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Languages of Belgium
BelgieGemeenschappenkaart.png
Official language(s)      Dutch (1st: ~60%, 2nd: ?)      French (1st: ~40%, 2nd: ~48%)      German (1st: ~1%, 2nd: 27%)
Regional language(s) Walloon, Picard, Champenois, Lorrain, Low Dietsch, Yiddish
Main foreign language(s) English (59%), Arabic, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Italian
Sign language(s) Flemish Sign Language, French Sign Language
Common keyboard layout(s)
Belgian AZERTY
Belgian pc keyboard.svg
Source ebs_243_en.pdf (Europa.eu)

The Kingdom of Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. A number of non-official, minority languages are spoken as well.

Contents

Official languages

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Dutch

A Bilingual French-Dutch traffic sign in Brussels

Close to 60% of the country's population speaks Dutch as their primary (Belgian) language.[1] Though the standard form of Dutch used in Belgium is almost identical to that spoken in the Netherlands and the different dialects spread across the border, it is often colloquially called "Flemish".

Dutch is the official language of the Flemish Community and the Flemish Region (merged to Flanders) and, along with French, an official language of the Brussels-Capital Region. The main Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium are Brabantian, West Flemish, East Flemish and Limburgish (all four are spoken across the border in the Netherlands as well). Some sub-dialects may be quite distant from standard Dutch and not be readily intelligible for other Dutch-speakers. Words which are unique to Belgian Dutch are called belgicisms (as are words used primarily in Belgian French). The original Brabantian dialect of Brussels has been heavily influenced by French, and in most cases replaced by it during the Frenchification of Brussels.

French

The second-most spoken primary (Belgian) language, used natively by 40% of the population, is French.[1] It is the official language of the French Community (which, like the Flemish Community, is a political entity), the dominant language in Wallonia (having also a small German-speaking Community) as well as the Brussels-Capital Region. Almost all of the inhabitants of the Capital region are able to speak French as either their primary language (50%) or as a lingua franca (45%).[2][3] There are also many Flemish people that are able to speak French as a second language. Belgian French is in most respects identical to standard, Parisian French, but differs in some points of vocabulary, pronunciation, and semantics. Ma vie en rose and Man Bites Dog are important Belgian films in the French language.

German

German is the least prevalent official language in Belgium, spoken natively by less than 1% of the population. The German-speaking Community of Belgium numbers 71,000, residing in an area of Belgium that ceded by the former German Empire as part of the Treaty of Versailles, which concluded World War I. In 1940, Nazi Germany re-annexed the region following its invasion of Belgium during World War II.

Multilingualism

In 2006, the Université Catholique de Louvain, the country's largest French-speaking university, published a report with the introduction (here translated): "This issue of Regards économiques is devoted to the demand for knowledge of languages in Belgium and in its three regions (Brussels, Flanders, Wallonia). The surveys show that Flanders is clearly more multilingual, which is without doubt a well known fact, but the difference is considerable : whereas 59% and 53% of the Flemings know French or English respectively, only 19% and 17% of the Walloons know Dutch or English. The measures advocated by the Marshall Plan go towards the proper direction, but are without doubt very insufficient to fully overcome the lag." (This particular 2006–2009 'Marshall Plan' was devised in 2004 and published in 2005 to uplift the Walloon economy.[4]) Within the report, professors in economics Ginsburgh and Weber further show that of the Brussels' residents, 95% declared they can speak French, 59% Dutch, and 41% know the non-local English. Of those under the age of forty, 59% in Flanders declared that they could speak all three, along with 10% in Wallonia and 28% in Brussels. In each region, Belgium's third official language, German, is notably less known than those.[5][6][2]

Non-official languages

An historical linguistic map of Wallonia, before French became the dominant language

In addition to the three official languages, other languages have historically been spoken in what is now Belgium, particularly in Wallonia, where French became dominant only relatively recently.

Walloon

Walloon is the historical language of southern Belgium, and most of the areas where French is now spoken were Walloon-speaking. It is also the traditional national language of the Walloons. Though it has been recognized, like other "indigenous languages" in Belgium, since 1990, it is mainly spoken by older people, though younger Walloons may claim some knowledge. It is mainly used in rural regions, and is used in theaters and literature, though not in schools.

Picard

Another traditional language of the region, Picard, was recognized by the government of the French Community in 1990. Most of its speakers live in France, though some are found in western portions of Wallonia.

Champenois

Champenois was also legally recognized in 1990. It is mainly spoken in Champagne, France, though it also has some speakers in Wallonia.

Lorrain

Like the other indigenous languages, Lorrain was recognized in 1990. It is mainly spoken in Gaume.

Low Dietsch

Low Dietsch is a transitional Limburgish–Ripuarian language of a number of towns and villages in the north-east of the Belgian province of Liege, such as Gemmenich, Homburg, Montzen and Welkenraedt. It represents the language of the old Duchy of Limburg, that had its historic kernel there. It is acknowledged as an internal regional language by the Walloon authority since 1992.

Yiddish

Yiddish is spoken by the 20,000 Orthodox Jews living in Antwerp. The community there is among the strongest in Europe, and one of the few Jewish communities worldwide in which Yiddish remains the dominant language (others include Kiryas Joel, New York, and similar Orthodox neighborhoods in the United States, London, Paris, and Israel).

