The Dutch people (Dutch: ) are the dominant ethnic group of the Netherlands. Dutch people or descendants of Dutch people are also found in migrant communities world wide, and form a noteworthy part of the population of Canada,Australia, South Africa and the United States.
The Dutch language is a West Germanic language spoken natively by 22 million people. Historically, Dutch has been spoken in the coastal lowlands east of the North Sea known as the Low Countries and parts of northern France. In the present-day Netherlands the number of native speakers is about 91%. Dutch is also spoken natively by a slight majority of the population of Belgium (59%) known as the Flemings.
In the course of their history the Dutch grew from a largely rural society to one of the most urbanized in the world, with 50% of the total population already living in cities by 1500 AD. The traditional art and culture of the Dutch encompasses various forms of traditional music, dances, architectural styles and clothing, some of which are globally recognisable; although the Dutch also have a strong presence in modernist, and post-modern arts. The most important religion of the Dutch is Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), although in modern times the majority is no longer openly religious and significant percentages of the Dutch are adherents of humanism, agnosticism, atheism or individual spirituality.
Though always being relatively autonomous within the system of European Feudalism, it was only in the 17th century that the first independent Dutch state, the Dutch Republic, became fully independent. The Republic became a major power and lead to the first series of large scale migration outside of Europe.
Another possible way of defining Dutch ethnicity is to look at the common use of this term in sociological studies or in governmental reports. In this context, 'Dutch ethnicity' is often used interchangeably with the term autochtoon to distinguish members of the culturally dominant group of the Netherlands from those of non-Western immigrant groups. However, the legal terms allochtoon and autochtoon are acknowledged to be somewhat ill-suited for their purpose, as they are ultimately based on citizenship rather than cultural background.
Conversely, some historical Dutch migrant communities in the United States may be considered ethnical groups in the true, 'classical' sense. Here, within the context of relations between indigenous and migrant groups, 'Dutch ethnicity' may be a useful descriptive tool.
A related issue, the question of Dutch cultural identity, has become more important in public debate following the increasing influence of the European Union and the influx of non-Western immigrants in the post-World War II period. In this debate 'typically Dutch traditions' have been put to the foreground, ranging from a history of political and religious tolerance to the celebration of the feast of Sinterklaas, whose popularity, after initially receding before that of Santa Claus for some years, has seen something of a revival recently. Whether such phenomena and the surrounding discussions are more fittingly described as 'cultural' and 'national identity' or as 'ethnic' is a question to which the answer may vary according to each individual's personal and/or professional disposition.
The earliest traces of the ethnogenesis of the Dutch people can seen as far back as the Early Middle Ages. There was a significant increase of Dutch identity in the Late Middle Ages and early modern times (c. 1450-1650).
The Franks, who in the Early Middle Ages conquered and partially colonized the area corresponding to the modern day Netherlands, played a major role in laying down the elements that would later be part of Dutch culture by introducing and consolidating Christianity and imposing the social and administrative structures of the Frankish state. The Franks themselves are mentioned first as a loose federation of tribes that inhabited the region north and east of the Roman limes in the 3rd century, roughly between the Rhine and the Weser, and gradually expanded into northern Gaul as the Western Roman empire collapsed in the course of the 4th and 5th centuries, first as foederati under Roman overlordship, later independently. The origin of the Dutch people itself, which emerged much later, cannot be established as easily in terms of ancient tribal societies. For the early Middle Ages, written sources are sparse and archeological data are difficult to interpret. While most older (19th and early 20th century) historiography speaks of a division between Frisians in the north, Franks in the south and Saxons in the east, more recent research has questioned this traditional view. Especially the archeological evidence, although always hard to interpret, suggests demographic continuity for some parts of the country and depopulation and possible replacement in other parts, notably the coastal areas of Frisia and Holland.
The transition from a largely tribal and rural society to a feudal and urban one was gradual. Prior to extensive Roman contact, the Low Countries had been inhabited by rural tribal communities. The new way of living that followed the Frankish conquest ultimately made it possible for a new ethnic group to emerge. The process of Christianization coincided with the loss of traditional Germanic tribalism, in which almost every village had its personal chieftain or even king, and also with the continued evolution of the Dutch language (which diverged itself greatly from other Germanic dialects during this period).
