The Dutch language reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Dutch language

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Dutch is a West Germanic language spoken worldwide by around 20 million people. The variety of Dutch spoken in Belgium is also informally called Flemish. The Dutch name for the language is Nederlands or less formally Hollands and Dutch is sometimes called Netherlandic in English. Some speakers resent the name "Dutch", because of its deceptive similarity to Deutsch (German for 'German') and its resemblance to Diets, a term which was abused by Nazi collaborators 1940–1945.

Dutch (Nederlands)
Spoken in:Netherlands
Total speakers: 21 Million
   Low Saxon-Low Franconian
    Low German
     Low Franconian
Official status
Official language of:Aruba, Belgium, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles and Suriname
Regulated by:Dutch Language Union
Language codes
ISO 639-1: nl
ISO 639-2(B): dut
ISO 639-2(T): nld

Table of contents
1 History
2 Classification
3 Geographic distribution
4 Sounds
5 Grammar
6 Vocabulary
7 Writing system
8 Examples
9 Dutch literature
10 External links


The Dutch language is considered to have originated in about 700 AD (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). The first known recorded writing is: "Hebban alla vogala nestas hagunnan, hinase hic anda 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).

The dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential in 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:


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), 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 Beschaafd Nederlands (meaning 'general civilized Dutch', abbreviated to ABN) 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 ABN and what is not, e.g. in terms of orthography and spelling.

For reasons of political correctness, the terms Algemeen Nederlands (general Dutch, abbreviated to AN) and Standaardnederlands (standard Dutch) are also used; Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands could be interpreted as 'the Dutch that is spoken by civilized people', which would suggest that people speaking variants of the standard language are not civilized.


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" 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 hostile.

Flemish should not be confused with West Flemish, which is a separate, although related language also spoken in parts of Flanders and in northern France. The Netherlands 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 in 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 not Dutch at all but rather 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 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.



The vowel inventory of Dutch is large, with 13 simple vowels and three diphthongs.

Dutch monophthongs:


Dutch diphthongs:


/e:, ø:, o:/ are included on the diphthong chart because they are actually produced as narrow closing diphthongs, but behave phonologically like the other simple vowels.

Dutch Vowels with Example Words
Symbol Example
IPA SAMPA IPA orthography English
ɪ I bɪt bit 'bit'
i i bit biet 'beetroot'
ʏ Y hʏt hut 'cabin'
y y fyt fuut 'grebe'
ɛ E bɛt bed 'bed'
e: beːt beet 'bite'
ə @ ət 't 'the'
øː 2: nøːs neus 'nose'
ɑ A bɑt bad 'bath'
a: zaːt zaad 'seed'
ɔ O bɔt bot 'bone'
o: boːt boot 'boat'
u u hut hoed 'hat'
ɛi Ei ɛi ei 'egg'
œy 9y œy ui 'onion'
ʌu Au zʌut zout 'salt'


> > > > >
Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Palato-alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive p   b t   d k   g1 ʔ 2
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative f   v 3 s   z 3 ʃ   ʒ 4 x   ɣ 3 ʁ 5 ɦ
Approximant ʋ j
Lateral l

Where symbols for consonants occur in pairs, the left represents the voiceless consonant and the right represents the voiced consonant.


  1. [g] is not a native phoneme of Dutch and only occurs in borrowed words, like goal.
  2. [ʔ] is not a separate phoneme in Dutch, but is inserted before vowel-initial syllables within words after /a/ and /ə/.
  3. In some dialects, the voiced fricatives have almost completely merged with the voiceless ones, and [v] is usually realized as [f], [z] is usually realized as [s], and [ɣ] is usually realized as [x].
  4. [ʃ] and [ʒ] are not native phonemes of Dutch, and usually occur in borrowed words, like show and bagage (baggage). However, /s/ + /j/ phoneme sequences in Dutch are often realized as [ʃ], like in the word huisje (='little house'). [ʒ] often is realized as [ʃ].
  5. The realization of the /r/ phoneme varies considerably from dialect to dialect. In the so-called "standard" Dutch of Amsterdamù, /r/ is realized as indicated here—as the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ]. In other dialects, however, it is realized as the uvular trill [ʀ] or as the alveolar trill [r].

