Dutch (Nederlands) is a West Germanic language spoken by approximately 22 million people. It is the main language of the Netherlands and Suriname, and one of the official languages of Belgium. The Dutch language in the Netherlands, Belgium and Suriname is regulated by the Nederlandse Taalunie.
Status in Belgium
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Only in the five northern provinces, collectively known as the "Flemish Region" (Vlaams Gewest), is Dutch the official language where it is also unofficially labeled as Vlaams meaning Flemish. Until the 19th century, the majority of the population in Brussels, the Belgian capital, still had Dutch as its native language. However due to favored position of French following the establishment of the Belgian Kingdom, many Flemings were forced to speak French in order to achieve a higher status in society. This lead to the increase of French speakers in the city and its surroundings. Today, only a small portion of Brussels' inhabitants speak Dutch as a native language.
The development of the Dutch language is divided into three periods: Old Dutch, Middle Dutch, and Modern Dutch. Old Dutch developed mainly from a group of West Germanic dialects called Istvaeonic. Next to that, the language also contained North Sea Germanic influences due to its proximity to the North Sea and influences from the nearby Frisians who in some areas lived together with the Low Frankish tribes (ancestors of the Dutch-speaking people). During the Middle Ages, Dutch underwent some influence from French but this never extended to the same degree as with the English language.
Old Dutch started to distinguish itself from other West Germanic dialects during the 7th century by the lengthening of vowels between to consonants and the realization of -ks- to -ss- and -ft- to -ht-; better → beter,foxes → vusso, and after → ahter. Although most literature in these times was Latin, some sources written in Old Dutch have been preserved including the famous citation of a Flemish monk residing in England. Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan, hinase hic enda thu, wat unbidan we nu? "All birds have begun their nests, except for me and you, what are we waiting for now?"
About 1150, Old Dutch developed into Middle Dutch. By this time, some changes had occured in the language's phonology. The unstressed vowels in words were reduced to a schwa sound, vogala → vogele, and the "th" sound was realized as "d", thu → du. In the following centuries, literature in Dutch, then called Diets started to imerge including Leven van Sente Servas and the first encyclopedia written in the Dutch language Der Naturen Bloemen.
During the 15th century Middle Dutch evolved into Modern Dutch. By this time the phonology had changed to what it is today. The "sc" changed into "sch" and the long "i" in some words became "ij", pronounced as ɛɪ. In the 17th century, the Dutch Reformed Church translated the Bible into their own language which marked the beginning of a Dutch standard language. This form of Dutch was most influenced by the Southern dialect, Flemish and Brabantian, where the cultural center was located. Later, it was much influenced by the dialect of Holland which was the most powerful province of the Dutch Republic.