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is a West Germanic language spoken by around 24 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands (where it is the sole official language It is the third-most-widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

Outside the Low Countries, it is the native language of the majority of the population of Suriname where it also holds an official status, as it does in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, which are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands located in the Caribbean.

In Western Europe this term was used for the language of the local Germanic populace as opposed to Latin, the non-native language of writing and the Catholic Church.

Although in Britain the name Englisc replaced theodisce early on, speakers of West Germanic in other parts of Europe continued to use theodisce to refer to their local speech.

(A usage of the English term Dutch that includes German survives in the United States in the name Pennsylvania Dutch for a local German dialect and its speakers, commonly believed to be a corruption of their endonym Deitsch.) In the Low Countries on the contrary, Dietsch or Duytsch as endonym for Dutch went out of common use and was gradually replaced by the Dutch endonym Nederlands.

This designation started at the Burgundian court in the 15th century, although the use of neder, laag, bas, and inferior ("nether" or "low") to refer to the area known as the Low Counties goes back further in time.

Subsequently, German dialects spoken in the north were designated as Niederdeutsch ("Low German").

(At that point in time, in the early 1500s, the Netherlands and parts of Germany, along with Belgium and Luxembourg, were all part of the Holy Roman Empire.) Specifically the phrase , among English speakers, came to apply to the entire country, though it only refers to two provinces—the coastal North and South Holland—in the Netherlands today. In some cases, the demonym preceded the place name.

The division into Old, Middle and Modern Dutch is mostly conventional, since the transition between them was very gradual.

One of the few moments when linguists can detect something of a revolution is when the Dutch standard language emerged and quickly established itself.

The Romans referred to the region as Germania Inferior ("Lower" Germania).

It is a reference to the Low Countries' downriver location at the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta near the North Sea.

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