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Dutch ( ) is a West Germanic language spoken by over 22 million people as a native language, and over 5 million people as a second language.

"1% of the EU population claims to speak Dutch well enough in order to have a conversation." (page 153) Outside the European Union the number of second language speakers of Dutch is relatively small. Most native speakers live in the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, and Surinamemarker, with smaller groups of speakers in parts of Francemarker, Germanymarker and several former Dutch colonies. It is closely related to other West Germanic languages (e.g., English, West Frisian and German) and somewhat more remotely to the North Germanic languages.

Dutch is the parent language of several creole languages as well as of Afrikaans, one of the official languages of South Africa and the most widely understood in Namibiamarker. Dutch and Afrikaans are to a very large extent mutually intelligible, although they have separate spelling standards and dictionaries and have separate language regulators. The Dutch Language Union coordinates actions of the Dutch, Flemish and Surinamese authorities in linguistic issues, language policy, language teaching and literature.


In English the language of the people of the Netherlandsmarker and Flanders is referred to as Dutch; or rarely as Netherlandic; Flemish is a popular informal term to refer to Belgian Dutch, Dutch as spoken in Belgiummarker.

The origins of the word Dutch go back to Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of all Germanic languages, *þeudiskaz (meaning "national/popular"); akin to Old Dutch diets, Old High German duitsch, Old English þeodisc and Gothic þiuda all meaning "(of) the common (Germanic) people". As the tribes among the Germanic peoples began to differentiate its meaning began to change. The Anglo-Saxons of Englandmarker for example gradually stopped referring to themselves as þeodisc and instead started to use Englisc, after their tribe. On the continent *theudo evolved into two meanings: Diets (meaning "Dutch (people)" ) and Deutsch (German, meaning "German (people)"). At first the English language used (the contemporary form of) Dutch to refer to any or all of the Germanic speakers on the European mainland (e.g. the Dutch, the Flemings and the Germans). For example, in Gulliver's Travels, German is called "High Dutch", whereas what we call Dutch today is called "Low Dutch". Gradually its meaning shifted to the Germanic people they had most contact with, both because their geographical proximity, but also because of the rivalry in trade and overseas territories: the people from the Dutch Republic, the Dutch.

In Dutch, the language is referred to as Nederlands. It derives from the Dutch word "neder", a cognate of English "nether" both meaning "low" and "down", and "land" (same meaning in both English and Dutch), a reference to the geographical texture of the Dutch homelands, the western and lowest portion of the Northern European plain.


Dutch is a descendant of several Frankish dialects spoken in the High Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, and to a lesser extent of Frisian, that was spoken by the original inhabitants of Hollandmarker. It did not undergo the High German consonant shift (apart from the transition from /θ/ to /d/), and is a Low Franconian language. There was at one time a dialect continuum that blurred the boundary between Dutch and Low Saxon. In some small areas, there are still dialect continua, but they are gradually becoming extinct.

Geographic distribution

Dutch is an official language of the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Surinamemarker, Arubamarker and the Netherlands Antillesmarker. Dutch is also an official language of several international organisations, such as the European Union and the Union of South American Nations. It is used unofficially in the Caribbean Community.



Dutch is the official and foremost language of the Netherlands, a nation of 16.4 million people, of whom 96 percent say Dutch is their mother tongue. In the province of Friesland and a small part of Groningenmarker, Frisian is also recognised, but is spoken by only some hundreds of thousands of Frisians. In the Netherlandsmarker there are many different dialects, but these are often overruled and replaced by the language of the media, school, government (i.e., Standard Dutch). Immigrant languages are Indonesian, Turkish, Moroccan Arabic, Moroccanmarker Berber, Papiamento, and Sranan. In the second generation these newcomers often speak Dutch as their mother tongue, but sometimes alongside the language of the parents.


Language situation in Belgium

Belgiummarker has three official languages, which are, in order from the greatest speaker population to the smallest, Dutch (sometimes colloquially referred to as Flemish), French, and German. An estimated 59% of all Belgians speak Dutch, while French is spoken by 40%. Dutch is the official language of the Flemish Regionmarker (where it is the mother tongue of about 97% of the population) and one of the two official languages —along with French— of the Brussels Capital Regionmarker. Dutch is not official nor a recognised minority language in the Walloon Regionmarker, although on the border with the Flemish Region, there are four municipalities with language facilities for Dutch-speakers. The most important Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium are West Flemish, which has a dialect continuum in North-West French Flanders (Frans Vlaanderen); East Flemish, Brabantian and Limburgish, the latter having a dialect continuum in northeastern Wallonia (as Low Dietsch).

Estimate of languages spoken at home (Brussels Capital Region, 2006)

Since the founding of the Kingdom of Belgiummarker in 1830, Brussels has transformed from being almost entirely Dutch-speaking to being a multilingual city with French as the majority language and lingua franca. This language shift, the Frenchification of Brussels, is rooted in the 18th century but accelerated after Belgiummarker became independent and Brussels expanded past its original boundaries.

Not only is French-speaking immigration responsible for the Frenchification of Brussels, but more importantly the language change over several generations from Dutch to French was performed in Brussels by the Flemish people themselves. The main reason for this was the low social prestige of the Dutch language in Belgium at the time. From 1880 on more and more Dutch-speaking people became bilingual resulting in a rise of monolingual French-speakers after 1910. Halfway through the 20th century the number of monolingual French-speakers carried the day over the (mostly) bilingual Flemish inhabitants. Only since the 1960s, after the fixation of the Belgian language border and the socio-economic development of Flanders was in full effect, could Dutch stem the tide of increasing French use. This phenomenon is, together with the future of Brussels, one of the most controversial topics in all of Belgian politics.

