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The Dutch Language - A Languages of the World Primer

May 7, 2008
Dutch began to develop in the fifth century AD from old Frankish, a Germanic tribal language. At around that time, the southern dialects of old Frankish (including the forerunner of modern German) underwent significant phonetic changes (known as the High German shift) whereas the northern dialects (including the forerunner of modern Dutch) did not. As a result, Dutch has more in common in this regard with English and the Scandinavian languages than it does with German. That said, it is grammatically similar to German in terms of syntax and verb usage although its vocabulary is particularly rich and contains an enormous amount of loanwords from the Romance languages, in particular French.

There is a common misconception that the Dutch spoken in Belgium, known locally as Vlaams or Flemish, is either a dialect of Dutch or somehow inferior. To start with, Algemeen Nederlands (Common Dutch, abbreviated to AN) is the standard language taught in schools across the Netherlands and Belgian Dutch-speaking areas. Indeed, both countries share the same language regulator, the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union), together with Suriname. In point of fact, there is no officially recognised Flemish language. That is not to say that there are no differences between the various variants spoken in Belgium and AN, but the same is true of the various dialects found in the Netherlands.

As regards the dialect argument, it is interesting to note that Dutch underwent a process of standardisation in the middle ages, under the influence of the Court of the Duke of Burgundy which was located in Brussels from the late 15th century. During this phase, the "Belgian" dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential. The "Belgian" influence increased after 1585 when Antwerp fell to the Spanish and many inhabitants fled to the Netherlands bringing their local dialect with them.

Related languages
Dutch is closely related to other West Germanic languages such as English, West Frisian and German although it is by no means a dialect of German as is sometimes wrongly believed. Its closest relative, however, is Afrikaans, an official language in South Africa, of which it is the parent language. Dutch and Afrikaans are highly mutually intelligible, although the ease of understanding depends on the speaker's local dialect. Indeed it was only in 1925 that the Dutch colonists in South Africa decided to break away from Dutch spelling and thus written texts can generally be readily understood.

Status today
Dutch is an official language of the European Union and the Union of South American Nations. In addition to the Netherlands and Belgium, Dutch is an official language in Suriname, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. It is also spoken by small minorities along the French-Belgian border and in northwest Germany. In total, and excluding Afrikaans speakers who are sometimes included in Dutch statistics, there are around 23 million Dutch speakers worldwide with an additional 4 to 5 million non-native speakers.
About the Author
Stranslations offers professional language translation services in English, French, Spanish, German and other major European languages.
The original version of this article can found at www.stranslations.com.
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