Limburgish is closer to Dutch or German

Structure and history of Dutch An introduction to Dutch linguistics

This page briefly summarizes some important facts about the Dutch language. More detailed information is available in the modules of our 'Introduction to Dutch Linguistics'. There you will find a detailed history of the language. Linguistic sociological and geographic aspects are dealt with in the module 'Varieties', the structure of Dutch in the modules 'Phonology', 'Morphology' and 'Syntax'.

Author: Ulrike Vogl (Translation into German: Jakob Müller)

Status and Distribution

Currently speaking about 21 million people a variant of the Dutch. In Europe, Dutch is the official language in Belgium and the Netherlands. In addition, around 80,000 residents of the French department of North speak a West Flemish dialect.
In the Netherlands talk about sixteen million People Dutch as a first or second language, in Belgium is more than half of the population (over five million) Dutch-speaking.

Dutch in Belgium is often referred to as Flemish (which is actually the name of the dialects of East and West Flanders). Other names are General Belgian Dutch (Algemeen Belgisch Nederlands) and Southern Dutch.
The most striking differences are between Dutch and Belgian Dutch phonological and lexical differences. For example, the Louder in the south, softer (more voiced) pronounced than in the north and the adjective schoon used to mean 'beautiful' instead of 'clean', as is the case in the Netherlands. In many cases, peculiarities of Belgian Dutch can also occur in the southern provinces of the Netherlands, for example in Brabant and Limburg.

The Dutch-speaking area is usually divided into the following Dialect groups divided into: the north-eastern dialects (e.g. the dialect of Groningen), the central-western dialects (e.g. South Dutch), the south-western dialects (West Flemish and Zealand), the central-southern dialects (including Brabantian in the Netherlands and Antwerp in Belgium) and the south-eastern dialects (e.g. Limburgish).
Widely spaced dialects are sometimes very different - a speaker of the Groningen dialect will hardly be able to understand a speaker of West Flemish unless they use the standard Dutch language.

The current language situation in Belgium

Belgium is officially a trilingual Country: Dutch is spoken in the Flanders region and in Brussels, French is the dominant language in the Walloon Region and in Brussels, German is the official language in Eupen-St. Vith. About 4.6 million people in Belgium speak French, and German is the first language of around 150,000 Belgians. In addition, the languages ​​of (former) Migrant workers of importance, people with an Italian background make up the largest group with 280,000. There are also around 150,000 residents with a Moroccan-Arabic background, around 80,000 Portuguese and 63,000 Turkish speakers.

In the Netherlands is except Dutch also Frisian Official language. In the province of Friesland, it is spoken as a first or second language by around 450,000 people - that is 75% of the province's population.
To the allochthonous minority languages are counted in the Netherlands among others Turkish (192,000 speakers), Moroccan Arabic (100,000), Papiamentu (80,000) (lingua franca in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba), Malay (45,000) and Sranan Tongo (7,000) (lingua franca in Suriname).

Outside of Europe, Dutch is mainly played in the (former) Dutch colonies another role.
The expansion of the Netherlands as a trading and colonial power began in the 17th century. The VOC (United East India Company) and later the WIC (West India Company) set up trading branches in 'East' (Dutch East Indies, South Africa, Japan) and 'West' (in the Caribbean, South and North America and on the coast of West Africa) . In the 16th and 17th centuries, the VOC and WIC maintained trading posts in Nieuw Amsterdam (today's New York), on the Berbice River in Guyana, in today's Sri Lanka, in Japan and on the Indonesian archipelago. The Netherlands Indies, Suriname and some Caribbean islands were under Dutch administration. Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony until 1947; Suriname was under Dutch administration from 1645 to 1975. The Caribbean islands of Aruba, St. Maarten and Curaçao still belong to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but are independent countries. The BES Islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba) are 'special parishes' of the Netherlands.

