From Brabantian to Fries: The different languages, dialects and accents of the Netherlands
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Many are surprised to hear that a country as small as the Netherlands not only has several dialects, but even multiple languages, with each province or region, and even some individual towns, having their own accent or dialect. So, let’s dive into the main accents and dialects (and even another official language) used in the Netherlands that are not Dutch!
The two official languages: Dutch and Frisian
Despite Dutch being a pretty difficult language to learn, there is another language in the Netherlands that is said to be even harder. The inhabitants of the northern province of Friesland, with the city of Leeuwarden as capital (about 125.000 inhabitants), speak, besides Dutch, their own language: Frisian, or Frysk in Dutch.
Alongside Dutch, Frisian is recognised as the only other official language within the Netherlands. In fact, more than half of the inhabitants of the province of Friesland (Fryslân in Frisian) speak Frisian as their native language. The province aims to preserve its language, with Frisian being a mandatory subject in both primary and secondary schools of the Frisian speaking districts. In some schools, Frisian is even used as the language of instruction in some lessons.
If you happen to be in the beautiful rural province of Friesland, known for its water sports and ice skating, you might want to say: Binne hjir ek minsken dyt Ingelsk praten? (Is there someone here who speaks English?)
Dialects: Brabantian, Limburgish Dutch and Gronings
The most well-known dialects in the Netherlands can be heard in the provinces of Noord-Brabant, Limburg and Groningen.
In the southern province of Noord-Brabant, the Dutch spoken by its residents (called Brabanders) is quite similar to “standard” Dutch. As Noord-Brabant borders Belgium, it is not surprising that the dialect is rather similar to the Flemish (Belgian) accent. That brings us right to the one major advantage of living in Noord-Brabant if you’re learning the Dutch language. Are you having trouble with the hard “g” sound? Brabanders have, just like the Flemish, a softer one, which is easier to pronounce.
However, the Brabantian dialect is not just limited to the softer “g” sound; it is also known for leaving the last letter of a word unspoken. Wat (what) becomes wa, and so on. One of the most characteristic phrases must be houdoe (take care), where colloquial Dutch use doei (bye).
Heading even more south, we reach the province of Limburg. Although frequently misunderstood as such, “Limburgish” does not refer to the regional variation of Dutch spoken in Limburg, but to a whole different language. However, since the language is not acknowledged as an official language, we will stick to the “Limburgish Dutch”, which is the Limburgish dialect and a variation of Dutch. What characterises this dialect is mainly the tonality. It is often, even for foreigners, quite easy to pick out the Limburgish Dutch dialect because of its questioning tone at the end of most sentences.
Finally, we go all the way to the North of the Netherlands. In the province of Groningen, the Gronings dialect is spoken by 80% of all inhabitants in the province and its surroundings. You might hear Dutch people imitating this dialect in a stereotypical farmer’s accent. This makes sense when you realise that the largest part of this province consists of countryside and farms!
The most remarkable thing about the Gronings dialect is the different words they use, some of which have nothing to do with colloquial Dutch. One funny word is geliekproater (lawyer), literally translated to something like “the one that is right”. In colloquial Dutch, lawyer would be translated as advocaat.
Crossing borders… all the way to South Africa!
In the 17th Century, which is also referred to as the “Gouden Eeuw” (Golden Century) because of the wealth gained during the 1600s, Dutch made its appearance in Zuid-Afrika (South Africa) when Dutch colonists founded the Dutch Cape Colony at Kaap de Goede Hoop (the Cape of Good Hope). As a consequence, Dutch was used until the twentieth century as the cultural language of the Afrikaners.
Although Afrikaans is recognised as a fully-fledged language, in the Netherlands it's still seen as a Dutch dialect when it comes to Dutch literature. For example, African-Dutch writer Elisabeth Eybers won the Constantijn Huygens Prize in 1978 and the P.C. Hooft Prize in 1991 for her complete Afrikaans-language oeuvre. Both prizes are only awarded to Dutch-speaking writers, from which it may be concluded that her Afrikaans-language work is generally considered to belong to Dutch literature.
Are you curious about the Dutch culture, including its different dialects and accents? The Dutch language courses by Taalthuis not only make you familiar with the Dutch language but also give you a taste of the culture and peculiarities that the Netherlands has to offer. Check out their Dutch language courses offer and pick your favourite!