In historical terms, the Dutch language is a very close relation to West Germanic languages, but belongs to its own West Germanic dialect group: West Low Franconian. West Low Franconian has characteristics of both Low German and German. The Rhenish Fan is a dialect continuum where Dutch gradually becomes German, with Dutch being directly at one end of the Rhenish Fan. The various smaller languages that make up the majority of the continuum are slowly dying out and being used less and less.
Like many Germanic languages, Dutch can be divided into three phases of development. The first is Old Dutch, from when the Dutch language began to form around 450AD. Old Frankish was split into many differing languages, one of them being Old Dutch. This language perpetuated itself until around 1150AD, when 500 years of Middle Dutch began. From 1500 to the present day, Modern Dutch has been in usage. It is perhaps mis-leading to identify three such distinct eras, as the shift between these forms of language was very gradual.
The Dutch language is the parent language of Afrikaans, but was also the origin of many Dutch-based creoles. The majority of these creoles are now dead languages, while Afrikaans is growing in popularity and usage. The standardization of the Dutch language began in the Middle Ages, with the translation of The Bible.
Dutch is a very popular European language, with 22 million native speakers and more than 5 million people who speak Dutch as a second language. While Dutch was originally a language confined to the west European area, the language itself and its influence has now spread to the Caribbean, South America, and to a lesser extent, South East Asia.
At present, the Dutch language is spoken as an official language in the Netherlands, where 96% of people in the Netherlands say Dutch is their mother tongue, Belgium, Aruba, Sint Maarten, Suriname, and Curacao. Most of the speakers of the Dutch language live in either Belgium or the Netherlands; however, there are minority language communities in areas of France, Germany, the US and the UK. Belgian Dutch is often referred to as Flemish.
Due to French becoming more popular than the Dutch language in Belgium, Standard Dutch in the 1960s was introduced. Many Dutch dialects are in existence, with tens in the Netherlands alone. Dutch as a foreign language is taught in over 200 Universities in over 35 countries, with around 10,000 students studying Dutch annually.
The Dutch language has a slightly more complex word order in sentences than in other Germanic languages. Ordinarily, the structure is Subject Verb Object, but when a subordinate clause is present, the structure follows Subject Object Verb. Word structure in the Dutch language also follows certain rules, such as the fact that adjectives in the Dutch language will always come in front of the noun which they are describing. Verbs themselves come in strong, weak, or mixed form. The mixed verbs are described as such if some of their tenses are weak, while others are strong. The Dutch language is filled with irregular verbs, though talking to people who speak the language natively will help you fully understand these more complicated aspects of the language.
In the Dutch language, there are three genders to pronouns, which are masculine, feminine and neutral, although in many areas of the Netherlands, the masculine and the feminine are merging in the spoken language to sound almost exactly the same. In Belgian Dutch, however, there remain strong distinctions between masculine and feminine pronouns.
With rather complex vowel sounds throughout the Dutch language, there is also the added complication for learners with the fact that it also contains many diphthongs. If you want to learn this language, it is very necessary to get to grips with this aspect of the language.
Why Learn The Dutch Language?
The Netherlands have the 11th highest population in Europe, with population at an estimated 16 million people. It is also the fifth busiest tourist destination in Europe. As one of the leading European countries for foreign investment, the Netherlands are a highly successful country within the fields of business, import and export. The port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe, giving the Netherlands a distinct advantage in regards to trade and commerce.
For those who have an artistic streak, the Netherlands are a fantastically interesting place to visit. It goes without saying that learning the language of a country can be one of the best things you can do to ensure that you have a pleasant and informative visit. With stunning artwork from the “Dutch Masters” of the 17th century, through the post-impressionism of Vincent van Gogh, right up to more modern artists such as M.C. Escher. The Dutch language is wonderful for appreciating these works of art.