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‘Nederlands’ or Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands. It is a Germanic language in origin and shares many similarities with both English and German. Nederlands is the third largest Germanic language in Europe, the approved language of Flanders in Belgium and an informal dialect in some parts of France and Germany close to the Dutch border. Variants of Nederlands can be found in many other parts of the world too.
In the Netherlands there are several regional dialects, most of which are based on standard Dutch. Frisian, however, is regarded as a second, official language and is taught as part of the school curriculum in Friesland province.
The History of Nederlands
Despite being in use since the Middle Ages, Nederlands didn’t become the approved Dutch language until 1612. As Old Dutch was rarely committed to paper, it largely reflected the spoken language and featured numerous regional inconsistencies and a lack of spelling and grammar rules. The Wachtendonck Psalms, a compilation of Latin hymns translated into this Old Dutch, is the oldest Dutch book, believed to have been written around 900 AD.
As literacy increased during the sixteenth century and more and more of the Dutch population mastered the ability to read and write, an effort was made to standardise spelling. This resulted in the Dutch translation of the 1637 King James bible, which used a mixture of regional vocabulary and spelling taken from the Frankish dialects of Holland and Brabant. The work was also responsible for generating a number of new words which are still in use today.
Dutch literature from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period was relatively sparse and consisted of poetry in the main. After 1750 however, a number of Dutch literary societies emerged, encouraging Dutch authors to write in a professional capacity. This rapid development of Nederlands received a temporary setback when Napoleonic forces briefly occupied the country and the French language had an impact. After the departure of the French, Dutch literature blossomed once more and Dutch writers started looking to the British romantics such as Byron and Walter Scott for creative inspiration. Yet by the twentieth century and after two world wars, their idealism had been replaced by a stark realism, an attribute which is still very much a hallmark of contemporary Dutch literature.
Today, the Dutch language benefits from a Dutch language union (known as the Nederlandse Taalunie) who are accountable for the advocacy, uniformity and spelling rules of Nederlands.
In addition to being the official language of the Netherlands and Flanders, Nederlands is spoken in many of the former Dutch colonies. It is the recognised language of Aruba, Curacao and St. Marteen in the Caribbean and Surinam in South America. And whilst Dutch has not been the official language of Indonesia and Dutch New Guinea since independence, the older generation often converse in Nederlands and ‘Bahasa Indonesia’ (the official language of Indonesia) actually borrows a number of words from Dutch. Afrikaans is also a derivative of Nederlands and one of eleven approved languages in South Africa and an accepted regional language in Namibia.
And large scale emigration has encouraged the geographical spread of Nederlands. Today there are around five million Dutch descendants living in the US alone, many of which grew up with Dutch. Dutch clubs and societies in countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand actively encourage Dutch immigrants to keep their language alive through a number of radio programs, magazines and Dutch newspapers. In Australia there is even an established South African community who speak Dutch.
Dutch is taught at primary school, secondary school and university level in those countries (including former colonies), where it is the official language. Dutch can also be studied as a foreign language in many universities around the world, yet take up is not particularly high. This is mainly because Dutch is not considered an internationally important language like English, Spanish and more recently Chinese. Foreigners that opt to study Nederlands usually do so because they intend to live and work in the Netherlands or have a Dutch partner. An even smaller group are motivated by Dutch ancestry and a desire to understand their roots.
NT2 (Nederlands als tweede taal / Dutch as a second language) is a language course specially tailored for foreigners and specifically targets their non-native learning requirements. This language program became compulsory for all Dutch immigrants in 2007 (bar those from the European Union) in an attempt to improve integration.
Nederlands is infamously difficult to learn, mainly due to its unusual pronunciation and complex grammar. The guttural ‘’G’’, tricky vowel combinations such as uu, ui and eu are repeated verbal hurdles, even for those who are fluent in a related language such as German or English – languages which actually share many similarities, as highlighted in the small sample below!
Dutch, German, English