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The Dutch language (Nederlands) is West Germanic in origin and is spoken natively by approximately 23 million people, with an additional 5 million speakers of Dutch as a second language. It is the official language of the Netherlands and also holds co-official status in Belgium (as Flemish). Dutch also maintains official status in Suriname in South America, as well as in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten, which are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In former Dutch colonies in Asia, there are only a handful of fluent Dutch speakers left, although Dutch has had an extensive lexical influence on several languages, most notably Malay/Indonesian. Dutch is also an official language of several prominent international organizations, including the European Union, Benelux, the South American Union, and Caricom (the Caribbean Community). Next to English and German, Dutch is the third most widely spoken of the Germanic languages.

The Dutch American population in the United States is estimated at approximately 5% of the population, with roughly 136,000 people who still speak Dutch at home. The largest communities are found in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Michigan. The Amish and Old Order Mennonites speak a language commonly known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”; however, this language is not Dutch at all, but is actually a dialect of West Central German, closely related to the Palatine dialects of the Upper Rhine Valley. “Dutch,” in this case, was simply an erroneous rendering of the word for “German” (Deutsch).

There are a relatively large variety of Dutch dialects, as well as “regional languages.” The major dialect groups include West Flemish, Hollandic, Brabantian, and Limburgish. Of these, West Flemish (spoken in West Flanders and Zeeland) is particularly distinct and may warrant classification as a separate language variant. Despite the variety of dialects and regional languages, however, their use has been on the decline as Standard Dutch has gradually replaced their use in everyday life. The Afrikaans language, while mutually intelligible with Dutch, is considered to be a distinct “daughter language” rather than a dialect of Dutch, and developed from 17th-century Dutch dialects that were brought to southern Africa with Dutch colonization and also influenced by local African languages.

Dutch grammar is very similar to German in terms of syntax and verb morphology, and follows the standard subject-object-verb (SOV) word order of German, although the conjugated verb moves to the second position in main clauses (V2 word order). Standard Dutch includes three genders to differentiate between natural gender and three for grammatical gender, although non-Belgian speakers of Dutch have merged male and female genders into a single common gender. The four main categories of verbs in Dutch are weak verbs, strong verbs, irregular verbs, and mixed verbs. Like German, Dutch also makes use of noun compounds which sometimes leads to extremely lengthy words, such as ziektekostenverzekeringsmaatschappij (health insurance company).

The vast majority of Dutch vocabulary is Germanic in origin and only 20% consisting of loanwords. The greatest foreign influences on Dutch vocabulary have come from French and the Oïl languages, which were ancient northern Gallo-Romance languages and their modern descendants. Conversely, approximately 1.3% of English vocabulary comes from Dutch.

The Dutch writing system utilizes the Latin alphabet along with the digraph IJ, which represents the diphthong [ɛi], as well as a high proportion of doubled letters (both consonants and vowels). Dutch orthography was established with the Wet schrijfwijze Nederlandsche taal (Law on the Writing of the Dutch language) in 1946 in Belgium and in 1947 in the Netherlands.

FUN FACTS: Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, spoke Dutch fluently and was the only American president whose first language was not English. Also, an archaic dialect of Dutch, known as “Jersey Dutch,” was spoken in Bergen and Passaic counties in New Jersey by descendants of 17th-century Dutch settlers between the 17th and early 20th centuries. It is now extinct.

At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Dutch. Whether you need to translate colonial-era Indonesian legal codes from Dutch to English, need a Dutch interpreter for a humanitarian program in Suriname, or want to localize your website into Dutch to market your products or services in the Netherlands, PGLS is here to help with all of your Dutch language needs.

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