Dutch: A Widespread European Language

May 15, 2017


When most people think of Dutch, pictures of the Netherlands immediately come to mind with windmills, tulips, and wooden shoes. However, did you know that Dutch has 23 million native speakers around the world and about 5 million additional second language speakers? While it is most widely spoken in the Netherlands, other speakers live throughout Europe, South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Like English, Dutch is a West Germanic language with many linguists saying it sounds and reads right in the middle of German and English. Unlike other languages, the change from "Old Dutch" to "Middle Dutch" was not extremely dramatic. Plus, Modern Dutch speakers today can most often read older literature. This is a great thing because the Middle Dutch period from 1150 to 1500 CE was a rich literary period with many fascinating works. After standardization in the late 1400s, the first major Dutch Bible translation was published, called the "Statenvertaling." This translation was important as people from all over the country could read and understand it, regardless of their regional dialect.

So what is Dutch like? Well it is not mutually intelligible with English but you may notice similar vocabulary and grammar. Some sentences in Dutch will sound surprisingly like ones in English. For example "Wat is jouw naam?" translates to "What is your name?" or "Dat is goed nieuws!" translates to "That is good news!" in English.

For native English speakers, Dutch can be difficult to learn. Though some parts will sound familiar, the finer points of grammar as well as some pronunciations will prove challenging. There are also some very long words in Dutch, many in excess of 30 characters. For example, "meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornis" which is the Dutch word for "multiple personality disorder." Probably the most difficult part of attempting to learn Dutch is being able to practice with native speakers as many of those who speak Dutch also speak English quite well.

Although slightly challenging, Dutch is a fascinating language for anyone to learn. Since Dutch is spoken in various places throughout the world, you will likely find it comes in handy more often than you might think.

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