Sunday, July 21, 2013

Belgian National Day: The Languages of Belgium

Today is due to be an especially eventful Belgian National Day. Known in Belgium as La Fête nationale belge in French, Belgische nationale feestdag in Dutch, and Belgischer Nationalfeiertag in German, this day each year is used to celebrate the inauguration of the country's first king, Leopold I, in 1831.

The Royal Palace of Brussels
This year, it happens that the current monarch, King Albert II, will be abdicating the throne due to health reasons. It's only natural that he chose this symbolic day to pass the torch on to his son, Prince Philippe, who will be sworn in later in the day. In celebration of the Belgian National Day, we're going to take a look at some of the languages spoken in this small, linguistically diverse country.

The Official Languages

Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. Dutch, often known as Flemish in Belgium, is the first language of about 56% of Belgium's population. French is the mother tongue of about 38% of the population, yet it is the most popular second language in the country. The German-speaking population of the country numbers less than 100,000, yet the language has much higher numbers of speakers who use it as a second language than Dutch.

Flemish Dialects

There are several Flemish dialects spoken in Belgium. Brabantian is said to have been the basis for the standardized form of Dutch. West Flemish and East Flemish are also spoken in the Belgian provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders, respectively.

The Meuse River in Liège, the economic center of Wallonia.
Langues d'oïl

As we mentioned in our post for Bastille Day, the langues d'oïl are a group of languages that make up a difficult to classify dialect continuum spoken in Belgium, northern and central France, and Switzerland. The languages spoken in Belgium include Walloon, Champenois, Picard, and Lorrain, which are all very closely related to French. 

Limburgish and Low Dietsch

Limburgish is so closely related to both Dutch and German that it's difficult for linguists to decide which it should be considered to be a dialect of. The same can be said of Low Dietsch, which is also classified by some as a dialect of Limburgish. They're both mainly spoken in the Limburg region of Belgium.

Foreign Languages

As Belgium is home to the EU's headquarters, it should come as no surprise that many foreign languages also boast large numbers of speakers in the country. English is the most popular non-native language, followed by Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, Portuguese, and Yiddish.