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Why some people speak Flemish in Holland

Are Dutch and Flemish two different languages, or are they dialects of one and the same language? What about holländska? It’s not always easy to describe the differences between different dialects and languages. The saying “a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy” sometimes pops up in discussions about these matters. In reality, the difference between Dutch, Flemish, and what we in Sweden call ‘holländska’ have almost as much to do with geography and politics as they do with actual language.

Dutch

Simply put, you could say that Dutch (nederländska), Flemish (flamländska), and holländska are one and the same language. Dutch is the official name of the language that is spoken by millions of people in the Netherlands, Belgium, Surinam, and the Netherlands Antilles (or Dutch Caribbean). Both the school system and authorities in these countries officially use Dutch. These nations also cooperate to keep the Dutch writing system standardised in terms of orthography and spelling. Just like in other languages, however, there are regional variants and dialects in Dutch.

Flemish and holländska

Officially, what we in Sweden call ‘holländska’ and Flemish aren’t separate languages: they’re just variants of Dutch. Flemish is mainly spoken in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. We Swedes sometimes use holländska as a synonym for Dutch – but technically, it only refers to the variant of Dutch that is spoken in the Netherlands (‘Dutch Dutch’ rather than ‘Belgian Dutch’, you could say), especially in the Holland region in the west of the country. Basically, holländska and Flemish are dialects or variants of Dutch. The main differences between the two are the way they are pronounced, and the kinds of loan words they’ve adopted from other languages. Flemish contains more loan words from French, while English and German loan words are more common in holländska.

Localise your translations for your market

Even though the Dutch writing system has been standardised in Belgium and the Netherlands, spoken Dutch still differs between the two countries. Native speakers can easily hear which of the two countries someone is from. When you’re translating general marketing copy or manuals, the standardised version of Dutch will usually do the trick. If your text needs to be localised to suit a particular audience in either the Netherlands or Belgium, however, more adjustments may need to be made. In those cases, we recommend working with a translator with expert knowledge of that particular market. The more you can tell us about the target group and goal of your text, the better the eventual translation will be. Do reach out to us to discuss what would work best for your particular project!