tLearn Dutch - Classification

Dutch 101

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 (apart from þ-->d), it is sometimes classed as a Low German 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.


Dutch is grammatically similar to German, for example in syntax and verb morphology. (For a comparison of verb morphology in English, Dutch and German, see Germanic weak verb and West Germanic strong verb.) Compare, for example:

De kleinste kameleon is slechts 2 cm groot, de grootste kan wel 80 cm worden. (Dutch)

Das kleinste Chamäleon ist nur 2 cm groß, die größten können auch 80 cm erreichen. (German)

Some less common phrasings and word choices have closer cognates in German:

Der kleinste Chamäleon ist nur (schlechthin) 2 cm groß, der größte kann gut 80 cm werden. (less common German)

(in English: "The smallest Chameleons are just 2 cm big, the biggest can well achieve 80 cm.")

Further examples for the close vicinity of Dutch and German:

Op de berg staat een klein huisje. (Dutch) - Auf dem Berg steht ein kleines Häuschen. (German)

(in English: There's a small house on the mountain)

In de stad leven veel mensen. (Dutch) - In der Stadt leben viele Menschen. (German)

(in English: A lot of people live in the town)

In some places, German and Dutch are spoken almost interchangeably. Dutch speakers are generally able to read German, and German speakers (who can speak English) are generally able to read Dutch, even if they find the spoken language very amusing.


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.

English Dutch German Remark
eat
cat
town
eten
kat
tuin (garden)
essen
Katze
Zaun (fence)
English and Dutch have kept Germanic t; German has shifted t-->s/z/tz
apple
pipe
Scunthorpe
appel
pijp
dorp (village)
Apfel
Pfeife
Dorf
English and Dutch have kept Germanic p; German has shifted p-->f/pf
think
brother
thorn
denken
broeder
doorn
denken
Bruder
Dorn
English has kept Germanic ; Dutch, like German, has shifted -->d
yesterday
yarn
day
gisteren
garen
dag
gestern
Garn
Tag
Dutch has shifted Germanic g to voiced affricate, but retained spelling with <g> and thus at least a visual similarity to German; English has shifted further: g-->y

Even when written Dutch looks similar to German, however, the101Pronunciaitonmay be markedly different. This is true especially of the diphthongs and of the letter <g>, which is pronounced as a velar continuant similar to the <ch> in Swiss German. The rhotic101Pronunciaitonof <r> causes some English-speakers to believe Dutch sounds similar to a Northern English accent; this is the reason for Bill Bryson's famous remark that when one hears Dutch one feels one ought to be able understand it. Dutch101Pronunciaitonis however difficult to master for Anglophones, many of its diphthongs and gutturals being the greatest obstacles. Germans seem to have an advantage with the Dutch grammar, but suffer the same difficulties as the English when dealing with101Pronunciaiton. An exception on this all are the North Germans, who can read or understand Dutch after a relatively short period of acclimatisation, speaking however remaining a challenge. Dutch is generally not on the curriculum of German schools, except in some border cities, such as Aachen and Oldenburg.

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