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Dutch Language History

Dutch, also known as Netherlandic, is Netherlands’s official language. The Dutch language is from the language of Indo-European family and a Germanic language. Some of the earliest known documents in the language are from the 12th century. Around 15 million individuals that live in Netherlands speak Dutch. The language is also used in Netherlands Antilles and Suriname for administrative purposes. During the 1930s, it was made the official language in northern Belgium. Afrikaans is a derivate of the Dutch language is an official language in South Africa.


Ancient Roots of the Language

It is believed that Dutch originated around 700 AD, an arbitrary date. The language emerged from different Germanic dialects that were then spoken in Netherlands. Most of these were from the Frankian group. The standardization process only started during the Middle Ages in Dijon with the help of Burgundian Ducal Court. One of the earliest recorded writing in Dutch is from 1100, written in a Rochester convent by a Felmish monk. For quite some time, his writing is considered to be the first in Dutch. However, older fragments were later found. These fragment were various religious and spiritual sentences from around 900. Luc De Grauwe, a professor at University of Ghent has disputed the language of the phrases and believes that these were actually Old English. There is a lot of controversy that still surrounds it.


Brabant and Flanders dialects were quite influential at the time. The standardization process became stronger during the sixteenth century based on Antwerp’s urban dialect. When Antwerp lost to Spanish army in 1585, several fled away to Holland. This strongly influenced the province’s urban dialects. In the year 1618, a unified language had been created for the first translation of the Bible in Dutch so that people throughout the country would be able to understand. The standardized language had elements from various dialects but was mostly based on Holland’s urban dialects. Dutch is a word that comes from theodisk, an Old Germanic word that means vernacular, of the people rather than official. In modern German, Theodisk became Deutsch. In Dutch it has two forms, diets and duits.


Dutch, the English word also changed a lot through time. During the early 1600s, the growing contacts among the people as well as with the growth of the independent country, the modern meaning of Dutch arose as providing the people of Netherlands. Before this, the word’s meaning had been general and would have referred to any of the German speaking regions or the languages there such as Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. In the year 1422, William Caxton wrote to Aeneids in a Prologue that the Old English text is more like Dutche rather than English. Professor Bolton also makes it clear in some of his notes that the word rather means German instead of Dutch.


Peter Heylyn writes that the Dutch language is spoken in various parts in Hungary that adjoins Germany. Even today, the German settlers’ descendants living in Pennsylvania are referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch.


The Dialects

The collective name from all Dutch dialects that are spoken in Belgium are known as Flemish. The dialects are not separate languages even though the term is sometimes used for distinguishing Dutch spoken in Netherlands and Flanders. Netherlandic Dutch standard form is different from Flemish and Belgium Dutch. Flemish has older words and is perceived to be softer when it comes to pronunciation as well as discourse in comparison to Netherlandic Dutch. On the other hand, Netherlandic Dutch is guttural and harsh to most Belgians. Some Belgians think of it to be hostile, arrogant and overly assertive.


There are five main dialects in Flanders- Limburgs, Brussels/Brabants, Antwerps, Oost-Vlaams and West-Vlaams. All of these dialects have several French loanwords in their everyday language. Fourchette in several forms is also present in the dialects. Fourchette originally was the French word for fork. Brussels is mainly influenced by the French language since 75% of the people living in Brussels can speak French. Dutch Limburgs is also closely related to Limburgs. What makes West Vlaams different from the rest is the soft g pronunciation. It is almost the same as the h sound. Some of the Flemish dialects can be so different that they may be thought of as different language variants.


Sometimes West Flemish is considered to be a different language altogether. It must also be noted that the borders of the dialects don’t always neatly correspond to the geopolitical boundaries. The dialect group of Antwerp Brabant, for example, extends to a large part of South Netherlands and even in Germany, giving rise to the Limburg dialects. Even West Flemish is spoken in parts of northern France that borders Belgium. The Dutch dialects today are not spoken the way they had been earlier. Today, the dialects are only spoken by older people in smaller villages except for streektalen. In various provinces these are promoted very actively. Most cities and towns today use standard Dutch. However, several cities can have dialects of their own that continue to grow. In Belgium as well as Netherlands, several cities can also have smaller but distinct dialects.


In Netherlands and in Belgium several native Dutch speakers also assume Frisian and Afrikaans to be the dialects of the Dutch language. These are, in fact, different languages. Afrikaans evolved from Dutch. However, modern Afrikaans is very different from Dutch and therefore it cannot be said to be the dialect of Dutch. Similarly, Frisian is very different from Dutch in several ways and is a completely different language. Till the early twentieth century, different Dutch variants were spoken by the descendants of various Dutch colonies located in the US. This was especially true for New Jersey since it had a very active Dutch colony. The dialect spoken there till the 1950s had been highly divergent.