ùThe "standard" Dutch as spoken in Amsterdam is not the Amsterdams dialect. Amsterdams dialect is different from standard Dutch in that [z] is replaced by [s] in nearly all cases. The standard Dutch is more accurately described as the Dutch that is spoken by most people in Amsterdam, and is the dominating accent used on television.

Dutch Consonants with Example Words
Symbol Example
IPA SAMPA IPA orthography English
p p pɛn pen 'pen'
b b bit biet 'beetroot'
t t tɑk tak 'branch'
d d dɑk dak 'roof'
k k kɑt kat 'cat'
g g gol goal 'goal'
m m mɛns mens 'human being'
n n nɛk nek 'neck'
ŋ N ɛŋ eng 'narrow'
f f fits fiets 'bicycle'
v v ovən oven 'oven'
s s sɔk sok 'sock'
z z zep zeep 'soap'
ʃ S ʃɛf chef 'boss, chief'
ʒ Z ʒyʁi jury 'jury'
x x ɑxt acht 'eight'
ɣ G ɣaːn gaan 'to go'
ʁ r ʁɑt rat 'rat'
ɦ h ɦut hoed 'hat'
ʋ w ʋɑŋ wang 'cheek'
j j jɑs jas 'coat'
l l lɑnt land 'land'
ʔ ? bəʔɑmə beamen 'confirm'


Dutch devoices all consonants at the ends of words (e.g. a final d sound is shifted to a t sound; to become 'ents of worts'), which presents a problem for Dutch speakers when learning English.

Because of assimilation, often the initial consonant of the next word is also devoiced, e.g. het vee (the cattle) is /h@tfe/. This process of devoicing is taken to an extreme in some regions (Amsterdam, Friesland) with almost complete loss of /v/,/z/ and /G/. Further south these phonemes are certainly present in the middle of a word. Compare e.g. logen and loochen /loG@/ vs. /lox@/. In Flanders the contrast is even greater because the g becomes a palatal. ('soft g').

The final 'n' of the plural ending -en is often not pronounced (as in Afrikaans), except in the North East and the South West where the ending becomes a syllabic n sound.

Historical sound changes

Dutch did not participate in the second (High German) sound shifting - compare German machen /-x-/ Dutch maken, English make,

German Pfanne /pf-/, Dutch pan, English pan, German zwei /ts-/, Dutch twee, English two.

It also underwent a few changes of its own. For example, words in -old or -olt lost the l in favor of a diphthong. Compare English old, German alt, Dutch oud. A word like hus with /u/ (English house) first changed to huus with /y/, then finally to huis with a diphthong that resembles the one in French l'oeil. The phoneme /g/ was lost in favor of a (voiced) guttural fricative /G/, or a voiced palatal fricative (in the South: Flanders, Limburg).


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 (like: 'de randjongerenhangplekkenbeleidsambtenarensalarisbesprekingsafspraken' which means 'the agreements for the salary of public servants which decide the policy for areas where unemployed youth is allowed to hang out.' 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 masculine and neuter nouns: -(e)s).

Inflection of adjectives is a little more complicated: -e with 'de' or 'het', -e with 'een' or with nothing for masculine, feminine and plural. (And with the genitive: '-en' for masculine and neuter, -er for feminine and plural.) (This genitive, however, belongs to 'formal language' and normally it is simulated by use of 'van de / het / een'. When that construction is used, no inflection for the nouns and -e for the adjective.)

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


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. There are also some German loanwords, like überhaupt and sowieso. Dutch also has a lot of Greek and Latin loanwords.

See also: List of English words of Dutch origin

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 disappeard 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?. 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], 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.)


See also: Common phrases in different languages, Limburgian dialect.

Dutch literature

Dutch literature

External links