As Western Europe emerged from the Migration Period, feudal states filled in the power vacuum left by the fall of the Roman Empire. The Low Countries were no exception and feudal society soon took hold of the region. Indeed many of most dominant fiefs have passed on their names to the modern provinces that make up the provinces of the Netherlands and Belgium. Though they shared cultural and linguistical characteristics, the Dutch were effectively politically divided as the many fiefs all had different rulers initially. In the following centuries however these various liege lords handed out a great number of town privileges, which by the 12th century (considerably earlier than in most of Europe) meant that a great deal of power had transferred from the nobility to the cities. The end of this period saw the rise of Protestantism, the Dutch being among the first to adopt this alternative form of Christianity in large numbers, and the formation of the Burgundian Netherlands which was followed by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, which were monumental steps towards Dutch autonomy. Culturally this period also saw the expansion of the Dutch into northern regions at the expense of the Frisians, and the eventual subjection of Frisia itself, while at the same time the Southern Dutch were establishing their cities (Ghent, Antwerp and Bruges) as the powerhouses of Northern Europe. The Regions of the southern Dutch were accumulating vast amounts of wealth; with Antwerp even becoming the second largest European city north of the Alps by 1560. The Dutch language also underwent a major transformation. Early in this period, Old Dutch lost much of its inflection and underwent a number of sound shifts resulting in a new stage known as Middle Dutch (c. 1150-1500).
The war eventually ended in a stalemate. The Northern Dutch reached de facto independence while the Southern Dutch (whose cultural and economic elite had fled to the North) remained under Spanish rule, resulting in a political division of the Dutch. While the power of the Southern cities was now eroding, the Northern Dutch approached the pinnacle of their wealth: they became a world power and arts and culture flourished. The Northern Dutch were now the avant-garde of Dutch culture. A practical example of this phenomenon, was the rise of painters from the North. Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hals and Steen were now the most famous Dutch painters, replacing their Southern counterparts (such as Bosch, Van Eyck and Bruegel) who had held that position in the previous era.
Dutch maritime power allowed for the establishment of colonies, though the wealth present in their homeland meant that with the exception of South Africa and the New York-area in North America, few regions saw the actual settling of Dutch colonists.
As the Northern Dutch experienced the Dutch Golden Age, the traditional range of the Dutch moved further up. The Dutch part of modern France (roughly the area of the modern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais located on the Dutch periphery, and once the center of Dutch Protestantism), collapsed among Spanish, and later French rule, leaving only 20,000 Dutch-speakers today as opposed to an estimated 410,000 in the year 1500. The French language would also increase its range into modern Belgium starting around the beginning of the 18th century. The Dutch language itself was standardized during this period, sparking both an increase in Dutch literature as well as a decrease in dialectal diversity.
Dutch wealth and influence had, by the second half of the 18th century, begun to diminish. The people had been split between Orangists, supporters of the Stadholder (a historical Dutch title, and a rare type of de facto hereditary head of state within the Dutch Republic) and the Patriots. In the minor civil war that ensued, the Patriots lost and in 1787 fled to the Dutch-speaking area of Dunkirk in France; only to return 7 years later together with the French revolutionary army and overthrow the Stadholder, who fled to Britain. The onslaught of the French revolutionary wars and the following Napoleonic wars saw Dutchmen fighting on both sides. The end of Napoleon, and growing power of Prussia, resulted in the creation of a buffer state between France and the east. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands encompassed all Dutch-speaking areas in continental Europe with the exception of those situated in northern France. The country however wasn't exclusively Dutch, and a revolt started among its French-speaking inhabitants resulted in the establishment of Belgium in 1830. The subsequent oppression of the Dutch language resulted in a movement later known as the Flemish Movement, striving for equality of the Flemish in Belgium.
The Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, while Belgium was invaded by Germany. Over a million Dutch-speaking Belgians fled to the Netherlands where they received aid, food and shelter. Over 100,000 stayed in the Netherlands the duration of the war, greatly improving the relations between both countries. After the interbellum, World War II erupted which resulted in the deaths of over 230,000 Dutchmen. The following baby boom propelled the population. In the Netherlands alone there has been a 51% increase of the totally number of ethnically Dutch inhabitants of the Netherlands since 1940.
Apart from the social and political turmoil as described above, this period was also marked with two occurrences of mass emigration. The first wave left Europe between 1850 and the start of the First World War, mainly to the United States and South Africa, but also regions belonging to the Dutch Empire, such as Indonesia. The second emigration wave lasted roughly from 1946 to 1960, which saw large Dutch emigration to not only the United States and South Africa, but also to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
With 70.4%, the Dutch have one of the highest percentages of haplogroup R1b occurrences in Northwestern Europe, comparable to that of the (combined) British population; 72%. Neighbouring populations have lower occurrence of this chromosome (French: 52.2% and Germans: 50.0%); with again a percentage similar to that of the Dutch among the inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula and French Atlantic coast. The Dutch hence fit the Atlantic Haplotype Modal, which is the primary model of peoples living along or in the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.
