modern English ‘thorn’ and ‘brother’, became d; and other vowel shifts occurred. Dutch literature began to flourish in this period, which saw poetry emerge from Limburg and Flanders, and religious prose emerge from Brabant, and later from Holland. Also adding to the knowledge of the Middle Dutch period are a series of charters, accounts, and chronicles. These tended to reflect local usage more than the literary works, and also contained fewer words borrowed from Latin or other foreign sources. The Modern Dutch period has been fraught with many spelling reforms, debates about such reforms, and competing reform programs. The last such reform was as late as 1972.

Brachin, Pierre. 1985. The Dutch Language: A Survey. Paul Vincent trans. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill.

Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.

Donaldson, B.C. 1983. Dutch: A Linguistic History of Holland and Belgium. Leiden, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Klatter-Folmer, Jetske, and Sjaak Kroon. 1997. “Dutch Overseas: Introductory Remarks on Dutch as an Immigrant Language” in Dutch Overseas: Studies in Maintenance and Loss of Dutch as an Immigrant Language. Studies in Multilingualism 9. Tillburg: Tillburg University Press.

Vandeputte, O., P. Vincent, and T. Hermans. 1986. Dutch: The Language of Twenty Million Dutch and Flemish People. Rekkem, Belgium: Flemish-Netherlands Foundation “Stichting Ons Erfdeel vzw”.

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