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About Dutch Language

Dutch (Nederlands (help·info)) is a West Germanic language spoken by over 22 million people as a native language, and over 5 million people as a second language. Most native speakers live in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, with smaller groups of speakers in parts of France, Germany 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 Namibia. 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.

Names

In English the language of the people of the Netherlands and Flanders is referred to as Dutch; or rarely (usually in technical linguistic contexts) as Netherlandic[8]; Flemish is a popular informal term to refer to Belgian Dutch, Dutch as spoken in Belgium.

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 England 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.

Classification

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 Holland. 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 Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. 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.

History

The 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 Upper – German 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.

Grammar

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.

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.

Vocabulary

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. (This is similar to how English loanwords enter Metropolitan French much more readily than the more purist Canadian French, despite Canada being mostly English-speaking.) 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.

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.

Dutch as a foreign language

As a foreign language, Dutch is mainly taught in primary and secondary schools in areas adjacent to the Netherlands 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 Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, and over 7,000 in the French region of Nord-Pas de Calais (of which 4,550 already in primary school). Dutch is the obligatory medium of instruction in schools in Suriname, even for non-native speakers.[86] Dutch is taught in various educational centres in Indonesia, the most important of which is the Erasmus Language Centre (ETC) in Jakarta. 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 Germany (30 universities), followed by France and the United States (20 each). Due to centuries of Dutch rule in Indonesia, 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.

 

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