Today an estimated 16 percent of city residents are native speakers of Dutch, while an additional 13 percent claim to have a "good to excellent" knowledge of Dutch.


French Flemish, a variant of West Flemish, is spoken in the north-west of Francemarker by an estimated population of 20,000 daily speakers and 40,000 occasional speakers. It is spoken alongside French, which is gradually replacing it for all purposes and in all areas of communication. Neither Dutch, nor its regional French Flemish variant, is afforded any legal status in France, either by the central or regional public authorities, by the education system or before the courts. In brief, the State is not taking any measures to ensure use of Dutch in France.

In the 9th century the Germanic-Romance language border went from the mouth of the Canchemarker to just north of the city of Lillemarker, where it coincided with the present language border in Belgiummarker. From the late 9th century on, the border gradually started to shift northward and westward to the detriment of the Germanic language. Boulogne-sur-Mermarker was bilingual up to the 12th century, Calaismarker up to the 16th century, and Saint-Omermarker until the 18th century. The western part of the County of Flanders, consisting of the castellanies of Bourbourgmarker, Berguesmarker, Casselmarker and Bailleulmarker, became part of France between 1659 and 1678. However, the linguistic situation in this formerly monolingually Dutch-speaking region did not dramatically change until the French Revolution in 1789, and Dutch continued to fulfil the main functions of a cultural language throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, especially in the second half of it, Dutch was banned from all levels of education and lost most of its functions as a cultural language. The cities of Dunkirkmarker, Gravelinesmarker and Bourbourgmarker had become predominantly French-speaking by the end of the 19th century. In the countryside, until World War I, many elementary schools continued to teach in Dutch, and the Roman Catholic Church continued to preach and teach the cathechism in Flemish in many parishes. Nonetheless, since French enjoyed a much higher status than Dutch, from about the interbellum onward everybody became bilingual, the generation born after World War II being raised exclusively in French. In the countryside, the passing on of Flemish stopped during the 1930s or 1940s. As a consequence, the vast majority of those still having an active command of Flemish belong to the generation of over the age of 60. Therefore, complete extinction of French Flemish can be expected in the coming decades.


Despite the Dutch presence in Indonesiamarker for almost three hundred and fifty years, the Dutch language has no official status and the small minority that can speak the language fluently are either educated members of the oldest generation, or employed in the legal profession, as some legal codes are still only available in Dutch. Contrary to other European nations, the Dutch chose not to follow a policy of language expansion amongst the indigenous peoples of their colonies. In the last quarter of the 19th century, however, a local elite gained proficiency in Dutch so as to meet the needs of expanding bureaucracy and business. Nevertheless, the Dutch government remained reluctant to teach Dutch on a large scale out of fear of destabilising the colony. Dutch, the language of power, was supposed to remain in the hands of the leading elite. Instead, use of local languages —or, where this proved to be impractical, of Malay— was encouraged. As a result, less than two percent of Indonesians could speak Dutch in 1940. Only when in 1928 the Indonesian nationalist movement had chosen Malay as a weapon against Dutch influence, the colonial authorities gradually began to introduce Dutch in the educational curriculum. But due to the 1942 Japanese invasion and the subsequent Indonesian independence in 1945, this shift in policy did not come into full effect.

After independence, Dutch was dropped as an official language and replaced by Malay. Yet the Indonesian language inherited many words from Dutch, both in words for everyday life, and as well in scientific or technological terminology. One scholar argues that 20% of Indonesian words can be traced back to Dutch words. Many universities include Dutch as a source language, mainly for law and history students (roughly 35,000 of them nationally).

The century and half of Dutch rule in Ceylon (now Sri Lankamarker) and southern Indiamarker left few to no traces of the Dutch language. Dutch-based creole languages (once) spoken in the Dutch East Indiesmarker include Javindo and Petjo.


After the independence of Indonesia, Western New Guineamarker remained a Dutch colony until 1962, known as Netherlands New Guinea. Despite prolonged Dutch presence, the Dutch language is not spoken by many Papuans, the colony having been annexed by Indonesia in 1963.

Immigrant communities can be found in Australia and New Zealandmarker. The 2001 Australian census showed 40,190 people speaking Dutch at home. According to the 2006 census in New Zealand, 16,347 people claim sufficient fluency in Dutch to hold an everyday conversation.


In contrast to the colonies in the East Indiesmarker, from the second half of the 19th century onwards, the Netherlands envisaged expansion of Dutch in its colonies in the West Indiesmarker. Until 1863, when slavery was abolished in the West Indies, slaves were forbidden to speak Dutch. Most important were the efforts of Christianisation through Dutchification, which did not occur in Indonesia seen the policy of non-involvement in already Islamised regions. Secondly, most of the people in Dutch Guyana (now Surinamemarker) worked on Dutch plantations, which reinforced the importance of Dutch as a means for direct communication. In Indonesiamarker, the colonial authorities had less interference in economic life. The size of the population was decisive: whereas the Antilles and Dutch Guyana combined only had a few hundred thousands inhabitants, Indonesia had many millions, by far outnumbering the population of the Netherlands.

In Surinamemarker, where in the second half of the 19th century the Dutch authorities introduced a policy of assimilation, Dutch is the sole official language and over 60 percent of the population speaks it as a mother tongue. A further twenty-four percent of the population speaks Dutch as a second language. Suriname gained its independence from the Netherlandsmarker in 1975 and has been an associate member of the Dutch Language Union since 2004. The lingua franca of Suriname, however, is Sranan Tongo, spoken natively by about a fifth of the population.

