Names for the Dutch language

Names for the Dutch language

Because of the turbulent history of both the Netherlands and Belgium (mostly because of the frequent change of economic and military power within the Low Countries), the names that other peoples have chosen to use to refer to the Dutch language vary more than for most other languages. The modern Dutch name for the language is Nederlands.

In general, the names for the Dutch language can be arranged in seven groups according to their origin.

Note: Some languages use multiple forms.


Historical overview

In English the language of the people of the Netherlands and Flanders is referred to as Dutch; or rarely as Netherlandic,[1] a term with multiple meanings. Dutch as a word is derived from Middle Dutch duutsch, dūtsch and was originally applied to continental West-Germanic speakers, be it of Dutch, Frisian or German origin. By 1600, it had come to be used exclusively as the language spoken in Flanders and the current Netherlands. The exclusive use of Dutch for the people of the Netherlands occurred after the Dutch formed an independent state and became the focus of English commercial rivalry.[2]

The origin of the name Nederlands

In modern Dutch, the language is called Nederlands, which derives from "neder" (meaning low, or low-lying) and land,[3] with the adjective-forming suffix -isch attached. In principle, Nederland could be used for any lowland region, but historically the use of Nederland became more restricted as a proper name for the Dutch country.

From Dūtsch to Nederlands

Before the appearance of Nederlands, several variations on Diets (Northern) and Duuts (Southern) were used to refer to the Dutch language by its speakers. Etymologically, these all mean common language or (language) of the common people, and was meant to create a distinction between Latin, which was at the time the language of science, nobility and the Church. These terms also had cognates in German, which still uses one of the German variants - Deutsch - as the name of the German language. The late 16th century,[4] influenced by an expanded worldview and beginnings of (semi-) modern linguistics, saw the addition of the prefix Neder-, thus creating Nederduits.[5] The approximate meaning of Nederduits is common language of the Lowlands; its usage and meaning illustrated by the quote below;

Neemt hy voor in Nederduitsch , zijn moederlijcke tale te zingen; des hoeft hy zich zoo luttel te schamen als de Hebreen, Griecken, Latijnen ... Wat onze spraeck belangt, die is, sedert weinige jaren herwaert, van bastertwoorden en onduits allengs geschuimt, en gebouwt, en geeft den leerling nu veel vooruit

["If he decides to sing in Dutch, his mother tongue, he needs to be no more ashamed of it than the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans ... As concerns our own language, in recent years it has been cleansed of loan words and un-Dutch usage, improved, and now gives the pupil great advantage"] Joost van den Vondel, Aenleidinge ter Nederduitsche Dichtkunste, 1650.

Until the middle of the 18th century, this term was quite popular among both scholars and writers of literature. [6] Not only because it was perceived as modern, but also because Neder also means humble in Dutch, thus invoking the sense of a humble language, forming a wordplay, which appealed to the highly religious Dutch people of the time.[7] Nederduits mistakenly looked like it then meant Low German, which is the literal translation of the word in contemporary Dutch. This was caused by the emergence of modern Germanic linguistic studies in Germany during the 19th century, which used the term Niederdeutsch for the Germanic languages/dialects which did not experience the second Germanic sound shift. Dutch linguists subsequently calqued the terminology, and used Nederduits as its translation.[8]

Until the late 18th century, Diets (and variants) remained the most common forms to refer to the Dutch language. The use of the term Nederlands, which eventually replaced its synonyms in Dutch, is first attested to in a work printed at Gouda in 1482. ([9]) After that, Nederlands began to replace them as the main form. Diets was already rarely used several decades prior to the Second World War, but disappeared completely from everyday use following 1945 because Dutch fascists, during German occupation, had used the term extensively in their propaganda, attempting to invoke (through its common etymological origin with a link with Deutsch) linkage to a "Greater Germanic race".[10]


The term Flemish (Vlaams) is used to describe the majority of Dutch dialects found in Belgium. It is derived from the name of the County of Flanders, from Middle Dutch vlāmisch, vlemesch "Fleming, Flemish person".


From Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz, "folk":

The English word "Dutch" is derived from the Middle Dutch word "duutsch". Old English itself had the related word "þeod", meaning "people, race or nation", which derives from Proto Germanic "*theudo". Originally this word was used to indicate all continental Germanic people who spoke a West Germanic language, but was later restricted to the Dutch language and the Dutch people.


