Despite the fact that Belgium occupies a small area, this country has managed to have three different languages at once. The official languages of Belgium are Dutch, German and French, but some areas of the country also speak Roma, Manush and Yenish.
Some statistics and facts about Belgium language
Now let's analyze in more details the languages spoken in Belgium, and how the local people communicate with one another.
To obtain employment in almost all state institutions in Belgium, you need to know two languages. This condition puts the French-speaking population at a disadvantage, for they have long been famous for being deeply disgusted with learning the Flemish (Dutch) language. They consider it a waste of time to learn a language that only 6 million people speak? (22 million, taking into account the Dutch population).
Flemings find it unbelievable that the Walloons have stubbornly refused to learn their language. It is so bad that you can easily find a Wallon married to a Flemish woman who lives in Flanders and yet does not speak Flemish much, except at the most primitive level. At the same time, Flemish people (even those who hold government posts where the knowledge of both state languages is necessary) refuse to speak French for no reason at all.
Although Flemings say that Flemish is a real language, the fact is that it is not so much a language than a set of heterogeneous dialects. It is so diverse that the inhabitants of the western part of Flanders hardly understand the Flemings from the eastern province of Limburg. In school, Flemings learn Dutch, which is in fact a universal communication tool for all Dutch speakers. Only this allows the Flemings to interact with each other, as well as with the Dutch themselves (their language is also full of dialects).
A minor, but no less significant difference between the Dutch Flemish speaking and the true Dutch community is that due to their inherent dislike, the former, in contrast to the latter, practically do not use borrowed words from the French. Flemings would rather go for a Dutch word, or, if there is none available, an English word.
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The word ‘Walloon’ comes from the name of the Romanized Celtic tribe who lived in the southern part of Belgium and created their own version of the French language, which is, in fact, a hodgepodge of Celtic and Latin words. The Walloon language, therefore, is the dialect form of the French language, or, to be quite precise, the aggregate of regional dialects. Today only a few people speak pure Walloon. This language has almost disappeared and the French-speaking inhabitants of Wallonia only occasionally insert Walloon words for color in their speech. For example, some call potatoes ‘les canadas’, and not ‘les pommes de terre’, as is customary in French.
In other respects, Walloons speak classical French language, the only difference is that they say ‘septante’ instead of ‘soixante-dix’ (seventy), and instead of ‘quatre-vingt-dix’ (ninety), they say ‘nonante’, with a traditional throat accent which the French people love to mimic.
The Brussels dialect
Brussels is the third most important administrative unit of Belgium. It is neither a part of Flanders nor Wallonia, although the vast majority of locals speak French. In olden times, the people of Brussels spoke Flemish. However, when Belgium became part of the Burgundy duchy, French became the language of the ruling classes, which then penetrated into the lower classes. The locals created their own mixed language, ‘Brussels’, which for the most part was the same with Flemish, but with inclusions of French and Spanish words.
Among the Brusselers there are still some who like to play around with Flemish and French words to form new rude words that can be found only in Brussels dialect.
Belgium is a country of two languages (plus German), but not a bilingual population. Bilingual inscriptions on the labels of goods usually causes confusions amongst foreigners.
Trying to figure out what language group the Belgians belong to is absolutely impossible. In linguistically borderline areas, words in one language could translate to curses in the other. The names of many cities have two forms, and on road signs the name of a settlement is written in the same way the inhabitants are used to. So if you are trying to get to the French-speaking city of Mons, then you should know that since you are on the Flemish territory, you are not going to Mons, but to Bergen; Liege becomes Luik and Namur becomes Namen. This also works vice versa; the Flemish city of Mechelen is Malin in French, Ieper is Ypres and Berne is Fürn. Outside Brussels, the Walloon and Flemish communities who are still fiercely arguing over their languages, still lack the intelligence to agree and install road signs in both languages.
Note for a tourist
If you speak French, you will understand majority of the inhabitants of Belgium; you will also be able to read the names of public transport stops and navigate the area using road signs.
In Belgium, most of the citizens speak English, this is mostly because this language of international communication is taught in schools and universities. The information centers for tourists offer maps in English and directions to the main attractions of Belgium. Employing English-speaking staff in hotels, restaurants and shops in tourist regions is a norm in the Kingdom of Belgium.
Now that you know the answer to the question ‘what language do people in Belgium speak?’, feel free to visit this interesting country and learn something new for yourself!
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