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History of Dutch
Quick Reference
  ·  Official Language
Netherlands
  ·  Common 2nd language of
South America and the Netherlands Antilles
  ·  Number of Speakers
15-20 million
  ·  Origin
Germanic
  ·  Alphabet & Scripts
Roman alphabet
There was a time when the Dutch sailed the high seas to every corner of the earth where their influence was felt and their language used.

Today, Dutch is the mother tongue of some 14 million people living in the Netherlands (also known as Holland), 6 million in Belgium and it is also spoken by approximately 150,000 people in the north-west of France (French Flanders). In addition, it is the official language of the Republic of Surinam and the group of islands of the Dutch Antilles.

Although Indonesia has been independent since 1948, there are still many older people who were educated under the Dutch in the former Dutch East Indies and who still speak the language. Afrikaans, which has gradually developed from the Dutch of the first settlers that arrived in South Africa in the 17th Century, is spoken by about 5 million people as their mother tongue.

So what might at first glance appear to be one of Europe's minor languages is in fact spoken by a considerable number of people worldwide.

The Romans record that in 55 BC the Celtic tribes of the Batavi lived to the north in what is now Holland and the Belgii to the south in what is now Belgium. By the 4th Century A.D. the whole area had been over run by Germanic tribes of Franks and Saxons and was incorporated into the Frankish Kingdom.

Celtic languages were replaced by Germanic dialects. Very little is known of the dialects spoken in the Low Countries before the last quarter of the 12th Century, although it is now accepted that the basis of Dutch is Franconian.

The religious upheavals of the 16th Century had momentous consequences for the Low Countries and their language. In the mid-1500s Antwerp fell to the Spaniards and the Netherlands became a province of the Spanish Hapsburgs.

In 1579, the northern Spanish provinces broke away from Spain and established the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The struggle between the Spanish-Dominated South and the rebellious United Provinces in the North continued until 1648 when the Treaty of Munster was concluded.

Spain recognised the independence of the Dutch Republic and the border between the northern and southern halves of the Low Countries (which now more or less coincides with the present border between the Netherlands and Belgium).

By the end of the 16th Century, tens of thousands had already left the Southern Provinces for the North, refusing to resign themselves to Spanish rule. Though preserving certain southern elements from the older literary language, the usage of the province of Holland now became the basis for written Dutch.

The cultured speech of the leading burghers of the Holland towns began to be adopted as the norm and was known as 'Hollands'.

Today the standard language is based on the middle class speech of the towns of the western provinces of the Netherlands especially North and South Holland and Utrecht. It is known as Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands (General Cultured Dutch) and is used in the Linguaphone course.

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Did you know?
There are no "primitive" languages. All languages have a system of sounds, words and sentences that can adequately communicate the content of culture.
Dutch History
Dutch Speaking
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