Other minority and foreign languages

Languages spoken by residents of foreign ancestry include Arabic, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Italian and Polish.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Footnote: Of the inhabitants of Belgium, roughly 59% belong to the Flemish Community, 40% to the French Community and 1% to the German-speaking Community, though these figures relating to official Belgian languages include unknown numbers of immigrants and their children speaking a foreign language as primary language, and of Belgian regional migrants which may be assumed to largely balance one another for natively French and Dutch speakers.
  2. ^ a b Van Parijs, Philippe, Professor of economic and social ethics at the UCLouvain, Visiting Professor at Harvard University and the KULeuven. "Belgium's new linguistic challenges" (pdf 0.7 MB). KVS Express (supplement to newspaper De Morgen) March–April 2007: Article from original source (pdf 4.9 MB) pages 34–36 republished by the Belgian Federal Government Service (ministry) of Economy — Directorate-general Statistics Belgium. http://www.statbel.fgov.be/studies/ac699_en.pdf. Retrieved 2007-05-05.   — The linguistic situation in Belgium (and in particular various estimations of the population speaking French and Dutch in Brussels) is discussed in detail.
  3. ^ "Van autochtoon naar allochtoon" (in Dutch). De Standaard (newspaper) online. http://www.standaard.be/Artikel/Detail.aspx?artikelId=641B1LAQ&word=brussel+bevolking. Retrieved 2007-05-05. "Meer dan de helft van de Brusselse bevolking is van vreemde afkomst. In 1961 was dat slechts 7 procent. (More than half of the Brussels' population is of foreign origin. In 1961 this was only 7 percent.)".  
  4. ^ Bayenet, Benoît, Professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, in 2004 Economical Advisor to the federal Vice Prime Minister & Justice Minister, and to the Walloon Region's Minister of Economy and Employment; Vandendorpe, Luc, Direction Politique économique, Ministry of the Walloon Region (2004). "Le plan Marshall: cinq actions prioritaires pour l’avenir wallon (The Marshall plan: five prioritary actions for the Walloon future)" (in French). OVER.WERK journal of Steunpunt WAV (Acco) (4/2005). ISSN 1379-7034.  
  5. ^ Ginsburgh, Victor, Université Catholique de Louvain; Weber, Shlomo, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Economic Studies of the Southern Methodist University, Dallas, USA, and having a seat in the expert panel of the IMF. (June 2006). "La dynamique des langues en Belgique" (in French) (pdf 0.7 MB). Regards économiques, Publication préparée par les économistes de l'Université Catholique de Louvain (Numéro 42). http://regards.ires.ucl.ac.be/Archives/RE042.pdf. Retrieved 2007-05-07. "Ce numéro de Regards économiques est consacré à la question des connaissances linguistiques en Belgique et dans ses trois régions (Bruxelles, Flandre, Wallonie). Les enquêtes montrent que la Flandre est bien plus multilingue, ce qui est sans doute un fait bien connu, mais la différence est considérable : alors que 60 % et 53 % des Flamands connaissent le français ou l'anglais respectivement, seulement 20 % et 17 % des Wallons connaissent le néerlandais ou l'anglais. Les mesures préconisées par le Plan Marshall vont dans la bonne direction, mais sont sans doute très insuffisantes pour combler le retard. ... 95 pour cent des Bruxellois déclarent parler le français, alors que ce pourcentage tombe à 59 pour cent pour le néerlandais. Quant à l’anglais, il est connu par une proportion importante de la population à Bruxelles (41 pour cent). ... Le syndrome d’H (...) frappe la Wallonie, où à peine 19 et 17 pour cent de la population parlent respectivement le néerlandais et l’anglais.".   (Summary: "Slechts 19 procent van de Walen spreekt Nederlands" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Taalunie. 2006-06-12. http://taalunieversum.org/nieuws/1349/. Retrieved 2007-05-26.   – The article shows the interest in the Ginsburg-Weber report, by the French-language Belgian newspaper Le Soir and the Algemeen Dagblad in the Netherlands)
  6. ^ Schoors, Koen, Professor of Economics at Ghent University, the KULeuven and the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School.. "Réformer sans tabous - Question 1: les langues — La connaissance des langues en Belgique: Reactie" (in Dutch) (pdf). Itinera Institute. http://www.itinerainstitute.org/Sites/ItinerainstituteBe/Assets/RST/Q1_reactie.pdf. Retrieved 2007-06-14. "Hoewel in beide landsdelen de jongeren inderdaad meer talen kennen dan de ouderen, is de talenkloof tussen Vlaanderen en Wallonië toch gegroeid. Dit komt omdat de talenkennis in Vlaanderen sneller is toegenomen dan die in Wallonië. ... Het probleem aan Franstalige kant is dus groot en er is, verassend genoeg, niet echt een verbetering of oplossing in zicht. ... het is met de kennis van het Engels ongeveer even pover gesteld als met de kennis van het Nederlands. Tot daar dus de verschoning van de povere talenkennis aan Waalse zijde als een rationele individuele keuze in een markt met externe effecten. Het is merkwaardig dat de auteurs dit huizenhoge probleem met hun verklaring expliciet toegeven, maar er bij het formuleren van beleidsadviezen dan toch maar van uit gaan dat hun model juist is. (Although in both parts of the country the young indeed know more languages than the elder, the languages chasm between Flanders and Wallonia has nevertheless grown. This is because the knowledge of languages in Flanders has increased faster than that in Wallonia. ... Thus the problem at the French-speaking side is large and there is, quite surprisingly, not really an improvement or solution in sight. ... the knowledge of English is in about as poor a state as the knowledge of Dutch. So far, about the excuse for the poor knowledge of languages on the Walloon side as a rational individual choice in a market with external effects. It is remarkable that the authors by their statement explicitly acknowledge this towering problem, but in formulating governance advices still assume their model to be correct.)"   – Reaction on the Ginsburgh-Weber report; "Ib. Reactions" (in French translation) (pdf). http://www.itinerainstitute.org/Sites/ItinerainstituteBe/Assets/RST/Q1_reaction.pdf.  

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