Dutch Language Blog

Why The Dutch Government No Longer Uses The Terms Allochtoon/Autochtoon Posted by on Nov 25, 2016 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary, News

Earlier this month, the Dutch Rijksoverheid (government) – or, more specifically, the Raad voor Regeringsbeleid (Council for Government Policy) and the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (Central Office of Statistics) – decided to drop the use of the often used terms allochtoon and autochtoon. What do they mean? And why did the government decide to stop using them? And what do they use now instead?

What The Terms Mean

Image by Franklin Heijnen at Flickr.com under license CC BY SA 2.0

Allochtonen? (Image by Franklin Heijnen at Flickr.com under license CC BY SA 2.0)

The term allochtoon is made up of the Old Greek words ἀλλος (other, alien) and χθων (earth). So in that sense, an allochtoon is a person from another country – a euphemism for the word immigrant (immigrant). It was introduced in 1971 together with the term autochtoon – a person from the own country. In 1989, the government embraced the term as the most neutral. But apparently, that has changed… Anyway, for some official definitions, the Dutch Van Dale dictionary gives the following:

allochtoon – iem. die van elders afkomstig is (sb. that originated somewhere else)

autochtoon – oorspronkelijke bewoner (original inhabitant)

These are different than the terms that the government uses. Somebody is an allochtoon by the CBS’s definition if at least one of the parents were born outside of the Netherlands. Conversely, if both are born in the Netherlands, you are an autochtoon. We’ll get into the difference below.

Also, allochtonen were divided into westers (western) and niet-westers (not-western). Whichever you were depended on where exactly you came from. These two extensions will also no longer be used.

Why They Had To Go


The terms are seen as onduidelijk (unclear) and kwetsend (offensive). They are onduidelijk, because of the definitions above. For example, if both of your parents are Dutch, but you are born in, say, Germany, you are an allochtoon in the Van Dale definition. However, you are an autochtoon under the CBS definition. That is confusing – and so that makes the terms onduidelijk.

Another thing that makes the terms onduidelijk is that they are so all-encompassing. People are all thrown into one group and called allochtoon – there is no way to differentiate. That could lead to segregating in society. That leads to the second complaint:

The term allochtoon is kwetsend, because there are negative associaties (connotations) with it. The picture above depicts two people that, what looks like, are moslims (Muslims). They could be autochtoon, if their parents were both born in the Netherlands. This is of course entirely possible. But because of their appearance, they would in almost all cases be seen as allochtoon. Due to xenophobia and other fears that led to generalizing comments about people that have a “non-Dutch appearance”, the term allochtoon became the go-to term. This should be avoided, of course! In the video above, Geert Wilders makes the same mistake.

What Replaces Them


The video above explains everything quite easily. (And yes, you saw that right, they made a mistake at the end. It is migratieachtergrond or migratie-achtergrond, not migratie achtergrond (Click here for more on this so-called klinkerbotsing issue).

There will not be any direct replacement for the terms. The CBS has announced that in future publications, it will use the terms inwoner met migratieachtergrond instead of allochtoon and inwoner met Nederlandse achtergrond for autochtoon.

This is, by the way, not the first time that the government tried to get rid of such a term. In fact, the term allochtoon was the euphemism replacing the “wrong words” that came before it: gastarbeider (guest worker) and immigrant (immigrant). Then, allochtoon was supposed to be replaced as well. Suggestions included medelander (which sounds like Nederlander, the Dutch term for “Dutch person”, and simply means “co-countryman”) and “nieuwe Nederlander” (new Dutch person). But both didn’t make it.

What do you think? Is it over the top to stop using the term, or was it long overdue? What do you think about the other suggested terms, such as medelander and nieuwe Nederlander? Do you have suggestions for a different term yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

As a little extra at the end: The Dutch Jon Stewart, Arjen Lubach, talks in his show Zondag met Lubach about the change in terminologie (terminology). Enjoy!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. LennoX:

    Thankyou for all the interesting dutch blog e mails
    When i first moved to Holland 23 years ago now.. ..as Brit..in the european market
    i had to register each year by police station..as i had british passport…dutch husband…two children…one born here…still all this CONTROL all these ago..before the very clever manoevres today..to make us all so fearful of each other and potential terrorist attacks..that we let ourselves be registered ..time and time again…inchecken op de station…the bus…the bank..the internet orders…bah…it has been easy…in this digital world..people are walking without eyes .looking down to their smart Phone screen ..their window into the black bottomless hole f greed and comsumation of our nations

    when i was called up to re register as allofonen
    the signs to follow in those days
    ”alien department”
    i Always laughed as i sat there between the shining nut brown somalians with suitcases and colourful children ..no ufo in sight…we had to pull a number..like in the bread shop Saturday morning…….there were never enough seats and it was hot and stuffy even on the coldest day of the charitible less year.
    the alien paper work was done in cabins..a police man wearing mask to protect himself from the potential deadly diseases we were carrying
    is this the message to give a refugee

    there has been alot of water under the bridge
    Rita verdonk …she came..she saw…she conquered…she got careless..meglomanical….lost the wheel…back seat again…she was an all time low for me here as european..altho secretly i was facinated by her dead eyes
    what a pantomime
    hershi ali being excommunicated to america to become woman of the year as wilders and theo an goch
    lived and died the act they perform in massive escalation between nations towards what i see as the final battle
    nederlands is sinking fast into globalised mini america
    i agree with wilders about changing names
    is clever cheap way to cover up something you would rather was forgotten
    too long reply
    time to fly