The Germanic Languages, form a subfamily of the Indo-European
languages. Germanic languages are spoken by more than 480 million
people in northern and western Europe, North America, South Africa,
In their structure and evolution they fall into three branches:
1. East Germanic (extinct): the Gothic language and some
other extinct languages. Substantial information survives only for Gothic.
2. North Germanic or Scandinavian: the western group - the Icelandic language, the Norwegian language, and Faroese (intermediate between Icelandic and western Norwegian dialects); eastern group - the Danish language and the Swedish language.
3. West Germanic: the Anglo-Frisian group - the English language and the Frisian language; Netherlandic-German group - the Netherlandic, or Dutch-Flemish and the Low German (Plattdeutsch, the dialect spoken at the farm) dialects, Afrikaans, the German language or High German, and the Yiddish language.
The Netherlandic-German dialects form a speech area in which speech varies gradually from one village to the next, although over wide distances greater differences accumulate. Also, in both areas more than one literary norm arose, corresponding to political and historical divisions.
The Dutch Language, 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
(now only as patois). In Belgium and France the language is usually
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 as does the dialect of the
Nevenzel's in Den Ham.
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 periods-Old, 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. 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.