Dutch 101

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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 10% and 15%.) In the northernmost part of France, Dutch is spoken by a minority and the language is usually referred to as Vlemsch. 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.

Official Status

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.


Flemish 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 standard form of Netherlandic Dutch differs somewhat from Belgium Dutch or Flemish: Flemish favours older words and is also perceived as "softer" in101Pronunciaitonand discourse than Netherlandic Dutch, and some Dutch find it quaint. In contrast, Netherlandic Dutch is perceived as harsh and guttural to Belgians, and some Belgians perceive it as overly assertive, hostile and even somewhat arrogant. One can draw a parallel with the American and British English differences. Americans and the English use slightly divergent vocabularies, though both officially correct. However, while American is considered by some a poorer derivative of English, Flemish and northern Dutch 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 75% 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 the101Pronunciaitonof 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. It should also be noted that the dialect borders of these dialects do not correspond to present geopolitical boundaries. They reflect much 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 Saxon 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. Limburgish (Limburg (Netherlands)) and Brabantian (Noord-Brabant) fade into the dialects spoken in the adjoining provinces of Belgium.

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 Saxon have been elevated by the European Union to the legal status of streektaal (regional language), 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. See Jersey Dutch for more on this dialect.


In addition to the many dialects of the Dutch language many provinces and larger cities have their own accents, which sometimes are also called dialects. Ethnic communities tend to have varying accents: for example many people from the Dutch Antilles or Suriname speak with a "Surinaams" accent, and the Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Turkish youth have also developed their own accents, which in some cases are enhanced by a debased Dutch slang with Arabic or Turkish words thrown in, which serves in making their speech nearly unintelligible to some older speakers of standard Dutch.

Derived Languages

Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa and Namibia, is derived primarily from 17th century Dutch dialects, and a great deal of mutual intelligibility still exists. One who can speak Dutch is usually very able to read and understand Afrikaans.

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