Within the R1b haplogroup its R1b1b2a1 subclade is most dominant, and in fact peaks in occurrence among the Dutch and Frisians at 37.2%. The Dutch share this high rate with the people in Southwest England (21.4%) and Denmark (17.7%). Other haplogroups are less frequent in the Dutch population: Haplogroup E (Hg E3b1a) less than 5% and haplogroup R1a1 (3.7%). The latter is found more frequently in East of the Netherlands.
Various factors contributing to differences within the Dutch are:
Northern Dutch culture is marked by Protestantism. Though today many do not adhere to Protestantism anymore, or are only nominally part of a congregation, Protestant (influenced) values and custom are present. Generally, it can be said the Northern Dutch are more pragmatic, favor a direct approach and display a less exuberant lifestyle when compared to Southerners. On a global scale, the Northern Dutch have formed the dominant vanguard of the Dutch language and culture since the fall of Antwerp, exemplified by the use of 'Dutch' itself as the demonym for the country in which they form a majority; the Netherlands. Linguistically, Northerners speak any of the Hollandic, Zealandic and Dutch Low Saxon dialects natively, or are influenced by them when they speak the Standard form of Dutch. Economically and culturally the traditional center of the region have been the provinces of North and South Holland, or today; the Randstad, although for a brief period during the 1200s/1300s it lay in east, when various eastern towns and cities aligned themselves with the emerging Hanseatic League. The entire Northern Dutch cultural area is located in the Netherlands, its ethnically Dutch population is estimated to be just under 10,000,000.
The Southern Dutch sphere generally consists of the areas in which the population is traditionally Catholic. During the early Middle Ages up until the Dutch Revolt, the Southern regions were more powerful, as well as more culturally and economically developed. At the end of the Dutch Revolt, it became clear the Habsburgs were unable to reconquer the North, while the North's military was too weak to conquer the South, which, under the influence of the Counter-Reformation, had started to develop a political and cultural identity of its own. The Southern Dutch, including Dutch Brabant and Limburg, remained Catholic or returned to Catholicism. The Dutch dialects spoken by this group are Brabantic, Limburgish and East and West Flemish. Unlike the Northern Dutch, Southerners are spread out between three countries; Belgium (where they are known as Flemings), the Netherlands and a small (~20,000) minority living in France. The total population of the Southern Dutch cultural area is estimated at 9,500,000.
Historically however, Fleming had a much broader meaning, encompassing all Dutch, whether northern or southern. In fact, 'Flanders' was often used as a synonym to 'Low Countries', as seen in the title of a Spanish play contemporary, and referring to, the Dutch Revolt called Los amotinados de Flandes, meaning 'the rioters of Flanders'.
Historically the area that was inhabited, or controlled, by Frisians, was much larger than it is now. At its peak around the 720s it stretched from Western Flanders to southern Denmark. It should be noted that a clear Frisian identity did not exist at this time, as during the 8th century, both the people inhabiting the region as well as most of the Germanic dialects they spoke (Old Saxon, Old Dutch and Old Frisian) were still quite similar to each other. After a long period of strife Charlemagne defeated the Frisians and consolidated the Frisian lands into the Frankish Empire. Soon after his death, these territories fell apart again, and, during the Middle Ages, the Frisian territories were autonomous, under the leadership of frequently changing tribal chiefs. After a series of wars with the Dutch, specifically the Counts of Holland, starting in 1272 and ending in 1524, Frisia lost its independence, became part of the Seventeen Provinces in 1579, joined the Dutch revolt against Spain in 1568, and have remained a part of the Netherlands ever since.
Today there exists a tripartite of the original Frisians; namely the North Frisians, East Frisians and West Frisian, caused by the Frisia's constant loss of territory in the Middle Ages, but the West Frisians in the general do not feel or see themselves as part of a larger group of Frisians, and, according to a 1970 inquiry, identify themselves more with the Dutch than with East or North Frisians. Because of centuries of cohabitation and active participation in Dutch society, as well as being bilingual, the Frisians are not treated as a separate group in Dutch official statistics.
The Afrikaners are a relatively young South African and Namibian ethnic group. They are largely the descendants of Dutch emigrants augmented by smaller numbers of Rhinelandic Germans and French Huguenots, who settled around the Western Cape of South Africa around the 17th century. Initially they were divided among the Cape Dutch, and the Trekboers, before later becoming collectively known as Afrikaners.
