U.S. English Foundation Research



Language Research

2. Background: Background notes

The Netherlands is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. The Dutch make up the great majority of the population and they are mostly descended from Franks, Frisians, and Saxons. Fearing overpopulation, the government encouraged Dutch emigration after World War II, and some 500,000 people left. But even larger numbers of people entered the Netherlands (Europeans and Asians from the former Netherlands Indies dependency (now part of Indonesia); industrial workers from Turkey, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries; and, more recently, residents of Suriname, also a former Dutch dependency, and the Netherlands Antilles). Consequently, the country’s population, particularly in the large cities, now includes several ethnic minorities.

People of Turkish origin are the largest foreign non-western population category in the Netherlands, and most were born in Turkey. The Surinamese are the second largest group, and Moroccans the third. All three groups have a short history in the Netherlands. In 1960 estimates indicated a few thousand of each group at the most. The recruitment of Turkish and Moroccan workers contributed significantly to the growth of these population groups. The independence of Suriname and the subsequent reuniting of family have created new immigration pressures.

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Updated (December 2002)


Frisian, or Frysk, is an autochthonous minority language currently spoken in Friesland (Fryslân), one of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands. It is a western Germanic language closely related to Dutch, which was widely used in the area much larger than that of the current province until the 15th Century.

From the 16th Century onwards Frisian became an oral language in mainly rural areas. Only in the course of the 19th Century the Frisian language gradually gained an access into other areas of life. Only in the 20th Century the Frisian language regained its position in government, jurisdiction and education.

In 1995, 94 percent of 620,000 provincial inhabitants could understand Frisian, 74 percent could speak it, 65 percent was able to read it and 17 percent could write in it. More than half of the population (55 percent) declared Frisian as their mother tongue. Moreover, 76 percent of the population considered themselves to be Frisian.

Source: Mercator Education, Regional Dossiers, the Frisian Language in Education in the Netherlands, http://www1.fa.knaw.nl/mercator/regionale_dossiers/frisian_nl.htm

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