Dutch language
Both Belgium and the Netherlands use a common literary language, termed modern standard Dutch, although local spoken dialects often differ considerably from the standard form of the language. The language spoken in Belgium is called Flemish there, though many linguists believe it is just a dialect of Dutch. The dialects vary gradually from village to village across the Dutch-speaking region-that is, they form a dialect chain-shading into the regional Low German dialects of northern Germany. In the Netherlands the number of people using dialects is decreasing. Modern standard Dutch developed under the successive influence of the dialects of Flanders, Brabant, and Holland-states in the historic Netherlands region-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 poet Jacob van Maerlant. The use of dialects, however, continued.

The most important event in the history of the language during the modern 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 Dutch-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. In 1898 the Belgian government granted the Dutch language (its Flemish form) official status alongside French, although it did not become the sole official language of present-day Flanders until 1938. After World War II (1939-1945), measures sponsored by the governments of Belgium and the Netherlands were taken to reform Dutch orthography and to effect uniformity of usage in the two countries.

Dutch and Flemish Links