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Netherlands/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

There are two official languages in the Netherlands: Dutch and Frisian.


The Dutch language is principally spoken in the Netherlands, Flanders and Surinam. A language historically related to Dutch (Afrikaans) is still spoken by South Africans.Dutch languagepolicy is set bythe Committee of Ministers [Comité van Ministers], comprising the Dutch and Flemish culture and education ministers and a representative from Surinam. The Interparliamentary Committee [Interparlementaire Commissie] oversees language policy, while the Dutch Language and Literature Council [Raad voor de Nederlandse Taal en Letteren] advises policymakers. Dutch language policy is prepared and implemented by the Dutch Language Union [Nederlandse Taalunie, 1980] (click here for the English website).

The Dutch Language Union is an intergovernmental organisation, founded by the Dutch and Belgian governments (see chapter 5.1.9). To emphasise their mutual cultural interests, a cultural treaty was concluded in 1995. In 2004, another step was taken by the opening of the Flemish-Dutch House [Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren] in Brussels. The objective of the house is to promote Flemish-Dutch culture in Europe and to hold debates on culture, science, cultural diversity, society and politics in an increasingly unified Europe.

Surinam joined the Dutch Language Union as an associate member in 2004. The union also cooperates with the Caribbean islands that have Dutch as an official language: Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten (all of which are separate countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands) and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, three special municipalities. For these municipalities Papiamento and English are also official languages, which can be used in contact with the government.

BVN (1996), which is the abbreviation of "the best of Flanders and the Netherlands" (het beste van Vlaanderen en Nederland) is a satellite and cable television channel – a joint venture of Flemish and Dutch public broadcasting – which aims to make Dutch and Flemish public-service television in the Dutch language for viewers around the world. BVN has become a major international channel with a coverage that is increasingly global.


The Frisian language is recognised as the second official language in the province of Fryslân, both in Dutch law and through the European Charter for Regional Minority Languages [Europees Handvest voor regionale talen of talen van minderheden].

The province of Fryslân and central government make agreements on the development of the Frisian language and culture. For the period 2013-2018, an Administrative Agreement on the Frisian Language and Culture was developed. The agreement outlines a number of steps that aim at stimulating the Frisian language and culture over the next five years, specifically in the fields of education, media and culture. The main focus will be on Frisian-spoken education. The Fryske Akademy determines the spelling in the Frisian language and preserves the cultural and literary value of the language-related Frisian heritage. On 4th December 2016 an update of this administrative agreement specific on the topic of media in relation to the Frisian language was signed by state secretary of media Dekker and representative Poepjes of province of Fryslân.

Other languages

The Netherlands has recognised Limburgish (since 1997), Low Saxon (since 1996), Romani / Sinti and Yiddish (since 1996) as regional or non-territorial languages under the European Charter for Regional Minority Languages. This recognition enables provinces and municipalities to create policies for these languages.

Chapter published: 13-03-2017

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