9 Surprising Facts About the Dutch Language
Amsterdam is famous for its beautiful houses, its picturesque canals, and its bohemian appeal. But even though everyone’s heard stories about what you can do and buy in this liberal city, fewer are familiar with the language that’s spoken by its inhabitants. Indeed, with over 20 million native speakers, Dutch is by no means a minor language. But did you know that it’s an official language not only in the Netherlands, but also in a country in South America? Or that many of its slang words come from Hebrew? Indeed, Dutch is full of quirks and surprises: here’s some of the most interesting of them all.
Image via Massimo Catarinella / Wikipedia
1. There are lots and lots of compound words.
Dutch is closely related to German, which is notorious for having long compound words. In the same vein, the Dutch language has monstrosities like Meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornis (multiple personality disorder), with a whopping total of 35 letters.
2. Nouns have no case.
Given its similarity to German, one might expect that Dutch would have the same nightmarish array of cases for all of its nouns. Fortunately for learners, Dutch nouns have no case. As an added bonus, Dutch nouns have only two genders (masculine and feminine): it lacks the neuter gender that German has, so learners have one less thing to memorize.
3. Dutch shares over half its vocabulary with English.
English and Dutch are both Germanic languages, and as such, they share plenty of vocabulary. Native English speakers who go grocery shopping in a Dutch supermarket will find familiar names such as appel (apple), tomaat (tomato), and banaan (banana).
4. Dutch is the easiest language for English speakers to learn.
How well you can learn a language depends on lots of things, such as how motivated you are to learn it. However, due the similar grammar and vocabulary of Dutch and English, linguists agree that Dutch is generally the easiest language for English speakers to learn.
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5. Dutch has some seriously gnarly consonant clusters.
Don’t get too excited, English speakers: Dutch may be the easiest language for you to learn, but it comes with its challenges. For example, many Dutch words are tongue twisters within themselves, containing several consonants in a row. Angstschreeuw (“a scream of fear”), for instance, has eight; slechtstschrijvend (“worst writing”) has nine.
6. Dutch has “given birth” to other languages.
Due to Dutch colonization in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch language spread all across the globe. In South Africa, however, Dutch began to take on a life of its own, and in the 18th century, developed unique characteristics that distinguish it from Dutch. Presently, Afrikaans, which is spoken by over 6 million in South Africa, is considered to be an entirely different language from Dutch.
7. It’s not just spoken in Europe.
Dutch is spoken as an official language in the Netherlands and Belgium, and the majority of its 20 million speakers reside in those two countries. However, Dutch is also an official language in the South American country of Suriname, a country of about 500,000 inhabitants in the northeast portion of the Amazon Rainforest.
This building might look like a traditional estate in the Netherlands, but it’s actually the Presidential Palace of Suriname. Image via Ian Mackenzie / Wikipedia
8. Much of its slang originates from Hebrew.
The Netherlands has historically upheld religious tolerance, and as such, it’s home to a sizable Jewish population. Because of this, many slang terms used in the Netherlands are of Hebrew origin. Some examples include geinig (funny), mazzel (lucky), and tof (cool/good).
9. Both waffles and coleslaw are of Dutch origin.
Waffles are now a staple breakfast food in the English-speaking world, but the word historically comes from the Dutch wafel. Interestingly, coleslaw also finds its origins in Dutch: koolsla means “cabbage salad”.
Though Belgian waffles may be a more representative treat, now you also know that coleslaw has its roots in the Dutch language, too!
Linguists estimate that Dutch, given its similarities to English, is one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn. But without instruction from a professionally trained native Dutch speaker, you might get lost in its consonant clusters and 33-letter words. Let us help you learn Dutch: send us a quick inquiry to learn more our course and package options.