On the former Netherlands Antilles and Aruba and also in the meantime independent Suriname is Dutch to this day Official language. Papiamentu, Spanish and English are also spoken in the Caribbean. In Suriname, Sranan Tongo functions as the general lingua franca; in addition, Hindi, Javanese and Saramakan are spoken among others.
In today's Indonesia plays Dutch hardly plays a role anymore. The official language is Bahasa Indonesia, a Creole language based on Malay, but with Dutch influences.
On the South African Cape, the language of the Dutch colonists and the languages ​​of the local population developed into a separate variant of Dutch, the Afrikaans. Along with English, Tsonga, Sesotho, Swazi, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu), this language is one of the official languages ​​of the Republic of South Africa. Except in South Africa is still Afrikaans in the neighboring country Namibia spoken.

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Overseas Dutch

Dutch traces are not only in the former colonies but also in the large ones Overseas immigration countries to be found: in some places in the American states of Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin are still used today (however strongly influenced by English) Dutch varieties spoken. As early as the 19th century, the Dutch and Flemings moved to America in search of a better life. In the fifties and sixties of the 20th century, tens of thousands of Dutch people emigrated to America (Canada and the USA), but also to Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and South Africa.

Number of speakers in European languages

Within Europe Dutch is one of the medium-sized languages. With 21 million speakers, the Dutch language community is significantly smaller than the German with just over 100 million or the French with 56.3 million speakers in Europe. On the other hand, Dutch has significantly more speakers than other European national languages, such as Swedish (8.4 million) or Icelandic (250,000 speakers).

Outside the Dutch-speaking area, the number of people speaking Dutch as a foreign language is increasing: Dutch is becoming taught at universities in forty countries (from Bulgaria to South Korea). In Germany, Dutch is taught in the federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.

Linguistic history

In the genealogical classification in language families, Dutch is one of the Germanic languages, namely the branch of West Germanic languages. Other West Germanic languages ​​are English, German, Low German, Frisian, Afrikaans, Yiddish, Scottish, Luxemburgish, and Pennsylvania German.

The beginnings of the Dutch language are usually settled around 700 AD by linguists. The so-called second or High German sound shift which did not take place in Dutch and Low German, separated standard German on the one from Dutch and Low German on the other hand. It is assumed that this sound development happened between the 5th and 8th centuries. Among other things, this led to the following systematic difference between German and Dutch: where in German a / x / follows a vowel, in Dutch it is followed by / k / (cf. do, I and book vs. maken, ik and boek).

Hebban olla vogala
hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hi (c) (e) nda thu uu (at) unbida (n) (uu) e nu
('All birds have started their nests, except you and me. What are we waiting for?').

Probably the best known surviving text from the Old Dutch period is 'Hebban olla vogala' (from 1100), a so-called ‘probatio pennae’, a piece of text that in this case was probably written by a West Flemish monk to try out a pen. Older fragments have survived from the oldest phase of Dutch, even if there are only a few in total. The chapter 'Old Dutch' takes a closer look at some text fragments.

The period of the Old Dutch took until about 1150. The most distinctive difference between Old Dutch and the following period, Middle Dutch, is in the unstressed syllables. Old Dutch still knew full vowels in unstressed syllables, while later language forms only use reduced vowels (Schwas) here (cf. the vowels in the final syllable of Old Dutch words hebban and olla with today's equivalents lift and all).

Hino heeft ooc nobody so went
No den king mines armies,
Hine wilde dat hi lijf ende eere
Lost, may win
Een vet morzeel van eere hinnen

Fragment from Van den vos Reynaerde
(from Willem 'the Madocke', around 1300)

The term Middle Dutch includes a large number of varieties that between 1150 and 1500 were spoken within the boundaries of today's Dutch-speaking area. Studies of Middle Dutch can fall back on a large and varied selection of texts (examples of Middle Dutch texts are ‘Van den vos Reynaerde’ and ‘Marieken van Nieumeghen’). Knew the Middle Dutch three genera and four cases. The use of the double negative such as in the following fragment from ‘Van den vos Reynaerde’ (around 1300): Hino heeft ooc nobody so went (literally: he doesn't love anyone that much).

From the 16th century A common Dutch standard language was sought. The dialects of the Holland region were of central importance in this process, but the language of wealthy refugees from the south of the Dutch-speaking area (Antwerp, Brabant) who settled in Holland also had a strong influence. An important role in the standardization played the edition of the Statenbijbel 1637, on which scholars from different parts of the Dutch-speaking area participated. In addition, the first Dutch appeared in 1584 grammar, the ‘Twe-spraack vande Nederduitsche letterkunst’.