In Arubamarker and the Netherlands Antillesmarker, both part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch is the official language but spoken as a first language by only seven to eight percent of the population, although most people on the islands can speak the language since the education system is in Dutch at some or all levels. The lingua franca of Arubamarker, Bonairemarker and Curaçaomarker is Papiamento, a creole language that originally developed among the slave population. The population of the three northern Antilles, Sint Maartenmarker, Sabamarker, and Sint Eustatiusmarker, is predominantly English-speaking.

Dutch colonial presence in North America did not last as long. In New Jerseymarker in the United Statesmarker, an extinct dialect of Dutch, Jersey Dutch, spoken by descendants of seventeenth century Dutch settlers in Bergen and Passaic counties, was still spoken as late as 1921. Contrary to what the name would suggest, Pennsylvania Dutch is derived from West Central German and not from Dutch. Other Dutch-based creole languages once spoken in the Americas include Mohawk Dutch (in Albany, New Yorkmarker), Berbice (in Guyanamarker), Skepi (in Essequibo, Guyana) and Negerhollands (in the United States Virgin Islandsmarker).

According to the 2000 United Statesmarker census, 150,396 people spoke Dutch at home, while according to the 2006 Canadianmarker census, this number reaches 160,000 Dutch-speakers. In Canada, Dutch is the fourth most spoken language by farmers, after English, French and German, and the fifth most spoken non-official language overall (by 0.6% of Canadians).


Belgian Africa

Belgiummarker, which had gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, also held a colonial empire from 1901 to 1962, consisting of the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi. Contrary to Belgium itself, the colonies had no de jure official language. Although a majority of Belgians residing in the colonies were Dutch-speaking, French was de facto the sole language used in administration, jurisdiction and secondary education. After World War II, proposals of dividing the colony into a French-speaking and a Dutch-speaking part —after the example of Belgium— were discussed within the Flemish Movement. In general, however, the Flemish Movement was not as strong in the colonies as in the mother country. Although in 1956, on the eve of Congolese independence, an estimated 50,000 out of a total of 80,000 Belgian nationals would have been Flemish, only 1,305 out of 21,370 children were enrolled in Dutch-language education. When the call for a better recognition of Dutch in the colony got louder, the évolués ("developed Congolese") —among whom Mobutu Sese Seko— argued that Dutch had no right over the indigenous languages, defending the privileged position of French. Moreover, the image of Afrikaans as the language of the apartheid was injurious to the popularity of Dutch.

The colonial authorities used Lingala, Kongo, Swahili and Tshiluba in communication with the local population and in education. In Ruanda-Urundi this was Kirundi. Knowledge of French —or, to an even lesser extent, Dutch— was hardly passed on to the natives, of whom only a small number were taught French to work in local public services. After their independence, French would become an official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker, Rwandamarker and Burundimarker. Of these, Congo is the most francophone country, with 2 percent speaking the language well and 12 percent speaking it on a basic level. Knowledge of Dutch in former Belgian Africa is virtually nonexistent.


Proportion of Afrikaans-speakers in South Africa based on the 2001 census.
Arguably, the largest legacy of the Dutch language lies in South Africa, which attracted large numbers of Dutch, Flemish and other northwest European farmer (in Dutch, boer) settlers, all of whom were quickly assimilated. After the colony passed into British hands in the early 19th century, the settlers spread into the hinterland, taking their language with them. The subsequent isolation from the rest of the Dutch-speaking world made the Dutch as spoken in Southern Africa evolve into what is now Afrikaans. European Dutch remained the literary language until the early 20th century, when under pressure of Afrikaner nationalism the local "African" Dutch was preferred over the written, European-based standard. In 1925, section 137 of the 1909 constitution of the Union of South Africa was amended by Act 8 of 1925, stating "the word Dutch in Article 137 (...) is hereby declared to include Afrikaans". The new constitution of 1961 only listed English and Afrikaans as official languages. It is estimated that over 90% of Afrikaans vocabulary is ultimately of Dutch origin. Both languages are still largely mutually intelligible, although this relation can in some fields (such as lexicon, spelling and grammar) be asymmetric, as it is easier for Dutch-speakers to understand Afrikaans than it is for Afrikaans-speakers to understand Dutch.

It is the third language of South Africa in terms of native speakers (~13.3%), of whom 53 percent Coloureds and 42.4 percent Whites. In 1996, 40 percent of South Africans reported to know Afrikaans at least at a very basic level of communication. It is the lingua franca in Namibiamarker, where it is spoken natively in 11 percent of households. In total, Afrikaans is the first language for about 6 million and a second language for 10 million people, compared to over 22 million and 5 million respectively, for Dutch.


history of the Dutch language begins around AD 450–500 after Old Frankish, one of the many West Germanic tribal languages, was split by the Second Germanic consonant shift. At more or less the same time the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law led to the development of the direct ancestors of modern Dutch Low Saxon, Frisian and English. The northern dialects of Old Frankish generally did not participate in either of these two shifts, except for a small amount of phonetic changes, and are hence known as Old Low Franconian; the "Low" refers to dialects not influenced by the consonant shift. The most south-eastern dialects of the Franconian languages became part of High – though not UpperGerman even though a dialect continuum remained. The fact that Dutch did not undergo the sound changes may be the reason why some people say that Dutch is like a bridge between English and German. Within Old Low Franconian there were two subgroups: Old East Low Franconian and Old West Low Franconian, which is better known as Old Dutch. East Low Franconian was eventually absorbed by Dutch as it became the dominant form of Low Franconian, although it remains a noticeable substrate within the southern Limburgish dialects of Dutch. As the two groups were so similar, it is often difficult to determine whether a text is Old Dutch or Old East Low Franconian; hence most linguists will generally use Old Dutch synonymously with Old Low Franconian and mostly do not differentiate.