Their main language is Afrikaans, a form of creolized Dutch, which was considered a Dutch dialect until the late 19th century. Afrikaans and Dutch are mutually intelligible, though this relation can in some fields (such as lexicon, spelling and grammar) be asymmetric, as it is easier for Dutch-speakers to understand Afrikaans than it is for Afrikaans-speakers to understand Dutch.
Many Afrikaners acknowledge that they descend, though not exclusively, from the Dutch, but, largely due to Afrikaner nationalism following the oppression of the Cape Dutch and Boers by the British Empire, which somewhat estranged the South African Dutch from their European counterparts, consider themselves to be Afrikaners, instead of Dutch.
Dutch is the language spoken by most Dutch people. It is a West Germanic language spoken by around 22 million people. The language was first attested in 470 AD, in a Frankish legal text, the Lex Salica, and has a written record of more than 1550 years.
As a West Germanic language, Dutch is related to other languages in that group such as Frisian, English and German. Many West Germanic dialects experienced a series of sound shifts. The Anglo-Frisian nasal spirant law and Anglo-Frisian brightening resulted in certain early Germanic languages evolving into what are now English and Frisian, while the Second Germanic sound shift resulted in what would become German. Dutch experienced none of these sound changes and can thus be said to occupy a central position within the West Germanic languages. Standard Dutch has a sound inventory of 13 vowels, 6 diphthongs and 23 consonants, of which the voiceless velar fricative (hard ch) is considered a well known sound, perceived as typical for the language. Other relatively well known features of the Dutch language and use are the frequent use digraphs like Oo, Ee, Uu and Aa, the ability to form long compounds and the use of diseases as profanity.
Dutch immigrants also exported the Dutch language. Dutch was spoken in United States as a native language from the arrival of the first permanent Dutch settlers in 1615, surviving in isolated ethnic pockets until ~1900, when it ceased to be spoken with the exception of 1st generation Dutch immigrants.
The Dutch language nevertheless had a significant impact on the region around New York, and it is worth noting that as of today, no American president has spoken a language other than English natively except Martin van Buren, whose first language was Dutch. Most of the Dutch immigrants of the 20th century quickly began to speak the language of their new country. For example, of the inhabitants of New Zealand, 0.7% say their home language is Dutch, despite the percentage of Dutch heritage being considerably higher.
Dutch is currently an official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles and the European Union. In South Africa, Afrikaansis spoken, a descendant of Dutch, which itself was an official language of South Africa until 1925. The Dutch, Flemish and Surinamese governments coordinate their language activities in the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union), an institution also responsible for governing the Dutch Standard language, for example in matters of orthography.Dutch go back to Proto-Germanic, the ancestor of all Germanic languages, *theudo (meaning "national/popular"); akin to Old Dutch dietsc, Old High German diutsch, Old English þeodisc and Gothic þiuda all meaning "(of) the common (Germanic) people". As the tribes among the Germanic peoples began to differentiate its meaning began to change. The Anglo-Saxons of England for example gradually stopped referring to themselves as þeodisc and instead started to use Englisc, after their tribe. On the continent *theudo evolved into two meanings: Diets (meaning "Dutch (people)" (archaic)) and Deutsch (German, meaning "German (people)"). At first the English language used (the contemporary form of) Dutch to refer to any or all of the Germanic speakers on the European mainland (e.g. the Dutch, the Flemings and the Germans). Gradually its meaning shifted to the Germanic people they had most contact with, both because their geographical proximity, but also because of the rivaltry in trade and overseas territories: the people from the Republic of the Netherlands, the Dutch.
In the Dutch language, the Dutch refer to themselves as Nederlanders. Nederlanders derives from the Dutch word "Neder", a cognate of English "Nether" both meaning "low", and "near the sea" (same meaning in both English and Dutch), a reference to the geographical texture of the Dutch homeland; the western portion of the Northern European plain. Although not as old as Diets, the term Nederlands has been in continuous use since 1250.
Dutch surnames (and surnames of Dutch origin) are generally easily recognizable. There are several main types of surnames in Dutch:
Dutch names can differ greatly in spelling. The surname Baks, for example is also recorded as Backs, Bacxs, Bakx, Baxs, Bacx Backx, Bakxs and Baxcs. Though written differently, pronunciation remains identical. Surnames of Dutch migrants in foreign environments (mainly the Anglosphere and Francophonie) are often adapted, not only in pronunciation but also in spelling.
