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  • Dutch (Nederlands), sometimes referred to as Netherlandic in English, is a Low Germanic language spoken by around 24 million people, mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium. The dialects of Dutch spoken in Belgium are often referred to as Flemish and sometimes thought of as a separate language though seldom by its speakers. In the Netherlands, Dutch is sometimes colloquially called Hollands by native speakers although this is becoming less common today.

  • The West Germanic dialects can be divided according to tribe (Frisian, Saxon, Franconian, Bavarian and Swabian), and according to the extent of their participation in the High German consonant shift (Low Germanic against High Germanic). The present Dutch standard language is largely derived from Low Franconian dialects spoken in the Low Countries that must have reached a separate identity no later than about AD 600.

  • A process of standardization started in the Middle ages, especially under the influence of the Burgundian Ducal Court in Dijon (Brussels after 1477). The dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential around this time. The process of standardization became much stronger in the 16th century, mainly based on the urban dialect of Antwerp. In 1585 Antwerp fell to the Spanish army: many fled to Holland, strongly influencing the urban dialects of that province. In 1618 a further important step was made towards a unified language, when the first major Dutch bible translation was created that people from all over the United Provinces could understand. It used elements from various (even Low Saxon) dialects, but was mostly based on the urban dialects from Holland.

  • Dutch is a Germanic language, and within this family it is a West Germanic language. Since it did not experience the High German consonant shift, it is sometimes classed as a Low Germanic language, and indeed it is most closely related to the Low German dialects of Northern Germany. There is in fact a dialect continuum which blurs any clear boundary between Dutch and Low German, and the Low Franconian rural dialects of the Lower Rhine are much closer to Hollandic than to standard German. Dividing the West Germanic languages into low and high in this way, however, obscures the fact that Dutch is more closely related to modern standard (high) German than to English.

  • In some places, German and Dutch are spoken almost interchangeably. Dutch speakers are generally able to read German to a considerable degree, and German speakers (who can read English) can generally read Dutch to some extent.

  • Dutch still has grammatical cases, but these have become almost limited to usage in pronouns and set phrases. Technically there is still a distinction between masculine and feminine, but for most practical purposes in the standard language the gender system has collapsed into a dual system of animate (de) and neuter (het). Thus the system of nouns and noun phrases has been greatly simplified in a manner more akin to English than German.

  • Native Dutch vocabulary (as opposed to loan words) is of common West Germanic stock, and in terms of sound shifts it can be imagined as occupying a position somewhere between English and German.

  • Dutch is spoken by most inhabitants of the Netherlands. It is also spoken by most in the Flemish northern half of Belgium, with the exception of Brussels, where it is spoken by a minority of the population, French being the dominant language. (This minority is typically estimated between 7,5% and 15%.) In the northernmost part of France, Dutch is spoken by a minority and the language is usually referred to as Vlomsch. On the Caribbean islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, Dutch is used but less so than Papiamento. Dutch is spoken in Suriname, and there are some speakers of Dutch in Indonesia. In South Africa and Namibia a language related to Dutch called Afrikaans is spoken.

  • Dutch is an official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch, Flemish and Surinamese governments coordinate their language activities in the Nederlandse Taalunie ('Dutch Language Union'). Afrikaans is an official language in South Africa. Of the inhabitants of New Zealand, 0.7% say their home language is Dutch (see article on New Zealand). The number of people coming from the Netherlands though is considerably higher but from the second generation on most people changed their language in favour of English.

  • Standaardnederlands or Algemeen Nederlands ('Common Dutch', abbreviated to AN) is the standard language as taught in schools and used by authorities in the Netherlands, Flanders, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch Language Union defines what is AN and what is not, for example in terms of orthography. Algemeen Nederlands replaced the older name Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands ('Common Civilized Dutch', abbreviated to ABN) when it was no longer considered politically correct, because it implied that people who didn't speak ABN were not civilized.