Dutch, like other Germanic languages, is conventionally divided into three development phases which were:
  • 450(500)–1150 Old Dutch (First attested in the Salic Law)
  • 1150–1500 Middle Dutch (Also called "Diets" in popular use, though not by linguists)
  • 1500–present Modern Dutch (Saw the creation of the Dutch standard language and includes contemporary Dutch)

The transition between these languages was very gradual and one of the few moments linguists can detect somewhat of a revolution is when the Dutch standard language emerged and quickly established itself. Standard Dutch is very similar to most Dutch dialects.

The development of the Dutch language is illustrated by the following sentence in Old, Middle and Modern Dutch:

"Irlôsin sol an frithe sêla mîna fan thên thia ginâcont mi, wanda under managon he was mit mi" (Old Dutch)
"Erlossen sal [hi] in vrede siele mine van dien die genaken mi, want onder menegen hi was met mi" (Middle Dutch)
(Using same word order)
"Verlossen zal hij in vrede ziel mijn van degenen die [te] na komen mij, want onder velen hij was met mij" (Modern Dutch)
(Using correct contemporary Dutch word order)
"Hij zal mijn ziel in vrede verlossen van degenen die mij te na komen, want onder velen was hij met mij" (Modern Dutch) (see Psalm 55:19)
"He shall my soul in peace free from those who me too near come, because amongst many was he with me" (English literal translation in the same word order)
"He will deliver my soul in peace from those who attack me, because, amongst many, he was with me" (English translation in unmarked word order) (see Psalm 55:18)

A process of standardisation started in the Middle Ages, especially under the influence of the Burgundian Ducal Court in Dijon (Brusselsmarker after 1477). The dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential around this time. The process of standardisation became much stronger at the start of the 16th century, mainly based on the urban dialect of Antwerpmarker. In 1585 Antwerp fell to the Spanish army: many fled to the Northern Netherlands, especially the province of Holland, where they influenced the urban dialects of that province. In 1637, a further important step was made towards a unified language, when the Statenvertaling, the first major Bible translation into Dutch, was created that people from all over the United Provinces could understand. It used elements from various, even Dutch Low Saxon, dialects but was predominantly based on the urban dialects of Hollandmarker.


Dutch dialects are remarkably diverse and distinct. The same applies to the Flanders region in Belgium. A special series on Dutch dialects provides detailed information on this subject. The introduction of Standard Dutch in the 1960s began later in Flanders, due in part to the dominance of the French language in Belgium.


For many English speakers, basic Dutch, when written, looks recognisable though pronunciation may be markedly different. This is true especially of the diphthongs and of the letter , which is pronounced as a velar continuant. The rhotic pronunciation of causes some English-speakers to believe Dutch sounds similar to a West Country accent; this is the reason for Bill Bryson's "when one hears Dutch, one feels one ought to be able to understand it". Dutch diphthongs and gutturals can be difficult to pronounce for English-speakers.Dutch devoices all consonants at the ends of words (e.g. a final becomes ), which presents a problem for Dutch speakers when learning English. This is partly reflected in the spelling: the singular of hui'zen (houses) becomes huis, and that of dui'ven (doves) becomes duif. The other cases, viz. "p"/"b" and "d"/"t" are always written with the voiced consonant, although a devoiced one is actually pronounced, e.g. sg. baar'd (beard), pronounced as baar't, has plural baar'den and sg. rib (rib), pronounced as rip has plural ribben.

Because of assimilation, often the initial consonant of the next word is also devoiced, e.g. het vee (the cattle) is . This process of devoicing is taken to an extreme in some regions (Amsterdam, Friesland) with almost complete loss of , and . These phonemes are certainly present in the middle of a word. Compare e.g. Northern Dutch pronunciation logen and loochen vs. . In the Southern provinces of the Netherlands (i.e., Zeeland, Brabant and Limburg) and in Belgium, the contrast is even greater: vs. .

The final 'n' of the plural ending -en is often not pronounced (as in Afrikaans where it is also dropped in the written language), except in the northeast Netherlands (where dialects of Low Saxon are spoken rather than the Low Franconian dialects spoken in the remainder of the Netherlands and in Flanders. Some linguists consider dialects of Low Saxon native to the Netherlands to be a variety of Dutch, vide Dutch Low Saxon) and western Flanders (where West Flemish is spoken) where the ending becomes a syllabic n sound.

Dutch is a stress language; the stress position of words matters. Stress can occur on any syllable position in a word. There is a tendency for stress to be at the beginning of words. In composite words, secondary stress is often present. There are some cases where stress is the only difference between words. For example vóórkomen (occur) and voorkómen (prevent). Marking the stress (´) in written Dutch is optional, never obligatory, but sometimes recommended.


The vowel inventory of Dutch is large, with 14 simple vowels and four diphthongs. The vowels , , are included on the diphthong chart because they are actually produced as narrow closing diphthongs in many dialects, but behave phonologically like the other simple vowels. (a near-open central vowel) is an allophone of unstressed and .

IPA chart of Netherlandic Dutch monophthongs
IPA chart of Netherlandic Dutch diphthongs

Dutch Vowels with Example Words
Symbol Example
IPA orthography English translation
kip 'chicken'
biet 'beetroot'
hut 'cabin'
fuut 'grebe'
bed 'bed'
beet 'bite'
de 'the'
neus 'nose'
bad 'bath'
zaad 'seed'
bot 'bone'
boot 'boat'
hoed 'hat'
ei, wijn 'egg', 'wine'
ui 'onion'
zout, faun 'salt', 'faun'


The syllable structure of Dutch is (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C)(C). Many words, as in English, begin with three consonants; for example, straat (street). There are words that end in four consonants—e.g., herfst (autumn), ergst (worst), interessantst (most interesting), sterkst (strongest)—most of these being adjectives in the superlative form.

