The Dutch language is the official language spoken in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is made up of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba. In English, Dutch is also sometimes referred to as “Netherlandic”. In addition to being the official language of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it is also the official language of Belgium and Suriname, and the European Union. It is spoken by approximately 24 million people, mostly in the Netherlands and Northern Belgium (Flanders).
Because of the vast distance among which the Dutch dialects are spoken, the Flemish, Dutch, and Surinamese governments manage all language activity in the Dutch Language Union. The standard language which is taught in schools and used in the governmental activities of the Netherlands, Flanders, Suriname, and Northern Antilles is known as Common Dutch.
The Dutch language is a West Germanic language that belongs to the Germanic language family. It is also considered a Low Germanic language, due in part to its similarities to Northern German dialects. It is related to German grammatically. Though the German and Dutch languages differ in pronunciation, they are spoken practically interchangeably in the region. Dutch and German citizens can often read each other’s languages as well, with little to no difficulty.
Probably the earliest known Dutch writing dates back to the year 900. But a standardization process of the Dutch language began in the Middle Ages, under the authority of the Burgundian Ducal Court sometime after 1477. The standardization of the language began to grow in the 16th century out of municipal dialects in Holland. In the year 1618, when a Dutch Bible translation was produced for the general population, a unified Dutch language was seemingly initiated. This unified Dutch language borrowed components from many dialects, but was based heavily on the metropolitan dialects from Holland.
The term for the dialects of the Dutch language spoken in Belgium is known as Flemish. There are not vast differences in the languages. The Flemish people use some older vocabulary and a softer elocution. In Flanders, there are 4 distinct dialects. These are West Flemish, East Flemish, Brabantian, and Limburgish. There are also many distinct dialects of the Dutch language in the Netherlands, which are divided regionally. On top of the many dialects of the Dutch language that are spoken in the regions, many of the regions have their own accents, which are at times considered dialects unto themselves.
The Dutch language holds the distinction of being one of the very few languages that has generated as entirely new language while remaining a living language. This language, Afrikaans, which is spoken in South Africa and Namibia, is wholly based on 17th century Dutch vernacular. Often, a speaker of the Dutch language can read and comprehend Afrikaans and vice versa.
The Dutch language has borrowed many vocabulary words from the German language, more heavily from the French language, and also some Greek and Latin (the Dutch language also uses the Latin alphabet). English vocabulary words are becoming more widespread in the Dutch language as well. Of course, most of the English-derived words are not spelled or articulated the same as their English counterparts.
Because the overall structure of the Dutch language differs greatly from that of the English language, Dutch can be a challenging language for the English speaker to learn. There is not a great demand for people to learn the Dutch language because of the relatively small range of its existence. However, there are many ways a person can go about learning Dutch if it is a desire. Many colleges offer courses in basic Dutch, and there are books and tapes, as well as online resources that offer basic vocabulary lessons in the Dutch language.