Where do the Dutch come from?

Structure and history of Dutch An introduction to Dutch linguistics


Dutch, Dutch, Flemish: you can get confused. And where does the English word 'Dutch' come from? A brief explanation of the different names for the Dutch language provides information.
Anyone who says history of language also says language change. You can find out more about this in the chapter on language change. Both internal and external language history are covered on these pages.

Prehistory: from Indo-European to Dutch

The beginning of the Dutch language is believed by linguists around the year 700 AD. settled. But what was before that time? The historical background and the development of the Germanic language family, to which Dutch belongs, are important here.


As the oldest written Germanic language, Gothic is an important source for the reconstruction of the earlier Common Germanic language phase, from which Dutch also emerged. The basis of research for the most important characteristics of Gothic is the translation of the Bible by Bishop Wulfila (around 350 AD). The text Atta unsar ("Our Father") gives an impression of the now extinct East Germanic language.

Old Dutch (before 1150)

There are very few surviving texts available for research into the oldest language phase of Dutch. Nevertheless, on their basis we can determine the most important linguistic features that distinguish Old Dutch from the following Middle Dutch phase. The developments in the linguistic field must of course be viewed against the historical background of the Netherlands in the Middle Ages.

Middle Dutch (approx. 1150 - 1500)

Numerous texts have come down to us from the Middle Ages, which give us an impression of the diversity of Middle Dutch, the spelling and the presumed pronunciation of the words and the development of the negative. The material also gives insights into the case system and other grammatical aspects such as the properties of the verb or the word order. During this time, when Latin and French had a great influence on Dutch, the first dictionaries were created.

The 16th and 17th centuries

In the 16th century we see the transition from Middle Dutch to New Dutch. The historical developments in the 16th and 17th centuries are of great importance. Diphthongization spreads from Holland, while the written language continues to be influenced by Latin (see Latin constructions). The glorification of Dutch, supported above all by the "rederijkers", and the closely related attempts at linguistic purism serve as impulses for the development of the standard Dutch language. The Bible translation from 1637, the first Dutch grammar that Twe-spraack, and dictionaries.

From the 18th to the 20th century

In the 18th century, a true cult of the written standard Dutch language emerged. The "language builders" strive for a written language, but resistance to its artificial character increases and in the 19th century leads to a simplification of the language. The Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands (ABN, "Standard Dutch") developed from the growing attention to the spoken language. Different grammars and dictionaries describe New Dutch, which differs from the previous period through various linguistic change processes. Lexicography continues to develop in the 20th century. Dutch spelling remains a sensitive issue after various reforms.

Dutch in Belgium

Dutch in Belgium shows its own development. At this point, the historical background is discussed and the language dispute that was waged for Dutch in an area that was long dominated by the French language is explained in more detail. The standardization of Dutch in Belgium deserves special attention.


Dutch in the 21st century

Will Dutch be displaced by English? Are the dialects disappearing? Are Dutch in the Netherlands and Dutch in Belgium diverging? Is the 'ABN' doomed? These questions come up when we think about the future of Dutch.

Related languages

For those studying the history of the Dutch language, closely related languages ​​such as Frisian and Afrikaans are also very interesting. Frisian is not a Dutch dialect, but an independent West Germanic language that developed parallel to Dutch. Afrikaans emerged from Dutch in the 17th century and only became an independent language over the past three centuries.

Back to the table of contents