The greatest number of consonants in a single cluster is found in the word slechtstschrijvend (worst writing) with 9 consonants (though there are only 7 phonemes since 'ch' represents a single phoneme, and in normal speech the number of phonemes is usually reduced to 6 because of assimilation of 'tstsch' to 'stsch', or even to 5 by many speakers who pronounce the cluster 'schr' as 'sr').

The consonant system of Dutch did not undergo the High German consonant shift and has more in common with English, Low German and the Scandinavian languages. Like most Germanic languages it has a syllable structure that allows fairly complex consonant clusters. Dutch is often noted for its prominent use of velar fricatives.

  Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive voiceless
Fricative voiceless


  1. is not a separate phoneme in Dutch, but is inserted before vowel-initial syllables within words after and and often also at the beginning of a word.
  2. is not a native phoneme of Dutch and only occurs in borrowed words, like goal or when is voiced, like in zakdoek .
  3. and are not native phonemes of Dutch, and usually occur in borrowed words, like show and bagage ('baggage'). And even then they are usually realized as and respectively. However, + phoneme sequences in Dutch are often realized as , like in the word huisje ('little house'). In dialects that merge s and z often is realized as .
  4. The sound spelled is a uvular fricative in Standard Dutch and velar in Belgian dialects.
  5. In some dialects, the voiced fricatives have almost completely merged with the voiceless ones; is usually realized as , in the North is usually realized as , is usually realized as , yet only in the North. In the South is pronounced and is . In the North is usually realized as , whereas in the South the distinction between and has been preserved.
  6. The realization of the phoneme varies considerably from dialect to dialect. In "standard" Dutch, is realized as the alveolar trill . In some dialects it is realized as the alveolar tap , the voiced uvular fricative , the uvular trill , or even as the alveolar approximant .
  7. The realization of the varies considerably from the Northern to the Southern and Belgium dialects of the Dutch language. A number of Belgian dialects pronounce it like a bilabial approximant ( ). Other, mainly Northern Dutch, dialects pronounce it as a labiodental approximant: . Furthermore, in Suriname it is pronounced .
  8. The lateral is slightly velarized postvocalically.

Dutch consonants with example words
Symbol Example
IPA orthography English translation
pen 'pen'
biet 'beetroot'
tak 'branch'
dak 'roof'
kat 'cat'
goal 'goal' (sports)
mens 'human being'
nek 'neck'
eng 'scary'
fiets 'bicycle'
oven 'oven'
sok 'sock'
zeep 'soap'
sjaal 'shawl'
jury 'jury'
(North) acht 'eight'
(South) acht 'eight'
(North) gaan 'to go'
(South) gaan 'to go'
rat 'rat'
hoed 'hat'
wang 'cheek'
jas 'coat'
land 'land / country'
heel 'whole'
beamen 'to confirm'

Common difficulties

Pronunciation can be a challenge as many of the Dutch vowel sounds are difficult for non-native speakers. Diphthongs such as the "ui" sound in such words as "zuid" (south) or "huis" (house), the "eu" in "keuze" (choice) or "sleutel" (key), and the "ij" sound in words like "mijt" (mite) or "wijn" (wine) present difficulties. Even though some of these words are superficially like their English equivalents the correct sound is very different. Another issue with pronunciation is the "ch"-sound, which Dutch native speakers pronounce as /χ/ (North) or /x/ (South). It has no counterpart in English. Particularly the voiced equivalent used in the south /ɣ/ is rare among other European languages. In Northern Dutch there is no voiced counterpart to /χ/ anymore.

The morphologic versatility and cohesiveness of Dutch sometimes produces words that might baffle speakers of other languages due to the large number of consonant clusters, such as the word ( ) (scream of fear), which has grand total of eight in a row (ngstschr) (although the ng and ch are digraphs). It has to be noted though that the pronunciation of a word can differ greatly from its written form. In this case, "angstschreeuw" actually features 6 consonants (ng-s-t-s-ch-r) originating from two distinct compounded words ("angst" and "schreeuw"), which is reduced further by some speakers in everyday pronunciation by blending consecutive consonants ("ch" and "r") into one sound. This can go as far as reducing the word to in quick speech of people who normally reduce the schr-sequence to "sr".

Historical sound changes

Dutch (with the exception of the Limburg dialects) did not undergo the second Germanic (High German) Sound Shift – compare German machen Dutch maken, English make, German Pfanne , Dutch pan, English pan, German zwei , Dutch twee, English two.

Dutch underwent a few changes of its own. For example, words in -old or -olt lost the l in favor of a diphthong as a result of vocalisation (compare English old, German alt, Dutch oud), and -ks- sounds were reduced to -s- (compare English Fox, German Fuchs, Dutch Vos).

Germanic */uː/ turned into /y/ through palatalization, which sound in turn became a diphthong /œy/, spelt 〈ui〉. Long */iː/ also diphthongized to , spelt 〈ij〉.

The phoneme became a voiced velar fricative , or a voiced palatal fricative (in the South: Flanders, Limburg, Brabant).


Dutch is grammatically similar to German, such as in syntax and verb morphology (for a comparison of verb morphology in English, Dutch and German, see Germanic weak verb and Germanic strong verb). Dutch has grammatical cases, but these are now mostly limited to pronouns and set phrases. Dutch has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter although masculine and feminine have merged to form the common gender (de), whilst the neuter (het) remains distinct as before. This gender system is similar to those of most Continental Scandinavian languages. As in English, the inflectional grammar of the language (e.g., adjective and noun endings) has simplified over time.

