Dutch language

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Dutch—rarely called Netherlandic—(in its own language: Nederlands) is a West-Germanic language spoken by roughly 20 million people in the Netherlands and in Flanders (northern Belgium and extreme northern France). It is also widespread in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles.

Flemish (Vlaams) is not a separate language, but rather the designation of the Dutch dialects spoken in Flanders (Belgium and France).


The standard language, Algemeen Nederlands (lit. "General Dutch"), formerly called Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands (ABN—lit. "General Civilized Dutch"), which was established in the 17th century, is largely based on the Hollandic dialects spoken in the western Dutch provinces of North and South Holland, but with considerable influence from Flemish dialects spoken in Belgium as well.

Closely related languages

Dutch should not be confused with the following languages.

  • Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa and Namibia, is a language descended from 18th century Dutch, with a simplified morphology and many lexical influences from English, the indigenous languages of Africa and India, and also, to some extent, the Indonesian language.
  • Frisian is a closely-related but separate West-Germanic language spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland (Fris. Fryslân) and in a few small areas in northern Germany. However, Stadsfries (lit. "City Frisian") dialect, spoken in some larger towns and cities of Friesland, is really a Dutch dialect with Frisian admixtures.


Traditionally, the Dutch language is divided into five major dialect groups:

  • Hollandic, which includes the dialects spoken in North and South Holland, Utrecht and the southwestern portion of Gelderland.
  • Saxon, which refers to the dialects spoken in the northeastern provinces of the Netherlands and which are closely related to Low German.
  • Brabantic (or Brabantian), spoken in the Dutch province of North Brabant and the Belgian provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant.
  • Limburgic (or Limburgish), spoken in the Dutch province of Limburg and the Belgian province of Limburg. However, being of Low Franconian origin equally, these dialects as a whole are sometimes considered to be a separate language as well instead of a Dutch dialect and have been recognized as such in the Netherlands since 1997.
  • Flemish, spoken in the Belgian provinces of East and West Flanders and in the nearby northernmost tip of France, around Dunkirk.

Zeelandic, the dialects of the Dutch province of Zeeland, is sometimes included in the Flemish group, though in reality these dialects are halfway between Flemish and Hollandic (with the exception of the area of Zeeland Flanders (Dutch: Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), where Flemish is spoken).





Modern Standard Dutch has the following consonants:

bilabial labiodental alveolar postalveolar palatal velar glottal
plosive p b t d k (ɡ)
fricative f v s z (ʃ) (ʒ) x ɣ h
nasal m n (ɲ) ŋ
trill r
approximant ʋ l j

The status of several of these consonants is unclear. For instance, /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are usually listed as either marginal phonemes occurring only in loanwords from French and English or as allophones of the phoneme clusters /sj/ and /zj/. Yet /ʃ/ also appears in ancient loans from Frisian such as sjoelen 'to play shuffleboard (a game).' The voiced velar plosive /ɡ/ also seems to be only a marginal phoneme.

The trill /r/ is not necessarily an alveolar trill for all speakers. The uvular /ʀ/ is also quite common and the contrast is neither phonemic nor strictly regional. Some speakers in southern dialects use a bilabial /w/ instead of the labiodental approximant /ʋ/.

So-called weak [tʲ] in the diminutive suffix, as well as in other /tj/ clusters, is usually designated as an allophone of /t/, but not all linguists agree on this classifiation. As the assibilated reflex of Gmc. */k/ it appears in Dutch dialects in many forms; it could equally be classified as either an allophone of /k/ or as an independent phoneme, /ç/.

Dutch has final devoicing (Dutch: eindklankverscherping), meaning that voiced consonants cannot appear in syllable-final position. Thus, the word paard 'horse' is pronounced [pa:rt], with [t] from /d/. The plural, paarden, however, has retained its original voiced [d] and is pronounced [pa:rdə].