The word Dutch comes from the proto-Germanic word *þiudiskaz, and became Duutsc in Middle Dutch, which later gave the two early modern Dutch forms, Duits in the County of Holland and the Duchy of Brabant, and Diets in the County of Flanders.[11] Duits has taken on the meaning of "German" and Diets meaning "Dutch" (along with "Nederlands") but no longer in general use (see the Diets article), dropped for its Nazi-era overtones. German Deutsch meaning "German" has the same origin.[12][13]

The English word Dutch has also changed with time. It was only around 1550, with growing cultural and economic contacts and the rise of an independent country, that the modern meaning arose, i.e., 'designating the people of the Netherlands or their language'. Prior to this, the meaning was more general and could refer to any Germanic-speaking area or the languages there (including the current Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as well as the Netherlands). For example:

  • William Caxton (c. 1422–91) wrote in his Prologue to his Aeneids in 1490 that an old English text was more akin to Dutche than English. In his notes, Professor W.F. Bolton makes clear that this word means German in general rather than Dutch.
  • In four books containing the Chronography and History of the whole world, Vol. II (London, 1677: 154) contains "…the Dutch call Leibnitz," adding that Dutch is spoken in the parts of Hungary adjoining to Germany.

Language of Holland

During the Dutch golden age in which the Netherlands became a world power and established their empire, the province of Holland was the richest and most influential. Also, foreign visitors often only stayed in the province of Holland. Hence the language of the Dutch is often named after this province.

From Dutch Hollands:

Language of the Low Countries

From "Low Countries" (literal translations of Dutch Nederlands):

Some languages have literally translated "Language of the Low Countries", as in the English word "Nether-land-ic" meaning "(of the) Low Countries".

From or cognate with "Netherlands" (Dutch Nederlands referring to Nederland or (de) Nederlanden):

In Dutch "Nederland" refers to the country the Netherlands"; however, "Nederlands" (Dutch) does not refer to the "language of the country of the Netherlands", but rather "language of the Low Countries (including Flanders)". Many languages have a word for the Dutch language derived from this word (such as French), or have a cognate (such as West Frisian).

Language of Flanders

From "Flemish" (Dutch Vlaams) or from the region this refers to: "Flanders" (Dutch Vlaanderen)


  1. ^ Britannica on Netherlandic Language; see also C.B. van Haeringen, Netherlandic language research. Men and works in the study of Dutch, 2nd edition, Leiden: Brill 1960.
  2. ^ Dutch, Online Etymological Dictionary.
  3. ^ As based on the WNT, the Dictionary of the Dutch language.
  4. ^ As based on WNT, the Dictionary of the Dutch language, entry:NEDERDUITSCH.
  5. ^ Nederlandse taalkunde, by M.C van den Toorn, (ISBN 9027452458 - 1973)
  6. ^ Geschiedenis van het Nederlands by M. Van der Wal. Middelnederlands.
  7. ^ Nederlandse taalkunde, by M.C van den Toorn, (ISBN 9027452458 - 1973)
  8. ^ As based on WNT, Dictionary of the Dutch language, entry NEDERDUITS.
  9. ^ Rijpma & Schuringa, Nederlandse spraakkunst, Groningen 1969, p. 20.)
  10. ^ Nederlandse taalkunde, by M.C van den Toorn, (ISBN 9027452458 - 1973)
  11. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: MDu. dutsch, duutsch, duutsc, ‘Hollandish, or, in a wider sense, Netherlandish, and even German’ (Verdam), in early mod. Du. duytsch, now duitsch, ‘German’, = Ger. deutsch, MHG. diutsch, ‘German’, OHG. diutisc, popular, vulgar.
    OHG. diutisc, OS. thiudisc, OE. þéodisc, Goth. *þiudisks: OTeut. *þeudisko-z, meant ‘popular, national’, f. OTeut. *þeudâ-, Goth. þiuda, ON. þjóð, OS. thioda, thiod, OE. þéod (ME. THEDE), OHG. diota, diot, people, nation. In Germany, the adj. was used (in the 9th c.) as a rendering of L. vulgaris, to distinguish the ‘vulgar tongue’ from the Latin of the church and the learned; hence it gradually came to be the current denomination of the vernacular, applicable alike to any particular dialect, and generically to German as a whole.
  12. ^ American Heritage Dictionary: Pennsylvania Dutch: Dutch.
  13. ^ American Heritage Dictionary: Pennsylvania Dutch.

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