Genders and cases

The table of definite articles below demonstrates that contemporary Dutch is much simpler than German.
Dutch German
!Masculine singular Feminine singular Neuter singular Plural (any gender) Masculine singular Feminine singular Neuter singular Plural (any gender)
Nominative de de het de der die das die
Genitive obsolete des der des der
Dative de de het de dem der dem den
Accusative de de het de den die das die

The Dutch written grammar has simplified over the past 100 years: cases are now mainly used for the pronouns, such as ik (I), mij, me (me), mijn (my), wie (who), wiens (whose: masculine or neuter singular), wier (whose: feminine singular, masculine or feminine plural). Nouns and adjectives are not case inflected (except for the genitive of proper nouns (names): -s, -'s or -'). In the spoken language cases and case inflections had already gradually disappeared from a much earlier date on (probably the 15th century) as in all continental West Germanic dialects.

Inflection of adjectives is a little more complicated: nothing with indefinite neuter nouns in singular and -e in all other cases. Note that water and huis are neuter, the other words in the table are masculine or feminine.

Masculine singular
Feminine singular
Plural (any gender)

Neuter singular
(with definite article
or pronoun)

de mooie huizen (the beautiful houses)
die mooie vrouwen (those beautiful women)
het mooie huis (the beautiful house)
mijn mooie huis (my beautiful house)
dit koude water (this cold water)

with indefinite article or
no article and no pronoun)

een mooie vrouw (a beautiful woman)
mooie huizen (beautiful houses)
koude soep (cold soup)

een mooi huis (a beautiful house)
koud water (cold water)

An e is never appended to an adjective in sentences like De soep is koud.

More complex inflection is still found in certain lexicalized expressions like de heer de's huizes (literally, the man of the house), etc. These are usually remnants of cases (in this instance, the genitive case which is still used in German, cf. Der Herr des Hauses) and other inflections no longer in general use today. In such lexicalized expressions remnants of strong and weak nouns can be found too, e.g. in het jaar des Her'en (Anno Domini), where “-en” is actually the genitive ending of the weak noun. Also in this case, German retains this feature.

Word order

Like all other continental West Germanic languages, Dutch has a word order that is markedly different from that of English, which presents a problem for some Anglophones learning Dutch. A simple example often used in Dutch language classes and text books is "Ik kan mijn pen niet vinden omdat het veel te donker is" which word-for-word translates to "I can my pen not find because it much too dark is" but actually translates to "I can't find my pen because it's much too dark". This can be explained by saying that the first (main) verb goes at the beginning of a clause while the remaining verbs go at the end of the clause. It must also be noted that Dutch (like German) often splits larger sentences into smaller ones, each of which can have distinctly different grammatical rules depending on what is actually being said and where the emphasis is placed. Because of Dutch resembling German more than English in both sentence structure and vocabulary, this also means that English speakers who study German extensively (meaning the equivalent of about three years of university courses) can often understand written Dutch fairly well.


Dutch nouns can take endings for size: -je for singular diminutive and -jes for plural diminutive. Between these suffixes and the radical can come extra letters depending on the ending of the word:
boom (tree) - boom'pje
ring (ring) - ring'etje
koning (king) - konin'kje
tien (ten) - tien'tje (a ten euro bill)

These diminutives are very common. As in German, all diminutives are neuter. A diminutive ending can also be appended to an adverb or adjective (but not when followed by a noun).
klein (little, small) - een kleintje (a small one)


Like most Germanic languages, Dutch forms noun compounds, where the first noun modifies the category given by the second, for example: hondenhok (doghouse). Unlike English, where newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in open form with separating spaces, Dutch (like the other Germanic languages) either uses the closed form without spaces, for example: boomhuis (Eng. tree house) or hyphenated: VVD-coryfee (outstanding member of the VVD, a political party). Like German, Dutch allows arbitrarily long compounds, but the longer they get, the less frequent they tend to be. The longest serious entry in the Van Dale dictionary is (ceasefire negotiation). Leafing through the articles of association (Statuten) one may come across a 30-letter (right of representation). An even longer word cropping up in official documents is ziektekostenverzekeringsmaatschappij (health insurance company) though the shorter ziektekostenverzekeraar (health insurer) is more common.Notwithstanding official spelling rules, some Dutch people nowadays tend to write the parts of a compound separately, which is sometimes dubbed “the English disease” or "de Engelse ziekte".


Dutch vocabulary is predominantly Germanic in origin, considerably more so than English. This is to a large part due to the heavy influence of Norman on English, and to Dutch patterns of word formation, such as the tendency to form long and sometimes very complicated compound nouns, being more similar to those of German and the Scandinavian languages. The Dutch vocabulary is one of the richest in the world and comprises at least 268,826 headwords.

Like English, Dutch includes words of Greek and Latin origin. Somewhat paradoxically, most loanwords from French have entered into Dutch vocabulary via the Netherlands and not via Belgium, in spite of the cultural and economic dominance exerted by French speakers in Belgium until the first half of the 20th century. This happened because the status French enjoyed as the language of refinement and high culture inspired the affluent upper and upper-middle classes in the Netherlands to adopt many French terms into the language. In Belgium no such phenomenon occurred, since members of the upper and upper-middle classes would have spoken French rather than Frenchify their Dutch. French terms heavily influenced Dutch dialects in Flanders, but Belgian speakers did (and do) tend to resist French loanwords when using standard Dutch. Nonetheless some French loanwords of relatively recent date have become accepted in standard Dutch, also in Belgium, albeit with a shift in meaning and not as straight synonyms for existing Dutch words. For example, "blesseren" (from French blesser, to injure) is almost exclusively used to refer to sports injuries, while in other contexts the standard Dutch verbs "kwetsen" and "verwonden" continue to be used.