  • Flemish (Vlaams in Dutch) is the collective term often used for the Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium. It is not a separate language (though the term is often also used to distinguish the standard Dutch spoken in Flanders from that of the Netherlands) nor are the dialects in Belgium more closely related to each other than to the dialects in The Netherlands. The forms of Dutch spoken in Flanders and in the Netherlands differ somewhat and are instantly recognisable. One could draw a parallel with the American and British English differences (spoken form only). The Americans and the English use slightly divergent vocabularies, though both officially correct. However, while American English is considered a derivative of English by some, Dutch in Flanders and Dutch spoken in the Netherlands are historically equal.

  • In Flanders, there are roughly four dialect groups: West Flemish, East Flemish, Brabantian and Limburgish. They have all incorporated French loanwords in everyday language. An example is fourchette in various forms (originally a French word meaning fork), instead of vork. Brussels, especially, is heavily influenced by French because roughly 85% of the inhabitants of Brussels speak French. The Limburgish in Belgium is closely related to Dutch Limburgish. An oddity of West Flemish (and to a lesser extent, East Flemish) is that the pronunciation of the "soft g" sound (the voiced velar fricative) is almost identical to that of the "h" sound (the voiced glottal fricative), thus, the words held (hero) and geld (money) sound nearly the same. Some Flemish dialects are so distinct that they might be considered as separate language variants. West Flemish in particular has sometimes been considered as such. Dialect borders of these dialects do not correspond to present political boundaries, but reflect older, medieval divisions. The Brabantian dialect group, for instance, also extends to much of the south of the Netherlands, and so does Limburgish. West-Flemish is also spoken in the Dutch province of Zeeland, in a variant called Zeeuws (or Zealandic, in English) and even in a small part near Dunkirk, France, bordering on Belgium.

  • The Netherlands also has different dialect regions. In the east there is an extensive Low German dialect area: the provinces of Groningen (Gronings), Drenthe and Overijssel are almost exclusively Low Saxon. Zuid-Gelders is a dialect also spoken in the German land of North Rhine-Westphalia. Brabantian (Noord-Brabant) fade into the dialects spoken in the adjoining provinces of Belgium. Same thing applies to Limburgish (Limburg (Netherlands)), but this variant also has the status of official Minority Language in the Netherlands (but not in Belgium). It receives protection by chapter 2 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Limburgish is Low Franconian, as is Dutch, but is so much more distant (it has been influenced by the Rhinelandic dialects like the Cologne dialect: Kölsch Platt, and has had a very different development since the late Middle Ages) that it is less and less classified as being Dutch.

  • Zealandic of most of Zeeland is a transitional regional language between West Flemish and Hollandic, with the exception of the eastern part of Zealandic Flanders where East Flemish is spoken. In Holland proper, Hollandic is spoken, though the original forms of this dialect, heavily influenced by a Frisian substrate, are now relatively rare; the urban dialects of the Randstad, which are Hollandic dialects, do not diverge from standard Dutch very much, but there is a clear difference between the city dialects of Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam or Utrecht.

  • In some rural Hollandic areas more authentic Hollandic dialects are still being used, especially north of Amsterdam. Limburgish and Low German have been elevated by the Netherlands (and by Germany) to the legal status of streektaal (regional language) according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which causes some native speakers to consider them separate languages. Some dialects are unintelligible to some speakers of Hollandic.

  • Dutch dialects are not spoken as often as they used to be. Nowadays in The Netherlands only older people speak these dialects in the smaller villages, with the exception of the Low Saxon and Limburgish streektalen, which are actively promoted by some provinces and still in common use. Most towns and cities stick to standard Dutch - although many cities have their own city dialect, which continues to prosper. In Belgium dialects are very much alive however; many senior citizens there are unable to speak standard Dutch. In both the Netherlands and Belgium, many larger cities also have several distinct smaller dialects.

  • By many native speakers of Dutch, both in Belgium and the Netherlands, Afrikaans and Frisian are often assumed to be very deviant dialects of Dutch. In fact, they are two different languages, Afrikaans having evolved mainly from Dutch. There is no dialect continuum between the Frisian and adjoining Low Saxon. A Frisian standard language has been developed.

  • Until the early 20th century, variants of Dutch were still spoken by some descendants of Dutch colonies in the United States. New Jersey in particular had an active Dutch community with a highly divergent dialect that was spoken as recently as the 1950s.

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