Dutch is the third most spoken Germanic language with about 22 million native speakers. Most speakers of Dutch reside in the Netherlands and Flanders, although there exists small populations of Dutch-speakers in northern France, Aruba, Suriname and Indonesia. It was also historically spoken in places as diverse as Colonial America and Belgian Africa, the latter which would evolve into the Afrikaans language. It is a member of the West Germanic branch of languages, which also includes German, Frisian and English, although it also contains features characteristic of the North Germanic languages like Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. In Flanders (in the north of Belgium) a similar language, Flemish, is spoken, which differs from Dutch somewhat in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation.
The origins of Dutch can be traced back to 450-500 CE when the Old Frankish language split into what would become the High and Low German languages. In Old Frankish, an early version of German, consonants like p, t and k that were once pronounced just as in English began to lose their hard, ‘voiced’ quality. As a result, they acquired more of a soft, hissing sound called ‘affrication,’ which is created by simultaneously blocking airflow (as when clearing the throat) and blowing air through a gap between the tongue and roof of the mouth or between the lips. While the High German languages incorporated this shift, which lead to the modern-day German accent, the Low German languages retained these hard consonants, leading to what would be the Dutch (and later English) pronunciation.
During the 1100s, the Dutch were referred to as Diets and their language evolved out of five different dialects, including West Flemish, East Flemish, Zealandic, Brabantian and Hollandic. Although the dialects were all somewhat similar, a desire for standardization resulted in a period of rapid change in the Dutch language that produced the first Dutch translation of the Bible in 1637.
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