Dutch language, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Also called Netherlandish, it is spoken by about 15 million inhabitants of the Netherlands, where it is the national language, and by about 300,000 people in the Western Hemisphere. The written and spoken forms of Dutch differ significantly. For example, written Dutch exhibits far greater formality than spoken Dutch in both grammar and vocabulary. One reason for this divergence is that written Dutch evolved from the Flemish dialect spoken in the culturally advanced Flanders and Brabant of the 15th cent., whereas modern spoken Dutch grew out of the vernacular of the province of Holland, which became dominant after the 16th cent. (see Flemish language). Also, written Dutch is relatively uniform, while the spoken language has a number of dialects as well as an official standard form. The Roman alphabet is used for Dutch, and the earliest existing texts in the language go back to the late 12th cent. Among the words with which Dutch has enriched the English vocabulary are: brandy, cole slaw, cookie, cruiser, dock, easel, freight, landscape, spook, stoop, and yacht. Dutch is noteworthy as the language of an outstanding literature, but it also became important as the tongue of an enterprising people, who, though comparatively few in number, made their mark on the world community through trade and empire.
See C. B. van Haeringen, Netherlandic Language Research (2d ed. 1960); W. Z. Shetter, An Introduction to Dutch (3d ed. 1968); B. C. Donaldson, Dutch: A Linguistic History of Holland and Belgium (1983).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.