Dutch Language, member of the Netherlandic-German group in the western branch of the Germanic languages. More precisely called the Netherlandic language, it is spoken by the inhabitants of the Netherlands, the Netherlands overseas territories, the northern half of Belgium, and the northern part of Nord Department in France, near Belgium. In Belgium and France the language is usually called Flemish; for the historical reasons. Cape Dutch, or Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa, is an offshoot of Dutch that is now considered a separate language. The name Dutch is derived from the word Dietsch, meaning the vernacular, as distinguished from Latin.
Both Belgium and the Netherlands use a common literary language, termed standard Netherlandic or standard Dutch. Local spoken dialects vary gradually from village to village across the Netherlandic-speaking region (that is, they form a dialect chain), shading into the regional Low German dialects of northern Germany. Modern standard literary Dutch developed under the successive influence of the dialects of Flanders, Brabant, and Holland, during the times of their respective political and economic hegemony. The Dutch language may be divided into three main periodsOld, Middle, and Modern Dutch.
Old Dutch extends to about 1100. The only important extant monument of this period is a translation of the Psalter.
Middle Dutch extends from 1100 to 1550. The language during this period underwent changes in sounds and inflections; no standard written form was at first recognized, and writers used local dialects. In the 13th century a determined effort was made to establish a literary Dutch, the leader in the movement being the poet Jacob van Maerlant (1225-91). The use of dialects, however, continued.
Modern Dutch extends from 1550 to the present day. The most important event in the history of the language during this period was the publication from 1619 to 1637 of the Statenbijbel, the authorized version of the Scriptures, which did much to spread this form of Dutch in the Low Countries. The effect of this translation was similar to that of the High German version of the Bible by Martin Luther in establishing a standard of language and orthography that was generally recognized as authoritative. This standard language spread first in the Dutch Republic of the 17th century. In the Netherlandic-speaking part of Belgium, which was under successive Spanish, Austrian, and French domination between 1516 and 1814, the language lost its position as a vehicle of culture until its restoration by the Flemish national movement in the 19th century. After World War II, government-sponsored measures were taken to reform Dutch orthography and to effect uniformity of usage in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Frisian Language, language of the historical Frisian people, now an official language in the Dutch province of Friesland, with dialects still spoken on the Frisian Islands, and in a few German villages. Frisian, most closely related to English, belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group in the western branch of the Germanic languages. Similar Frisian and English words include boi (boy), tolve (twelve), and hy (he). Frisian was once the prominent tongue along the North Sea coast and on nearby islands, from the present Dutch-Belgian border to the modern German-Danish border. Since the 16th century, Frisian has gradually been replaced by Dutch and Low German, but it was revived in the 20th century.