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Spoken in Belgium
Region Antwerp, Brussels, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Limburg, West Flanders.
Total speakers 6.1 million[1]
Language family Indo-European
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 vls

In English usage, Flemish (Dutch: About this sound Vlaams ) can refer to

  1. Belgian Dutch (About this sound Belgisch-Nederlands ), the national variety of the Dutch language as spoken in Belgium,[2][3][4] be it standard (as used in schools, government and the media)[5] or informal (as used in daily speech, "tussentaal ");[6]
  2. East Flemish, West Flemish or French Flemish, related southwestern dialects of Dutch.[7]



Flemish is derived from the name of the County of Flanders, from Middle Dutch vlāmisch, vlemesch. The name of the County of Flanders itself was first attested in Ghent, in 1237, and etymologically it derives from ‘Flandr’, which is Old Dutch roughly meaning ‘that which is flooded/flooded area’;[8] compare Common Germanic *flōðuz, "flood".[9]

Dutch in Flanders

Dutch is the majority language in Belgium, being spoken natively by three-fifths of the population. Its various dialects contain a number of lexical and a few grammatical features which distinguish them from the standard language.[10] As in the Netherlands, the pronunciation of Standard Dutch is affected by the native dialect of the speaker.

All Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium (with the exception of East Flemish) are spoken in adjacent areas of the Netherlands as well. At the same time East Flemish forms a continuum with both Brabantic and West Flemish. Standard Dutch is primarily based on the Hollandic dialect (spoken in the Northern Netherlands) and to a lesser extent on Brabantian, which is the most dominant Dutch dialect of the Southern Netherlands and Flanders.

"Flemish" can also refer to standard Dutch as spoken in Belgium, which is very similar to standard Dutch spoken in the Netherlands. The main differences are pronunciation and the relative popularity of certain words and adverbs. There are no spelling differences. In this way, certain words that are mainly used in Flanders could be referred to as "Flemish" even though they are standard Dutch and are listed in the wordlist of the Dutch language.


Phonological differences

Among Belgian Dutch vowels, the diphthong "ou/au" (as in bout bolt and fauna) is realized as [ɔu], whereas northern Dutch realizes it as [ʌu]. Among consonants, the northern Dutch pronunciation of "w" (as in wang cheek) is [ʋ] or [v], in some southern Dutch dialects it is [β]. Probably the most obvious difference between northern and southern Dutch is the northern voiceless velar fricative [x], which is equivalent in southern Dutch to either a voiced velar fricative [ɣ], most often when spelt "g", or a voiceless palatal fricative /ç/, most often when spelt "ch".

Lexical differences

Belgian Dutch encompasses more French loanwords in everyday vocabulary than Dutch spoken in the Netherlands.[11] At the same time Brabantian, traditionally the most spoken Dutch dialect in Belgium, has had a larger influence on the vocabulary used in Belgium.[6] Examples include beenhouwer (Brabantian) and slager (Hollandic), both meaning butcher; and schoon (Brabantian) vs. mooi (Hollandic) "beautiful". The changes (isoglosses) from northern to southern Dutch dialects are gradual, both vocabulary-wise and phonetically, and the boundaries do not coincide with territorial borders.

In 2009 a Dutch dictionary was published that for the first time distinguished between the two natiolectic varieties "Nederlands Nederlands" (or "Netherlandish Dutch") and "Vlaams Nederlands" ("Flemish Dutch") and treated both variations as equally correct. The selection of the "Flemish Dutch" words was based on the Referentiebestand Belgisch Nederlands (RBBN): an electronic database built under the supervision of Prof. Dr. W. Martin (Free University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands) and Prof. Dr. W. Smedts (Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium).

Professor Willy Martin, one of the Flemish editors, claimed that the latter expressions are "just as correct" as the former. This formed a break with the previous lexicologists' custom to comment on a Flemish word that it is mainly used in Flanders, while the specific Dutch use of its Dutch equivalent remained unmentioned. Thus it appeared that the Flemish word was somehow an aberration of the Dutch.

In the Dutch language roundabout 3,500 words are generally and typically used by the Flemish, and 4,500 words by the Dutch [12][13].


The supra-regional, semi-standardized colloquial form of Dutch spoken in Belgium, which uses the vocabulary and the sound inventory of the Brabantic dialects, is often called "Tussentaal" ("in-between-language", i.e. between dialects and standard Dutch).[14] Its evolution is somewhat similar to the emergence of Poldernederlands in the Netherlands, a medium of everyday speech heavily influenced by Hollandic. It should be emphasized that neither Poldernederlands nor Tussentaal are dialects or different standard forms, but sociolects.

The tussentaal ("in-between-language") is a primarily informal variety of speech which occupies an intermediate position between regional dialects and the standard language. This tussentaal incorporates phonetic, lexical and grammatical elements that are not part of the standard language but are drawn from local dialects. It is a relatively new phenomenon that has been gaining popularity during the past decades. Some linguists note that it seems to be undergoing a process of (limited) standardisation.[15]

Dutch dialects in Belgium

There are four principal Dutch dialects in Flanders: Brabantian, Limburgish, East Flemish, and West Flemish. Linguistically however, Flemish is used as a general term encompassing both East Flemish and West Flemish. Despite the name, Brabantian is the dominant contributor to the tussentaal. Both uses of the term derive from name of the historically most powerful county in the area, the County of Flanders.

See also


  1. ^ This number refers to the inhabitants of Flanders, so this number applies to the first meaning, Belgian Dutch. To see the number of speakers of the whole Dutch language, see the article Dutch language.
  2. ^ As according to Van Dale.
  3. ^ Leidraad van de Taaltelefoon. Dienst Taaladvies van de Vlaamse Overheid (Department for Language advice of the Flemish government).
  4. ^ Definition of Flemish by the Compact Oxford English Dictionary.
  5. ^ Speech Rate in a Pluricentric Language: A Comparison Between Dutch in Belgium and the Netherlands (abstract). Language and Speech, Vol. 47, No. 3, 297-308 (2004). By Jo Verhoeven, Guy De Pauw, and Hanne Kloots of the University of Antwerp.
  6. ^ a b Tussen spreek- en standaardtaal. Koen Plevoets. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
  7. ^ Definition of Flemish by the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
  8. ^ Vroeg Middelnederlandsch Woordenboek, VMNW, (link to online version). Entry: VLAENDREN.
  9. ^ Etymonline, online English etymological dictionary. Entry; FLOOD; (link)
  10. ^ G. Janssens and A. Marynissen, Het Nederlands vroeger en nu (Leuven/Voorburg 2005), 155 ff.
  11. ^ G. Janssens and A. Marynissen, Het Nederlands vroeger en nu (Leuven/Voorburg 2005), 156
  12. ^ "Nederlands uit Nederland of uit Vlaanderen: het kan allebei - Primeur: Prisma-woordenboek duidt regionaal gebruik aan"
  13. ^ "Belgisch-Nederlands in de vertaalpockets"
  14. ^ Geeraerts, Dirk. 2001. "Een zondagspak ? Het Nederlands in Vlaanderen: gedrag, beleid, attitudes". Ons Erfdeel 44: 337-344
  15. ^ G. Janssens and A. Marynissen, Het Nederlands vroeger en nu (Leuven/Voorburg 2005), 196.


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