The structure of Dutch

Compared to Middle Dutch or German, modern Dutch is one little inflected language. Today's Dutch has only two genera - ‘de’ words (male and female) and het’ words (neuter). The distinction between masculine and feminine nouns only plays a significant role in Flemish Dutch. Remnants of the case system only exist in a few established phrases (e.g. de heer des huizes ’). Subjunctive exits have also disappeared in Dutch. On the other hand, in contrast to English or Afrikaans, verbs in Dutch are conjugated according to person and number.

More information in the module

For non-Dutch people, the most striking feature in the phonological field is probably the / ɣ / sound, where other West Germanic languages ​​speak / g / in most cases: see Dutch goed [ɣut] with German Well [good English good [ɡʊd] and Frisian goed [good]. In Dutch, [g] only comes in loan words such as goal or Goethe in front. Overall has Dutch 19 consonant and 16 vowel phonemes (including three diphthongs and a swa).

The for the phoneme / u / and the graphem (next to ) for / ɛi / are characteristic of the Dutch spelling. The basis for today's Dutch spelling was laid in the 19th century. The first official spelling by Matthijs Siegenbeek was published 1804. Since then, the spelling has been changed several times, the last time in 2006.

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The base word order in Dutch largely corresponds to the order in German. in the main clause has Dutch SVO (Hij koopt een Nederlandse grammatica.), in the Subordinate clause SOV (... dat hij een Nederlandse grammatica koopt.) In addition, in declarative sentences (in contrast to English) the finite verb is always in second place (V2, verb second): Tomorrow koopt hij een Nederlandse grammatica.

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It is noticeable in Dutch frequent use of diminutive. The diminutive suffix can not only be attached to nouns (huisje 'Little house'), but also to adverbs (eventjes 'just for a minute') or prepositions (een ommetje 'little walk'). The function of the diminutive suffix varies from 'making something smaller' to 'putting something into perspective' to expressing 'something nicer or more polite'.

Also worth mentioning is that diverse use of whole series of modal particles, mostly to relativize a statement: Dat had also best wel eens even alleen can do. ('You could have done that on your own.')

Anike is Dutch and states: "Belgians use a lot of French words."

Voice contact

Loanwords In the past came mainly from French, today their origins are mainly English. This applies, for example, to computer terminology (printer, mousepad etc.) and the sports world (keeper, goal, Etc.). Other, arbitrarily chosen examples are placemat and hype. in the Flemish Dutch there are numerous french Loanwords - e.g. camion (vrachtwagen, 'truck'), or depannage (takel- en sleephulp, 'towing service'); this can be explained by the centuries-long dominant position of French in Flanders and the continuing close contact with French in today's Flanders.

The increasing influence of English has caused strong backlash over the past few decades. First, the fear of a 'downfall' of Dutch is increasing due to the increasing adoption of English words and idioms. Second, it is feared that English may supplant Dutch as the language of science and teaching in the near future. This 'feeling of threat' led, among other things, in the 1990s to an attempt to anchor Dutch as the official language of the Netherlands in the constitution. This attempt ultimately led to no result. The Basic Law still does not contain any provision regulating language use in the Netherlands.

Current topics

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Dialects in the Netherlands and Flanders

In recent years there has been talk of a 'resurgence' of dialects and vernaculars in the Netherlands. For example, comics, pop songs, etc. in different dialects are enjoying increasing popularity. These Dialect renaissance however, does not lead to an actual increase in dialect use.

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Other current developments in the Dutch-speaking area are the so-called 'Polder Dutch' described by Jan Stroop and the 'straattaal' and 'Murks' described by René Appel and Jacomien Nortier.

At the Polder Dutch it is about the language used by mostly well-educated women from the Randstad. The pronunciation of the / ɛi / as [ai] and the so-called ‘Gooise r’, which is reminiscent of the American r sound, are characteristic.

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Straattaal is a phenomenon that has to be seen in the context of the increasingly multicultural Dutch society. Straattaal is a term for the language used by young people of non-Dutch origin. Botch on the other hand denotes the language of Dutch young people who have a lot of contact with young people of non-Dutch origin and who imitate their use of language in order to appear 'cool'.