Dutch is a West Germanic language spoken worldwide by around 20 million people. The variety of Dutch spoken in Belgium is 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').

Spoken in:Netherlands
Total speakers: 20 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 External links


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.

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.


Of all the major modern Germanic languages, Dutch is the closest relative of English.

The Frisian language, spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland and 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.

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 four 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) 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. It should not be confused with West Flemish, which is a separate, although related language also spoken in parts of Flanders.

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.




/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)








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 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; mostly 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 neutere 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.) So the grammar nothing to be afraid of anymore.


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: Dutch words borrowed into English

Writing system

Dutch is written using the Latin 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 definite 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 the French language.

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"). However, 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". (Lit. "the green booklet", because of its colour.)


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

External links