Prior to the arrival of Christianity, the ancestors of the Dutch adhered a form of Germanic paganism augmented with various Celtic elements. At the start of the 6th century the first (Hiberno-Scottish) missionaries arrived. They were later replaced by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, who eventually succeeded in converting most of the inhabitants by the 8th century. Christianity then dominated Dutch religion until the early 16th century, when the Protestant Reformation began to form. Among the Dutch it began its spread in the Westhoek and the County of Flanders, where secret sermons were held in the outside, called hagenpreken ("hedgerow orations") in Dutch. The ruler of the Dutch regions, Philip II of Spain, felt it was his duty to fight Protestantism, and, after the wave of iconoclasm, sent troops to crush the rebellion and make the Low Countries a Catholic region once more. The Protestants, in the Southern Low Countries fled North en masse. Most of the Dutch Protestants were now concentrated in the free Dutch provinces above the river Rhine, while the Catholic Dutch were situated in the Spanish occupied or dominated South. After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Protestantism did not spread South, resulting in a religious situation, lasting to this day.
Contemporary Dutch are generally nominally Christians. People of Dutch ancestry in the United States are generally more religious than their European counterparts; for example the numerous Dutch communities of western Michigan remain strongholds of the Reformed Church in America, and the Christian Reformed Church, both descendants of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Since the Second World War Dutch Emigrants mainly went to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, (until the 1970s) to South Africa. Today Dutch immigrants can be found in most developed countries. In several former Dutch colonies and trading settlements, there are isolated ethnic groups of full or partial Dutch ancestry.
In South Africa, the Dutch settled the Cape in 1652. Initially the settlement was meant as a re-supply point and way station for Dutch East India Company vessels on their way back and forth between the Netherlands and the East Indies. The support station gradually became a settler community. However, the rural inhabitants of the colony soon began to dislike the power held by the Dutch India Company (it stopped the colony's policy of open immigration, monopolized trade, combined the administrative, legislative and judicial powers into one body, told the farmers what crops to grow, demanded a large percentage of every farmer's harvest, and harassed them.) Slowly these farmers moved away from the Cape, eventually becoming known as 'trekboers', and settled deeper into South Africa and eventually Namibia. Today the Boers and Cape Dutch are known collectively as the Afrikaners, while the descendants of Cape Dutch and local black women are known as the Basters.
Since the early 16th century there has been a Dutch presence in South East Asia, Taiwan and Japan. In many cases the Dutch were the first Europeans the natives would encounter. Interaction between the Dutch and native population mainly took place in Sri Lanka and the modern Indonesian Islands. Most of the time Dutch soldiers intermarried with local women and settled down in the colonies. Through the centuries there developed a relatively large Dutch-speaking population of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent, known as Indos or Dutch-Indonesians. The expulsion of Dutchmen following the Indonesian Revolt, means that currently the majority of this group lives in the Netherlands.
Perhaps the most successful integration of Dutch people took place in Australia and New Zealand. After the second World War thousands of Dutch people emigrated to Australia, peaking in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There are 24 Dutch language programs around Australia and weekly and monthly Dutch news papers plus many social, community and religious clubs. Despite these figures, in both Australia and New Zealand Dutch people are highly integrated. Apart from the typical Dutch surnames many descendants bear, they are largely indistinguishable from the largest ethnic groups, the Anglo-Celtic Australians (85% ) in Australia and other New Zealand Europeans in New Zealand. One major exception exists though. and this concerns senior citizens of Dutch decent, many of whom (because of old age or dementia) have lost the ability to speak English and fall back on their mother tongue; Dutch. A major social problem as they largely lack a way to communicate. Their children generally do not speak Dutch natively or sufficiently.
The Dutch had settled in America long before the establishment of the United States of America. For a long time the Dutch lived in Dutch colonies, owned and regulated by the Dutch Republic, which later became part of the Thirteen Colonies. Nevertheless, many Dutch communities remained virtually isolated towards the rest of America up until the American Civil War, in which the Dutch fought for the North and adopted many American ways.
Most future waves of Dutch immigrants were quickly assimilated. There have been three American presidents of Dutch descent: Martin van Buren (8th, first president who was not of British descent, first language was Dutch), Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd, elected to four terms in office, he served from 1933 to 1945, the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms) and Theodore Roosevelt (26th).
In Canada 923,310 Canadians claim full or partial Dutch ancestry. The first Dutch people to come to Canada were Dutch Americans among the United Empire Loyalists. The largest wave was in the late 19th and early 20th century, when large numbers of Dutch helped settle the Canadian west. During this period significant numbers also settled in major cities like Toronto. While interrupted by the First World War this migration returned in the 1920s, but again halted during the Great Depression and Second World War. After the war a large number of Dutch immigrants moved to Canada, including a number of war brides of the Canadian soldiers who liberated the Low Countries.