Where people speak Dutch
The official name of the country we generally know as Holland is ‘the Kingdom of the Netherlands’: het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden. The everyday official term is Nederland, but colloquially many people living in the west of the country refer to it as Holland.
The country, which is only 42,000 square kilometres in size, has some 16,500,000 inhabitants. In addition, the northern half of Belgium, known as Flanders (Vlaanderen), also speaks Dutch while the southern half, known as Wallonia (Wallonië), speaks French. Of the approximately 10 million inhabitants of ‘the Kingdom of Belgium’ (het Koninkrijk België) 58 per cent are Flemings who speak Dutch as their mother tongue.
The Netherlands and Belgium, together with Luxemburg, are known collectively as the Low Countries (de Lage Landen), which also happens to be the literal meaning of ‘The Netherlands’.
In the five islands of the Dutch Antilles (de Nederlandse Antillen) and on the island of Aruba, which are constitutionally part of the Netherlands and whose combined population numbers some 200,000, Dutch is an official language, although it is not necessarily the mother tongue of the majority of the population.
Dutch is also the official language of the former Dutch colony of Surinam (Suriname), which obtained independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Although many languages are spoken there, affairs of state and education are conducted in Dutch. The tens of thousands of ‘Surinamers’ who have settled in the Netherlands since the 1970s speak Dutch more or less as their mother tongue, or at least as proficiently as their mother tongue, which is also the case with the thousands of people of Indonesian descent who left for the Netherlands when the Dutch East Indies gained independence after World War II.
Many tens of thousands of Dutch people left the country of their birth after World War II to emigrate to North America, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
The number of native-speakers of Dutch is estimated to be somewhere in excess of 21 million and Dutch is thus not quite the ‘minor’ language it is sometimes purported to be.