An Overview of Walloon, a Macro-French Language of Belgium

Mountleek: Yes, probably every country is different. France is, as we know, quite aggressive towards other languages, for example.

I still think that the strength of regional lects is overrated. How many people in Belgium actually speak Walloon? Some middle aged and older people in the countryside, and on top of that, only in some situations? Maybe they start using Walloon when they enter middle age? But still, people who move into cities will not speak Walloon, there is no occasion to use it.

I believe that in Switzerland, the local German dialects are strong though.

Walloon has 500,000 speakers among five major lects. The central lect or Central Walloon is understood by all, so it is more or less the koine or standard. Intelligibility among the lects is very controversial, but the eastern and southern lects or Eastern and Southern Walloon are hard to understand.

Walloon is doing pretty well. I have had at least a couple of commenters on here who were native speakers. They seemed to be men in their 30’s-40’s.

You have whole cities in some places where everyone speaks Walloon, especially over by the French border. Everyone in Tournai speaks Walloon, even teenagers. I know that from reports on the Net. Tournai actually speaks Picardian Walloon or Western Walloon. There’s Picardian Walloon, and then right across the border in France by Valenciennes there’s Walloonian PicardOne’s Picard, and one’s Walloon. Oh, and they can’t understand each other.

By the way, Picard is very heavily spoken in Valenciennes in France on the border. Of all of the langues d’oil, Picard is maybe in the best shape. The Picardian region is a hardscrabble rural area with a  lot of miners and a very traditional way of life, and they don’t want to give up Picard.  Furthermore, Picard has reasonably good intelligibility with Parisien at 65%. Picard has all sorts of dialects within it.

I think Charleroi is also heavy Walloon speaking. I know that Namur is Walloon-speaking also.

Really, the whole of French Flanders speaks either Walloon or Belgian French, and Belgian French is quite different from Parisien French. The differences are at least like British and American English and maybe even worse. I am sure that all Belgian French speakers can understand Parisien French. The question would be if the Parisien speakers can understand Belgian French, and there are some reports of difficult intelligibility in that direction.

From what I can see there are whole cities where everyone down to teenagers heavily speaks Walloon, so I figure it will be around til the end of the century. I found a French messageboard where everyone was writing in French. It was for regional languages. There were certainly a lot of angry people on there, but they were all French people or French speakers, they all spoke the various minority languages of France and the surrounding areas, and most importantly, most people on the board were teenagers and young adults in their 20’s! The Walloon section was very active, full of Walloon-speaking teenagers from all over the area, and many of them were writing in Walloon, so apparently there is a written standard.

Belgium has not been real evil about regional languages like France. I doubt if it has been real great either. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. These countries do not wish to recognize any minority lect that is related the official languages, which is another matter altogether.

For sure a lot to most middle aged people speak Walloon in a lot of places, and no doubt majorities of the old people speak it also in other places.

The lects are Western Walloon, Northern Walloon, Central Walloon, Eastern Walloon and Southern Walloon. Eastern for sure and Southern probably are separate languages. Central of course is the standard language, so that gives us two or probably three Walloons. Next comes the question of whether it is reasonable to split off Western and Northern Walloon, and I have no answer to that. I think all of the lects are in good shape.

In a small village in Belgium on the French border, Meuse, a dialect of Lorrain, a langue d’oil, was formerly spoken, but it may be extinct by now. Lorrain has many lects within it, and the language as a whole is in very bad shape. There are some middle aged and older speakers in places like Lille and Nancy. Some Lorrain lects which still have a few speakers have seen declines of up to 98% in the number of speakers. Lorrain is surely an endangered language. Some French speakers say they can understand maybe 1% of Lorrain.

The langues d’oil are really separate languages. The French state has even admitted that, but it still won’t give them any rights due to “progressive” Jacobinism which has said for 200 years that Parisien is the only language in France, and there can be no other official languages. For a supposedly progressive ideology, Jacobinism is awfully nationalistic and ugly. Laicite secularism seems to go a bit to far too if you ask me.

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Filed under Belgium, Europe, France, French, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Romance, Sociolinguistics, Switzerland

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