Dutch is a West Germanic language spoken by around 23 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the third most widely spoken Germanic language, after English and German.
Historically, Dutch was the language of commerce and government in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia), and was also spoken by the Dutch settlers in South Africa. Today, Dutch is an official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, Sint Maarten, and the European Union. It is also an official language of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Dutch grammar is similar to that of other Germanic languages, but it has some unique features, such as the use of the article het (the) as a neutral gender pronoun, and the use of the word er (there) as a dummy subject. Dutch vocabulary includes many loanwords from French, German, and other languages.
The earliest known examples of Dutch date from the 9th century, when it was spoken in the Frankish Empire. Dutch emerged as a distinct language in the 12th century, when it was spoken in the County of Holland. The Dutch Golden Age (17th century) saw the development of a rich literature in Dutch, including works by the Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel and the Dutch poet and theologian Jacob Cats.
In the 19th century, the Dutch colonial empire reached its greatest extent, and Dutch became the lingua franca of the Dutch East Indies. However, the Dutch language began to decline in the East Indies after Indonesian independence in 1945.
In Belgium, Dutch is spoken by about 60% of the population, but it is rapidly declining in favor of French. In the province of Flanders, however, Dutch is still the dominant language.
In the Netherlands, Dutch is the official language, but it is not the only language spoken. In addition to Dutch, Frisian is also spoken in the province of Friesland. In the north and east of the Netherlands, Low Saxon dialects are also spoken.