Dutch is mainly spoken in Netherlands, Belgium, and Surinam. It has spread to other countries such as United States, Canada, Australia, South America, and the Caribbean through immigrants. It also exists in small pockets of France, Germany, and Indonesia. The Dutch spoken in Belgium is a variant of the language and is called Flemish. In South Africa, trading ties between the two countries in the mid-1600s led to many people of Dutch origin settling there. In due course, their intermingling gave rise to a daughter language called Afrikaans which is now spoken in South Africa as well as Namibia.
There are close to 28 million Dutch-speaking people all over the world, of which 22 million are native speakers of the language. Dutch is an official language of several international organisations such as European Union, Caribbean Community, and Union of South American Nations.
The Dutch language belongs to the Indo-Germanic group of languages. Other languages of this group include German, English, and Frisian. Dutch has much in common with German and English. It uses the same Latin alphabet that English and German do. However, it does not use the umlaut as used in German. On the other hand, it has three grammatical genders, as in the German language. The most commonly used letter in Dutch is e and the least used are q and x. An extra addition to the Dutch alphabet is ij that is used as a diphthong.
There are four main dialects of the language: West Flemish, Brabantian, Limburgish, and Hollandic. Of these, Limburgish is considered a regional language in Netherlands and Germany; however, it is still termed a dialect in Belgium. Another regional language that is spoken to Netherlands and Germany is Dutch Low Saxon. West Frisian is another sister language of Dutch that is closer to English than Dutch, though.
The language was an offshoot of Lower Franconian, a Low German dialect. The oldest written form of Old Franconian was found in 9th century but the largest work in the language was a translation of the Bible in Modern Dutch in the 1600s. Van Dale Groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal is the main dictionary of the language which was published in 1874 and is considered the last word in Dutch spellings. It also acts as a unifying factor between Netherlands and Flemish-speaking Belgium, as far as words are concerned.