Substantive inflections

Nouns in Modern Standard Dutch have one of two genders: common (with the article de) or neuter (with the article het). Some Brabantic and Flemish dialects as well as formal written Dutch retain a difference between masculine, feminine and neuter. Gender is visible in the use of the definite article (de for common, het for neuter), possessives, interrogatives, and demonstratives. Dutch no longer indicates noun cases, though a good number of petrified expressions still appear in dative and genitive forms. Thus, huis 'house' as a rule only takes the plural huizen, but petrified expressions are van goeden huize 'from good stock, background' (dative), heer des huizes 'lord of the manor, house' (genitive).

Plurals of nouns are usually formed by adding either -en or -s, and some words may take both endings. Words that take the Germanic ending, -en, and whose final consonant has become devoiced in the singular, will have retained their voiced consonant before the plural ending:

  • boek [buk] 'book' - boeken [bukə] 'books'
    dag [dax] 'day' - dagen [da:ɣə] 'days'
    huis [hɶys] 'house' - huizen [hɶyzə] 'houses'.

Plural -s may be of French origin:

  • varken 'pig' - varkens 'pigs'
    meisje 'girl' - meisjes 'girls'.

A minor category of substantives take a double plural:

  • kind 'child' - kinderen 'children' (morphologically: kind|er|en)
    ei 'egg' - eieren 'eggs',

while a number of loanwords, mainly from Latin and Italian, retain their original plurals:

  • museum 'museum' - musea 'museums'
    porto 'postage' - porti.

Dutch nouns can also be diminuized by adding the ending -(t)je (and some other variants). The use of diminutive nouns is extremely common in Dutch and does not necessarily imply anything about the size of the item as it is often used colloquially for food and drink items and it is also used hypocoristically. Diminuized nouns are all neuter.

The original Germanic system of adjective inflection has become greatly simplified, so that all attributive adjectives now take the ending -e except for those modifying a neuter noun not preceded by a definite article or by another definite premodifier (demonstrative, interrogative, possessive pronoun):

de kleine auto 'the small car'
een kleine auto 'a small car'
het grote huis 'the large house'
een groot huis 'a large house'
de kwakende eenden 'the quacking ducks'
kwakende eenden 'quacking ducks'

Like English, the Dutch personal pronoun system retains a difference between nominative and oblique (or subject and object) forms. For the 3rd person plural, a difference between dative and accusative remains in written Dutch.

Verbal inflections

In the past tense and the perfect Dutch, like all other Germanic languages, retains the division between strong and weak verbs. Thus, weak verbs form their preterit and perfect by adding a suffix with a dental (t or d), and in addition the perfect participle usually has a prefix ge-. Strong verbs, instead of adding a suffix, change their stem vowel according to a number of set patterns. Dutch retains verbs for all 7 classes of strong verbs, though the stem vowels for the preterit singular and plural have coalesced.



History of the Dutch Language

Dutch is a West-Germanic language, meaning it is closely related to English, Frisian, and German, slightly more distantly to the North-Germanic and extinct East-Germanic languages, and ultimately to the other Indo-European languages. It is usual to distinguish between four historical stages of the language.

Old Dutch (c. AD 600-1100)

see main article: Old Dutch

The exact origin of the Dutch language is unclear, as little is known about the place of the earliest stages of the Dutch dialects within West Germanic. The term Old Dutch is largely a term of convenience referring to a putative earliest stage of the language (ca. AD 600-1100). We have virtually no written records for this stage of the language apart from some fragments of a translation of the Psalms in an early Limburgic dialect that is usually designated as "Old East Low Franconian." Features of Dutch indicate that it was close to English and Frisian, because it participated, at least partly, in a number of sound changes peculiar to these languages (sometimes grouped together as Anglo-Frisian), such as the loss of n before alveolar consonants (cf. English mouth, Dutch Muiden and Diksmuide [place names], Standard Dutch mond) in some dialects and the assibilation of velar consonants in some dialects, esp. the assibilated "tj" (from Gmc. *k) in Dutch diminutives and the confusion of Gmc. *g and *j.

Middle Dutch (c. AD 1100-1500)

see main article: Middle Dutch

Early Modern Dutch (c. 1500-1700)

see main article: Early Modern Dutch

Modern Dutch (c. 1700-present)