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The States Bible (1637)

The emergence of New Dutch (Nieuwnederlands)

In the late sixteenth century, the Dutch and Flemish revolted (>link) against their ruler, King Philip II of Spain. Though the Flemish uprising was quashed, the Dutch were successful in their revolt and became independent. As a result, the South (present-day Flanders) stayed under Spanish rule and remained Catholic. The Northern provinces (the Netherlands) became a republic and adopted Protestantism. Especially after the so-called Fall of Antwerp (>link) in 1585, many Flemings fled the oppressive regime of the Spanish and settled in Holland. By 1622, one third of the Amsterdam population was of Southern origin. This figure even rose to two thirds in the university city of Leyden. The arts and commerce flourished in the new Republic, giving rise to the Dutch Golden Age (>link). To a great extent, its splendour hinged on the intellectual and financial capital arriving from the South. Of course these refugees brought with them their own language and this resulted in a great influx of linguistic features typical of southern dialects. For many centuries Flanders had been a major cultural and economic centre, so these southern features, by association, carried great prestige and were readily adopted in the North.

As the new Republic of the Netherlands adopted Protestantism, Latin – the language of the Catholic Church – was discarded in favour of Dutch. This move quickly enhanced the status of the native language. Soon, the need for a Dutch Bible translation became acute.

From 1619 onwards and for a total of 18 years, a group of learned scholars from different provinces worked on what was to become the States Bible (>link) (Statenbijbel). As the translation had to be intelligible throughout the Republic, they were forced to find compromises and to reconcile the spelling, grammar, and vocabulary of all the provinces in the country. When the States Bible finally appeared in 1637, the Dutch had gained for the very first time in their history a written standard of the Dutch language.

Reading out from the Bible became a daily routine in the majority of Dutch households, so the spread of this new standard language in the North was unstoppable. Because of the Spanish occupation, however, the Flemish were cut off from this standard language. This put Dutch speakers in Flanders at a severe disadvantage.

Click (>link) to find out more about the linguistic features of New Dutch.


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