Especially on the streets and in many professions, there is a steady increase of English loanwords, rather often pronounced or applied in a different way (see Dutch pseudo-anglicisms). The influx of English words is maintained by the dominance of English in the mass media and on the Internet. Unlike some other languages, Dutch adopts these new English terms with little or no resistance. Efforts to develop Dutch alternatives for English loanwords have extremely little success and indeed are often met with derision.

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 ("dik" means "thick"). However, it is dwarfed by the 45,000-page "Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal", a scholarly endeavour that took 147 years from initial idea to first edition.

Writing system

Dutch is written using the Latin alphabet. Arguably the Dutch have one additional character beyond the standard alphabet, the digraph IJ. It has a relatively high proportion of doubled letters, both vowels and consonants. This is due to the formation of compound words and also to the spelling devices for distinguishing the many vowel sounds in the Dutch language. An example of five consecutive doubled letters is the word voorraaddoos (supply box).

The diaeresis (Dutch: trema) is used to mark vowels that are pronounced separately. In the most recent spelling reform, a hyphen has replaced the diaeresis in compound words (i.e., if the vowels originate from separate words, not from prefixes or suffixes), e.g. zeeëend (seaduck) is now spelled zee-eend.

The acute accent 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); also 'hé' (hey, also written 'hee').

The grave accent is used to clarify pronunciation ('hè' [what?, what the ...?, tag question 'eh?'], 'bèta') and in loanwords ('caissière' [female cashier], 'après-ski'). In the recent spelling reform, the accent grave was dropped as stress sign on short vowels in favour of the acute accent (e.g. 'wèl' was changed to 'wél').

Other diacritical marks such as the circumflex only occur on a few words, most of them loanwords from French.

The official spelling is set by the Wet schrijfwijze Nederlandsche taal (Law on the writing of the Dutch language; Belgium 1946, Netherlands 1947; based on a 1944 spelling revision; both amended in the 1990s after a 1995 spelling revision). The Woordenlijst Nederlandse taal, more commonly known as "het groene boekje" (i.e. "the green booklet", because of its colour), is usually accepted as an informal explanation of the law. However, the official 2005 spelling revision, which reverted some of the 1995 changes and made new ones, has been welcomed with a distinct lack of enthusiasm in both the Netherlands and Belgium. As a result, the Genootschap Onze Taal (Our Language Society) decided to publish an alternative list, "het witte boekje" ("the white booklet"), which tries to simplify some complicated rules and offers several possible spellings for many contested words. This alternative orthography is followed by a number of major Dutch media organisations but mostly ignored in Belgium.

Dutch as a foreign language

As a foreign language, Dutch is mainly taught in primary and secondary schools in areas adjacent to the Netherlandsmarker and Flanders. In French-speaking Belgium, over 300,000 pupils are enrolled in Dutch courses, followed by over 20,000 in the German states of Lower Saxonymarker and North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, and over 7,000 in the French region of Nord-Pas de Calaismarker (of which 4,550 already in primary school). Dutch is the obligatory medium of instruction in schools in Surinamemarker, even for non-native speakers. Dutch is taught in various educational centres in Indonesiamarker, the most important of which is the Erasmus Language Centre (ETC) in Jakartamarker. Each year, some 1,500 to 2,000 students take Dutch courses there. In total, several thousands of Indonesians study Dutch as a foreign language.

At an academic level, Dutch is taught in over 225 universities in more than 40 countries. About 10,000 students worldwide study Dutch at university. The largest number of faculties of neerlandistiek can be found in Germanymarker (30 universities), followed by Francemarker and the United Statesmarker (20 each). Due to centuries of Dutch rule in Indonesiamarker, many old documents are written in Dutch. Many universities therefore include Dutch as a source language, mainly for law and history students. In Indonesia this involves about 35,000 students. In South Africa, the number is difficult to estimate, since the academic study of Afrikaans inevitably includes the study of Dutch. Elsewhere in the world, the number of people learning Dutch is relatively small.

