Dutch (or Nederlands) is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European family. It is the native idiom of about 23 million people, and the second language of at least 5 millions. It is the official language of The Netherlands, spoken by 96% of the population, and one of the official languages of Belgium (spoken by an estimated 59% of the total population mostly concentrated in the Flemish region and the Brussels Capital Region), Suriname (spoken by about 60% of the population), as well as Aruba and the Netherland Antilles, both part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In these autonomous islands, however, and in spite of its official status, Dutch is spoken only by about 8% of the total population, although most people have a general understanding of it.
Dutch is considered a descendant of several Frankish dialects spoken in the Middle Ages. Its linguistic evolution is generally divided in three major periods: Old Dutch (450-1150); Middle Dutch (1150-1500); and Modern Dutch (1500 to present). Standardization of the idiom began in the course of the 16th century. The translation and publication of the first Dutch Bible in the first half of the seventeenth century was a significant step in creating a standard vernacular that could be understood by all members of the United Provinces, the geo-political entity that eventually became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Dutch has also left a profound linguistic legacy in South Africa, where the idiom once spoken by the Boer, or Dutch and Flemish farmer who settled in hinterland areas of modern-day South Africa, eventually evolved into Afrikaans. Today, Dutch is no longer listed in the South African Constitution as one of the country’s official languages, though linguists estimate that about 90% of Afrikaans lexicon is of Dutch origin. In theory, Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible, though variations can also be substantial and it is not always a given that speakers of one language have a clear understanding of the other. Overall, Dutch continues to be claimed as the native language of over 13% of South Africans
Dutch is written using the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the digraph IJ. The Dutch vocabulary is mostly Germanic, but contains also words of Greek and Latin origins. More recently, French and English borrowings have been added to the Dutch lexicon. Overall, the Dutch vocabulary is believed to be one of the richest in the world, listing almost 186,000 headwords.
Dutch literary production comprises a substantial amount of work by authors who are not from The Netherlands proper. To an Early Modern colorful production of Dutch folklore, mainly epics, legends and fairy tales, is opposed a literary decline in the post-WWII era. Critics note that a pillarization of cultural and social life in the Dutch speaking world in Europe (when religious and ideological movements like Catholicism, Protestantism, Socialism and Liberalism became compartments at once segregated from one another,) eventually forced an aridification of literary movements.
With Harry Mulisch and Gerard Reve, Willem F. Hermans embodies an existentialist approach. His novels, short stories, poetry, essays and scientific and philosophical works are laden with austere, short and piercing sentences.
"A still tongue makes a wise head.”