The Dutch language is also known as Netherlandic or Nederlands. Dutch belongs to the Low Franconian group of the West Germanic languages. Afrikaans, amongst many other languages, is derived from Dutch.
Dutch, the official language of the Netherlands and Suriname, a former Dutch colony, is spoken by approximately 27 million people. The name "Dutch" originates from the ancestor of Germanic languages, Proto-Germanic.
Old Dutch (c450-c1150)
Dutch is descended from Old Frankish. Its evolution began with the Second Germanic consonant shift. Not all Old Frankish dialects participated in the consonant shift, including Dutch. Old Frankish dialects that did not take part in consonant shift became known as Old Low Franconian and, thus, the appellation of Old Dutch was given. Old Low Franconian had two subgroups: East Low Franconian and West Low Franconian. Eventually Dutch became the dominant language and East Low Franconian merged into West Low Franconian.
Aside from a few sentences, the only surviving written text from this period is a Book of Psalms translation.
Middle Dutch (c1150-c1500)
Written texts from the Middle Dutch period show there was no standard written Dutch. People wrote phonetically in their local dialects, which lead to different pronunciations.
Spelling was irregular with words spelled in multiple ways, sometimes within the same text. During this time, the traditional Latin alphabet was used but it was unsuitable, as it did not contain enough letters for the Dutch language. Authors used personal choices, such as "c" versus "k", when spelling words.
Writers were faced with Dutch words with vowel and consonant sounds which were not addressed by the Latin alphabet. Long and short vowels were not differentiated at that time leading to confusion. Some authors duplicated vowels, while others added an "i" or "e".
In the 1200's, there was an attempt to establish a standard written form, which had limited success as texts continued to be written in local dialects.
Middle Dutch used a case system, but this was substantially phased out during this era.
Modern Dutch (c1500-present)
Written Modern Dutch emerged from the Flemish dialect. At the beginning of this era, Flanders and Brabant were culturally important and the Flemish dialect became prominent. Antwerp fell to the Spanish in 1585 and refugees fled north to Holland where the Flemish dialect entrenched itself.
A standard written version of Dutch was further established by a translation of the Scriptures between 1619 and 1637. Standard written Dutch and spelling spread along with distribution of the translation.
Since that time, grammar has been simplified and some pronunciations altered, but Dutch remains essentially unchanged.
Modern spoken standard Dutch differs from written Dutch. The vernacular was derived from dialects in the North, while the writing system was imported from the South. Written Dutch is more formal than spoken Dutch. Spoken Dutch still has many dialects spoken mainly by older citizens and in rural areas, while most towns and cities speak the official standard form.
Today the Dutch Language Union ("Nederlandse Taalunie"), established in 1980, seeks to standardize the Dutch language. The Union is not responsible for the language's regulation. The Union publishes the "Wordlist of the Dutch Language" with official spellings but does not provide the meanings of words. It is popularly known as the Green Booklet (due to the color of the cover).