Identification. The origin of the name "Dutch" is supposed to be a corruption of the word "Duits" referring to the Germanic origin of the Dutch. The word "Netherlands" probably stems from the Rhineland. Since the twelfth century the lower Rhine basin north of Cologne has been referred to as "netherland" (lowland) in contrast to the "overland" (Highland) south of Cologne.
Location. The Netherlands is situated between 50° and 54° N and 3° and 7° E. The Netherlands is bordered by the North Sea to the north and the west, Germany to the east, and Belgium to the south. The West Frisian Islands—Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, and Rottumeroog—are situated north of the Frisian coast. The climate is maritime: wet, with mild winters and cool summers. The Netherlands consists of low-lying land, part of which (in the west and north) is below sea level. This makes water management a crucial strategy. The fight against the water has resulted in programs of land reclamation, dike construction, and drainage of marshlands, generating such amazing infrastructural achievements as the Zuider Zee Works, the Deltaworks, and the canalization of the big rivers. The Netherlands is comprised of three geographic regions: the zones of largescale agriculture in the north, the regions of mixed agricultural-recreational use in the east and south, and the highly urbanized areas in the west. The Netherlands still possesses overseas territories, which consist of a number of islands in the Caribbean, collectively called "the Dutch Antilles": the Leeward Islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire north of the Venezuelan coast; and the Windward Islands of Saba, Saint Eustacius, and Sint Maarten 900 kilometers farther north. The total population of the Dutch Antilles amounts to 250,000 people of multiethnic origin.
Demography. In 1991 the Dutch population was 15 Million and the population density was about 440 persons per square kilometer, which makes the Netherlands one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Up to 1970 there was rapid population growth (more than 1 percent per year), declining to less than 0.6 percent in 1990. The declining growth rate was caused by an unexpectedly rapid decrease of the marital fertility rate since the 1960s, when modern contraceptive devices became available. Coupled with a low death rate, the decreasing birthrate results in an aging Population. While the natural growth is decreasing, immigration is increasing and 4.3 percent of the population is of non-Dutch origin, especially with an Antillian, Surinamese, South Moluccan, and Mediterranean background.
Linguistic Affiliation. Dutch is a member of the Germanic Language Group (Western Continental) and is related to Afrikaans, German, Yiddish, Frisian, English, and Luxembourgeois. It is spoken in Europe by about 16-17 million People spread over the kingdom of the Netherlands and the northern half of Belgium. Outside the continent of Europe it is spoken in Indonesia by the Dutch who live there and in the Dutch Antilles. Cape Dutch (Afrikaans), spoken in the Union of South Africa, has developed into an independent language. In the course of the state-building process, High Dutch, originally the language of the province of Holland, gradually was adopted as the language of daily intercourse by all the provinces. A peculiar position is occupied by Frisian in the province of Friesland, which is separated from the Dutch dialects by a sharp linguistic boundary line.