Dutch is spoken by more than 17.000.000 people. The vast majority of the speakers live in the Netherlands (above 12.000.000) and in Belgium (above 4.500.000). In Belgiumk Dutch is called 'Vlaams'. Singnificant populations of Dutch speakers also live in Suriname (200.000) and in France (80.000).
Dutch belongs to the Western branch of the Germanic languages. It is closely related to German, especially to the Low German dialects of Northern Germany. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.
There are five major dialect groups: a) Central Western Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands, descendant of Western Low Franconian), b) Northwestern Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands, descendant of Low Saxon), c) Central Southern Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands and in Belgium, descendant of Western Low Franconian), d) Southwestern Dutch (spoken in Belgium and France, descendant of Western Low Franconian), e) and Southeastern Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium).
The modern standard language is based on the central southern dialects with influence fom the southwestern dialects.
The Dutch language is the descendant of Old Low Franconian dialects, which did not participate in the High German sound shift aside from the change þ > /d/. The first written attestation of Old Low Franconian dates back to 900 CE. The dialects spoken in the present day Dutch-speaking region from 1150 to 1500 are labeled 'Middle Dutch'. The Modern Dutch period begins in 1500.
Standartization started in the late 15th century and and made substantial progress in the 16th century. A major landmark in the process of creating a Dutch standard language was the publication of the Calvinist 'Statenbijbel' in 1618.
The English name for the language derives from theodisc "vulgar, vernacular". The selfdesignation of the Germans and their language deutsch goes back to the same root.
The 'Low Countries' have been united for the first time at the end of the 16th century. But shortly afterwards the Spanish Reconquista cut off its southern provinces, viz. the Vlaams speaking areas of today's Belgium.
Dutch is the national language of the Netherlands and official language in Belgium, Suriname, the former Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Suriname.
Dutch vocalism is characterised by the major oppositions of tense vs. lax, front vs. back, monophtong vs. diphtong and closed vs. open.
Dutch consonantism covers the following places of articulation: bilabial, labiodental, alveolar, post-alveolar, palatal, velar, uvular, glottal, and the following manners of articulation: plosive, nasal, fricative, approximant and lateral.
The opposition between voiced and voiceless fricatives has been neutralized word-initially. Obstruents are always devoiced in word-final position. The same kind of word-final devoicing is found in German and Frisian.
Durch orthography was coined in 1864 by the linguists De Vries and Te Winkel. Since then various orthography reforms have been but in effect, the last one in 1964.
Nouns are inflected for gender (common and neuter) and number. The feminine gender has been abandoned. Some nouns are not marked by the plural morpheme when they are preceded by a numeral other than "one".
Case inflection has been widely lost. Genitive -s surives with proper names and a few kinship terms. In Middle Dutch Germanic case inflection was still used systematicaly.
Dutch personal pronouns have distinct subject and object forms. Third person pronouns distinguish three genders: male, female and neuter. Personal pronouns have full, stressed forms and reduced, enclitic forms.
Attributive abjectives mostly take the ending -e. Adjectives not used attributively have no ending.
Most determiners, for instance the definite article, have two forms: one is used when preceding neuter singular nouns, the second is used in all other cases. The indefinite article has only one invariable form.
Verbs have two synthetic tenses: present and past. In the past tense there is a distinction between weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form the past tense stem by adding a dental suffix to the root, strong verbs use vowel alternation to form the past tense stem. The weak form are mostly regular and productive, whereas the strong forms are irregular and not productive any more. The imperative does not distinguish between singular and plural. Nearly all traces of the subjunctive have been lost, only a small number of fossilized forms has survived.
The perfect tense is formed analytically by an axiliary verb ("have" or "be") and the past participle. The passive voice is expressed by "become" and past participle.
The verb has three infinite forms: infinitive, present participle and past participle.
New words can be formed by composition and derivation. Compounds are very frequent. The last component determines the word class of the whole compound. There are two major types of compounds: a) the first consisting of noun and noun, and b) the second one has a verb as first component, whereas the second component can be of various word classes. Derivatives occur frequently and are extremely diverse.
All determiners, quantifiers, possessors and adjectival specifiers precede the head noun.
Dutch has prepositions, postpositions and circumpositions. Prepositions are of Proto-Germanic stock, postpositions and circumpositions developed in more recent stages of the language.
The order of constituents in Dutch is not easily classified. Subordinate clauses have the subordinating word or constituent in the first place, whereas the finite verb stays at the end of the clause. Tag questions and imperative clauses start with the finite verb. Main clauses generally begin with an arbitrary constituent followed by the finite verb.
The native vocabulary of Dutch originates from the common West Germanic stock. Belgian Dutch ('Vlaams') vocabulary is characterized by words considered archaic in the Netherlands and by many French loans. Dutch in Surinam uses loanwords from Sranan and Sarnami Hindustani.