See also


  1. The Nederlandse Taalunie
  2. Britannica on Netherlandic Language; see also C.B. van Haeringen, Netherlandic language research. Men and works in the study of Dutch, 2nd edition, Leiden: Brill 1960.
  3. Until World War II, Nederlands was used as the regular term, semi-synonym with archaic Diets. However the similarity to Deutsch resulted in its disuse when the German occupiers and Dutch fascists extensively used that name to stress the Dutch as an ancient Germanic people.
  4. and Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands entries "Dutch" and "Diets".
  5. See J. Verdam, Middelnederlandsch handwoordenboek (The Hague 1932 (reprinted 1994)): "Nederlant, znw. o. I) Laag of aan zee gelegen land. 2) het land aan den Nederrijn; Nedersaksen, -duitschland."
  6. Source on the Low Countries. (De Nederlanden)
  7. neder- corresponds with the English nether-, which means "low" or "down". See Online etymological dictionary. Entry: Nether.
  8. Constitutive Treaty of the Union of South American Nations, Ministério das Relações Exteriores, Brazil
  9. Footnote: Native speakers of Dutch living in Wallonia and of French in Flanders are relatively small minorities that furthermore largely balance one another, hence counting all inhabitants of each unilingual area to the area's language can cause only insignificant inaccuracies (99% can speak the language). Dutch: Flanders' 6.079 million inhabitants and about 15% of Brussels' 1.019 million are 6.23 million or 59.3% of the 10.511 million inhabitants of Belgium (2006); German: 70,400 in the German-speaking Community (which has language facilities for its less than 5% French-speakers), and an estimated 20,000–25,000 speakers of German in the Walloon Region outside the geographical boundaries of their official Community, or 0.9%; French: in the latter area as well as mainly in the rest of Wallonia (3.414 − 0.093 = 3.321 million) and 85% of the Brussels inhabitants (0.866 million) thus 4.187 million or 39.8%; together indeed 100%.
  10. Hoe trots zijn wij op het Nederlands?, Nederlandse Taalunie, 2005
  11. ”Taalgebruik in Brussel en de plaats van het Nederlands. Enkele recente bevindingen”, Rudi Janssens, Brussels Studies, Nummer 13, 7 January 2008 (see page 4).
  12. "Thuis in gescheiden werelden" — De migratoire en sociale aspecten van verfransing te Brussel in het midden van de 19e eeuw", BTNG-RBHC, XXI, 1990, 3-4, pp. 383-412, Machteld de Metsenaere, Eerst aanwezend assistent en docent Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  13. ”Taalgebruik in Brussel en de plaats van het Nederlands. Enkele recente bevindingen”, Rudi Janssens, Brussels Studies, Nummer 13, 7 January 2008 (see page 5).
  14. Flemish in France. The Euromosaic study by the European Commission.
  15. SarDesai (1997), p.88.
  16. Baker (1998), p.202.
  17. Ammon (2005), p.2017.
  18. Booij (1995), p.2
  19. Westerse koloniale taalpolitiek in Azië, Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, 1998
  20. Sneddon (2003), p.162.
  21. A Hidden Language – Dutch in Indonesia
  22. " Indonesia: Fight over the Papuans". Time. December 29, 1961.
  23. Top 30 Language Groups, Australian 2001 census.
  24. Statistics New Zealand - Concerning Language 2004 - Profile of First Language Retention
  25. Toelichting bij de overeenkomsttekst, Nederlandse Taalunie
  26. CIA - The World Factbook - Suriname
  27. Source: Zevende algemene volks- en woningtelling 2004, Algemeen Bureau voor de Statistiek
  28. Nederlandse Taalunie
  29. Ethnologue on Sranan
  30. CIA - The World Factbook - Netherlands Antilles
  31. CIA - The World Factbook - Aruba
  32. Languages of Aruba
  33. Jersey Dutch
  34. US Census 2000 Frisian, Afrikaans and Pennsylvania Dutch exluded.
  35. Statistics Canada 2006 (Dutch and Flemish grouped together).
  36. Agriculture-population linkage data for the 2006 Census. The Daily.
  37. Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Profile of Federal Electoral Districts (2003 Representation Order): Language, Mobility and Migration and Immigration and Citizenship. Ottawa, 2007, pp. 6-10.
  38. Vlamingen en Afrikanen — Vlamingen in Centraal Afrika, Faculteit Sociale Wetenschappen, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
  39. La langue de la Justice et les Constitutions africaines, by Nazam Halaoui. Editions juridiques associées n°51-52 2002/2-3. Cairn 2007
  40. République démocratique du Congo, Laval University, Canada
  41. Congo made in Flanders? Koloniale Vlaamse visies op ‘blank’ en ‘zwart’ in Belgisch Congo, by B. Ceuppens. Academia Press. Ghent, 2003.
  42. School en cultuur: eenheid en verscheidenheid in de geschiedenis van het Belgische en Nederlandse onderwijs (page 18), by Nelleke Bakker and Marjoke Rietveld-van Wingerden. Published by Uitgeverij Van Gorcum, 2006
  43. ndimurukundo.pdf Problématique de la législation linguistique au Burundi, Université du Burundi
  44. La situation linguistique, les langues en contact et le français dans les anciennes colonies belges en Afrique (Burundi, Rwanda, RD Congo). Réseau de chercheurs — Sociolinguistique et dynamique des langues. Agence universitaire de la Francophonie.
  45. South Africa: Legislation: 1910-2008,
  46. Transformation in the Judiciary — A constitutional imperative. Supreme Court of Appeal, Government of South Africa.
  47. Oxford Journal on Mutual Comprehensibility of Written Afrikaans and Dutch
  48. Key results of the 2001 census, Statistics South Africa
  49. Primary tables: 1996 and 2001 compared, Statistics South Africa
  50. Language policy development in South Africa, by V.N. Webb, Centre for Research in the Politics of Language, University of Pretoria
  51. The World Factbook (CIA) — Namibia
  52. Languages Spoken in Namibia, Namibian Government
  53. Ethnologue on Afrikaans
  54. Donaldson, BC: Dutch: A Linguistic History of Holland and Belgium, page 151, Martinus Nijhoff, 1983
  55. SOS! - In het Nederlands moeten samengestelde woorden gewoon aan elkaar geschreven worden
  56. Engelse ziekte - Dutch language Wikipedia
  57. Van Dale Groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal, "Van Dale Groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal is a Dutch dictionary containing over 268,826 headwords"
  59. Het Nederlands op Surinaamse scholen. Short documentary on Dutch in Surinamese schools by the Nederlandse Taalunie
  60. Dutch worldwide: Indonesia: old ties, Nederlandse Taalunie, 2008
  61. Waar ben je nou? Nederlands leren in Indonesië. Short documentary on Dutch in Indonesia by the Nederlandse Taalunie
  62. Hoeveel studenten studeren er jaarlijks Nederlands aan universiteiten buiten het taalgebied?, Nederlandse Taalunie, 2008
  63. Nederlands studeren wereldwijd, Nederlandse Taalunie, 2005
  64. Neerlandistiek Wereldwijd, Nederlandse Taalunie, 2007
  65. Indonesië, Nederlandse Taalunie, 2008

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