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Dutch language

Dutch (Nederlands), more precisely called Netherlandic, is a West Germanic language. Together with Low Saxon, Dutch formes the Low German language group. It is spoken in the Netherlands, the northern half of Belgium (Flanders, where the dialects are called Flemish - see below), Belgium's capital Brussels, the northernmost part of France, the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Suriname and amongst certain groups in Indonesia. The latter two are both former Dutch colonies. In Suriname, Dutch is still the official language in government and education. Dutch is spoken by more than 20 million people. 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.

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 word Dutch comes from the old Germanic word theodisk, meaning 'of the people', 'vernacular' as opposed to official, i.e. Latin or later French. In the Dutch language, there exist two cognates of this word: duits (corresponding to German deutsch, i.e. modern German) and diets (Dutch). The latter is no longer in general use, in part due to its adoption by 20th century fascists and other nationalists.

Of all the major modern Germanic languages, Dutch is the closest relative of English. The lesser-known Frisian language, very closely related to Dutch, is even closer to English. Low Saxon and other Low German languages are also very closely related to Dutch and English.

The most important dictionary of the modern Dutch language is the van Dale groot woordenboek der Nederlandse taal, more commonly referred to as the "Dikke van Dale". Although "dik" is Dutch for "fat", it is dwarfed by the "Woordenboek der Nederlandsche taal", a scientific 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". The Dutch and Flemish governments coordinate their language activities in the Nederlandse Taalunie.

Table of contents

Language development

In early times, the Dutch language as such did not exist. Instead there were various Germanic dialects spoken in the 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 dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential in this time.

Around 1600, a unified language was created to make the first Dutch bible translation, consisting of elements from various dialects, but mostly based on the dialects from Holland. This can be taken as the starting point of Dutch as a modern language.

There was some slight confusion about the meaning of the Dutch language a few centuries ago, at least in England. Two examples: 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, and Professor W.F. Bolton marked this word in his note as German. Peter Heylyn, Cosmography in four books containing the Chronography and History of the whole world, Vol. II (London, 1677: 154) tells, "...the Dutch call Leibnitz," adding that the Dutch is spoken in the parts of Hungary adjoining to Germany. He must have meant "Deutsch" in both cases.

Standard language

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) 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.

Pronunciation and vocabulary

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).

As all other West Germanic languages (except English) Dutch has a rather complicated word order, which presents a problem for Anglophones learning Dutch. Likewise, 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 where the ending becomes a syllabic n sound.

Dutch has more French loanwords than German, but fewer than English.

The Phonemes of the Dutch language:


/p, b/

/t, d/

/k/ [g] [g]is not a phoneme of Dutch and appears only in foreign words


/f, v/ /v/ fell together with /f/ for many speakers

/s, z/ /z/ fell together with /s/ for many speakers

/x, G/ /G/ fell together with /x/ for many speakers


/S, Z/ /Z/ only in foreign words. Some scholars interpret /S/ [s_j] as an allophone of /s/ + /j/



/w/ (actually, /w/ is most often released as an approximant)








Back vowels

/A/ /Y/ /O/

Mid (central) vowels

/@/ Schwa: e in kunnen /kYn@/ /Y/ u in kunnen

Front vowels

/a/ maken /E/ best /e/ neer often pronounced as a diphthong) /2/ keuken (often pronounced as a diphthong) /I/ minst /i/ klieven /y/ Ruud


/EI/ jij, intimiteit /@Y/ huis /Aw/ vrouw

Many Dutch words have been derived from English, especially during the twentieth century. The reverse is much less common, but Dutch origins can be found in the following English cognates. However, note that this list does also include some words of which the etymology is uncertain, and that some may have been derived from Low Saxon equivalents instead or as well.

EnglishDutchMeaning (if different)
to bluffbluffento brag
brandy/ brandy winebrandewijnlit. burn wine
buoyboeishackle or buoy
to cacklekakelen 
cruise(door)kruisento cross paths or to cross
to drilldrillen 
dike, dykedijkwall to prevent flooding
easelezelor. donkey
to etchetsen 
frolicvrolijkcheerful, gay
fuckfokkento breed
furloughverlofpermission (to leave)
gasgasNeologism from Christiaan Huygens,
derived from the Greek "Kaos"
to grabgrijpento seize, to grasp, to snatch
guildgildeprecursor to unions
halibutheilbotlit. holy flounder
to hoisthijsen 
to keelhaulkielhalenlit. to haul keel
knapsackknapzaklit. bag of food
manekinmannekenlit. small man
offalafvallit. "that which falls off"
quackkwakzalverlit. someone who daubs ointments
rosterroosterschedule, or. grating
to roverovento rob
rucksackrugzaklit. back-bag
Santa ClausSinterklaasSaint Nicholas
skate, to skateschaats, schaatsen 
skipperschipperlit. shipper
sled, sleighslede, slee 
to slurpslurpen 
to smeltsmeltento melt
to smugglesmokkelen 
snuffsnuiftabaklit. sniff tobacco
to splitsplijten 
spookspookghost(ly image)
to stokestokenstoke a fire
wagonwagencart, carriage, wagon
yachtjachtor. hunt
yankeeJan KeesPersonal name, originally used mockingly
to describe pro-French revolutionary
citizens, with allusion to the small
keeshond dog, then for "colonials" in New

lit.: the literal meaning of the Dutch word (the actual meaning is similar to the English one)
or.: the word originally had the meaning specified, but is in Dutch also used with the same meaning as in English

External Links

See also Common phrases in different languages.

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