The Dutch language is the native tongue of the vast majority of those that live in the Netherlands, as well as more than half of the population in Suriname and Belgium. These three nations are together known as the Dutch Language Union. Within the European Union, which is the predominant place of speaking, it is the primary language for around 23 million people as well as a secondary language for another 5 million people. It is also considered an official language in a few Caribbean islands, and is spoken to an extent in other European countries as well as the United States and Canada.
In terms of relationships with other languages, the Dutch language is most closely related to the English and German languages. It has the same Germanic core but integrates more Romance loans than the German language, but fewer than English. Though the language as a whole is known as Dutch, it’s various dialects are also often given their own names. These include Flemish, Limburger, and Brabantine.
The origins of the Dutch language are in around 450-500 AD when the Second Germanic consonant shift divided Old Frankish into other languages. At approximately this same time the ancestors of modern-day Frisian, Dutch Low Saxon, and English were developed by another emergent language law. Those northern dialects of Old Frankish did not adhere completely to either of these shifts. This non-participation in the majority of the sound changes is why Dutch is often referred to as being “in between” English and German.
Just as with other Germanic languages, Dutch is divided into three phases of development:
• Between 450-1150 AD the language was “Old Dutch”
• Between 1150 and 1500 AD the language was “Middle Dutch”
• From 1500 AD to present it is “Modern Dutch”, this includes standard and contemporary structures of Dutch
Though the transitions between these developmental stages was gradual there are particular moments that can be identified specifically by linguists as being important to the evolution of the Dutch language. One such moment in particular is the rapid establishment of standard Dutch in more recent times.
Dutch has 17 vowels, 13 of which are simple vowels and 4 are diphthongs. These vowels behave differently depending on the consonant with which they are used. The syllable structure of the Dutch language is most similar to that of English, with consonant clusters forming syllables in a (C) (C) (C) (C) V (C) (C) (C) (C) pattern. The number of consonants actually used in the spoken language is generally reduced due to assimilation and dialect.