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The Flemish dialects are the regional dialects of Dutch that are spoken in Flanders (Belgium). They should not be confused with Dutch itself. On the other hand, these dialects belong to a continuum of dialects together with Germanic dialects spoken in The Netherlands and Germany, and cannot be absolutely distinguished from these. Their grouping here is thus mostly for convenience.
The Dutch language as spoken in Flanders is not a separate language from Dutch, but there are some distinct differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, similar to that between British and American English. On the other hand, the Flemish speaking people use exactly the same grammar and orthography as the Dutch. The term Flemish is thus usually used to distinguish the Dutch spoken in Flanders from that of the Netherlands.
The difference between Dutch and the Flemish dialects is much more significant.
Relation between the Flemish dialects and Dutch
The Germanic dialects spoken in Belgium do not originally form a unity against those spoken in The Netherlands.
They are divided in West Flemish, East Flemish , Brabantic and Limburgian. All of these groups are also spoken in the adjoining areas in The Netherlands. There are over four million people living in these areas. On the level of dialects, the state border between Belgium and The Netherlands is thus not a language border.
Of the six million people in Belgium that speak Dutch, only a minority uses Flemish dialects. The largest group consists of Brabantic dialect speakers, a second reason why the use of the generic "Flemish" is inaccurate and misleading.
The Dutch standard language originated in those areas now located in Belgium. As it is mainly Brabantic in origin and reflects the dialects spoken by a majority of the Belgian speakers of Dutch, stressing the distinction between Dutch and "Flemish" is utterly absurd. There might be a difference in the Dutch spoken by Flemish news reader on television, and that of their colleagues in the Netherlands. The differences within Flanders and the Netherlands are however much bigger.
As of 1830 French almost completely replaced the Dutch standard language in Belgium. Its more recent rebirth as a living spoken entity came about by an almost perfect imitation of the language spoken in The Netherlands. So the standard in Belgium differs only slightly from that in The Netherlands. Those differences as there are however, are again mainly of Brabantic, not Flemish origin.
The only distinction within the continuum of Continental Germanic dialects that makes a dialect Dutch or German, is whether a dialect uses Dutch or German as its standard language.
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