Is Dutch A Latin Language? (A Comparison Of Latin And Germanic Languages)

avatarMille Larsen
7 mins read

The question is simple - is Dutch a Latin language? And the answer is pretty simple too:

No it isn't.

Dutch is not Latin, but a Germanic language. It's related to English, German, and slightly less so, the Scandinavian languages. The ancestor of Dutch was Frankish, a language spoken in Northern Europe, but despite the name "Frankish" the language wasn't related to Latin like French is. Dutch has been influenced by both Latin and French throughout history, but it remains a Germanic language.

Today, many Dutch people speak German, which is a language that's easy to learn for a Dutch speaker due to how closely related the two languages are. The Dutch are also famous for their high level of English proficiency, but many Dutch do speak French as well.

Why Does Dutch And Other Germanic Languages Seem So Latin?

An obvious way to illustrate that Dutch has very little to do with Latin languages would be to compare it with another Germanic language like English and a couple of Latin languages like French and Italian.

I actually did just that, when researching this article, but did not find the conclusions I was looking for!

When comparing Dutch, English, French, and Italian, you'll notice that the two Germanic languages have an awful lot of words that actually come from Latin or French. This makes for a lot of confusion when comparing the vocabulary because, superficially, both Dutch and English seem to have more than a few things in common with Latin languages.

One of the reasons for this is the huge influence that Latin has had on both Old English, but also Frankish, the ancestor of Dutch. Dutch literally has thousands of common words that are derived from Latin. English has even more.

And when it comes to French, both English and Dutch have been hugely influenced by it.

What's typical about foreign influences on languages is that the words that come from other tongues, typically are innovations. Latin loan-words are often scientific terms, or words used to describe botany, juridical principles, philosophy, and so on. French loan-words are often used for "fashionable" phenomenon and vocabulary used in high society.

So to really compare Dutch to the other languages, we need to compare words that haven't been influenced by other languages. These are the most basic, simple terms that you might imagine would be useful for describing the world around you if you lived 2000 years ago.

A Comparison Of A Sentence In Dutch, English, French, And Italian

Being a Germanic language, Dutch is related to English, so in the comparison below, you'll probably notice a similitude between the two languages.

As I just mentioned, to clearly illustrate the difference between Dutch and English, on one hand, and French and Italian on the other, we'll have to look at some simple words that haven't been subject to a lot of change during the last millennia.

We'll need a caveman story.

Let me give it a shot in English:

I go to the water every day to catch fish. I stand for hours with my bare feet in the mud, looking in the waters. When I see a silvery shine, I jump. I like to eat fish when it's cooked over a fire, but not when it's burnt.

What do you think? Okay, let's try translating it into Dutch:

Ik ga elke dag naar het water om vis te vangen. Ik sta urenlang met mijn blote voeten in de modder, kijkend in het water. Als ik een zilverachtige glans zie, spring ik. Ik eet graag vis als hij gekookt is boven een vuur, maar niet als hij verbrand is.

So, before translating the text into French and Italian, let's see how much the English and Dutch texts have in common.

Many words aren't direct equivalents to the English version, but they're still clearly Germanic words. Some of them resemble German, Danish, or other Germanic languages more than English.

  • "Vangen", for instance, looks a lot like "fangen" which is German for "to catch". German is also known for pronouncing the "v" as an "f".
  • Urenland is just like "hourlong" where the "h" is silent.
  • "Blote" looks just like "blotte" which is the Danish word for "to expose" - when speaking of the caveman's feet being bare. Interestingly, in Danish "bare" means the same as in English.
  • "Water" and "Spring" are exactly the same in English and Dutch. "Zilver" and "Silver" are almost the same.
  • "Verbrand" means "burned" but think of the English verb "brand" which means to mark horses or cattle with red-hot metal.

And there are many more similitudes between the Dutch and English text as well as words from other Germanic languages, but I think I've made the point.

Now let's look at the story in Italian:

Vado in acqua tutti i giorni a pescare. Resto per ore a piedi nudi nel fango, a guardare le acque. Quando vedo uno splendore argenteo, salto. Mi piace mangiare il pesce quando è cotto sul fuoco, ma non quando è bruciato.

And in French:

Je vais à l'eau tous les jours pour attraper du poisson. Je reste pendant des heures les pieds nus dans la boue, regardant dans les eaux. Quand je vois un éclat argenté, je sursaute. J'aime manger du poisson quand il est cuit au feu, mais pas quand il est brûlé.

What do you think? Do these two versions have a lot in common with Dutch?

I see very few similarities.

  • "Ure", which is the Dutch word for "hour" looks like "ore" in Italian and "heures" in French. And they are actually related, but all stem from Greek before being borrowed by Latin.
  • "Vuur" in Dutch and "fire" in English resemble "fuoco" and "feu" in Italian and French, but they're actually not related at all.
  • "Gekookt" in Dutch, "cooked" in English and "cotto" and "cuit" in Italian and French are all of Latin origin. They're "modern" words that somehow got into my caveman story. I wonder what the Germanic word would be for cooking?

So generally, Dutch looks a lot like other Germanic languages in terms of vocabulary, and French and Italian are obviously related when you see them side by side.

Dutch is definitely not related to Latin, but there are several reasons why it might appear that way.

For one thing, the Dutch language has a long history with the French who, at a point in time, actually ruled over the Netherlands, and even today, Belgium is bilingual in French and Flemish, which is a form of Dutch.

This relationship means that a huge amount of French words have found their way into the Dutch language. The same can be said about Latin vocabulary which came into the Dutch language earlier in history.

When you analyze the Dutch language and its core vocabulary, it becomes clear, however, that it has a lot in common with Germanic languages like English, Danish and German and almost nothing with languages of Latin ancestry.

So Dutch is not a Latin, or Romance, language. It is, without a doubt, Germanic.

Would you like to learn Dutch? Go read my guide here: How To Learn Dutch By Yourself.