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Belgian French ( ) is the variety of French spoken mainly in the French Community of Belgium, alongside related minority regional languages such as Walloon, Picard, Champenois and Gaumais. The French spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker, Rwandamarker, and Burundimarker, which were formerly Belgian colonies, can also be considered an offshoot of Belgian French. Belgian French and the French of northern Francemarker are almost identical, but there are a few distinct phonological and lexical differences.

History

Historically, French-speaking Belgium was never a single political entity until being unified under French rule during the French Revolution and Napoleonic rule. Prior to that, the region had never belonged to Francemarker. It was composed of the County of Hainautmarker (half of which was annexed by France under Louis XIV), the County of Namur, the Prince-Bishopric of Liègemarker, the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedymarker, the southern part of the Duchy of Brabant and the western part of the Duchy of Luxembourg.

Clovis's capital, Tournaimarker (in modern Walloniamarker), was an old Roman city, and Latin was thus spoken there more than in other parts of the Low Countries. Two centuries later, the Carolingian dynasty progressively took over the power from the Merovingian kings. They were based in Liegemarker, just at the opposite end of Wallonia. Tournaimarker and Liègemarker still mark the western and eastern limits of French-speaking Belgium. French is not spoken north of either city.

The Merovingian and Carolingian courts thus had a vital importance in spreading Latin to the otherwise Germanic Low Countries. Latin naturally evolved into French (or the Walloon dialect) over the centuries, without any need for this part of Europe to ever belong to France.

Nevertheless, the proximity with northern France, the numerous intermarriages (as attested by the presence of surnames of both origins on either side of the border), the close economic relations, the French occupation between 1792 and 1815, the standarisation of French in education, as well as modern media, have all contributed in making modern Belgian French almost identical to its Gallic counterpart. In fact, the French spoken in the southern half of France is more different from neutral French in both accent and usages than the one spoken in current-day Belgium.

Influences

Until the beginning of the 20th century, most residents of what is now Walloniamarker, the French-speaking part Belgium south of the country, spoke Walloon. Many speakers were bilingual in both French and Walloon; Walloon thus had a large influence on the development of Belgian French.

The proximity of Dutch-speaking Flanders and the Netherlandsmarker has led to a sizable lexical contribution from various Dutch dialects. To a lesser extent, the proximity of Germany and the inclusion of German speaking communities within Belgium's borders since World War I have led to some borrowings from German.

Pronunciation differences

There are a few consistent phonological differences between the French spoken in France and Belgian French, but usually no more than the differences between regional dialects within France. Not everybody speaks with the same accent in French-speaking Belgium. Regional accents can vary from city to city (e.g. the famous Liègemarker accent), but on the whole they vary more according to one's social class and education. Stronger accents are more typical of working-class people. On the other hand, many upper-middle-class Belgian Francophones speak with a neutral accent.

Major phonological differences include:
  • Lack of the approximant : The combination is replaced by , and in other situations becomes a full vowel . Thus for most Belgian speakers, the words enfuir (to run away) and enfouir (to bury) are homophones.
  • The distinction between the nasal vowels and is upheld, whereas in many regions of France, these two sounds have merged. Thus, although for many French people, brin (stalk) and brun (brown), are homophones, for Belgians they are not.
  • A stronger distinction exists between long and short vowels.
  • The letter "w" is almost always pronounced , the same as in English, which also approximates Flemish "w". In France, it is often pronounced as in German. For example, the word wagon (train car) is pronounced in Standard French, but in Belgian French.
  • For some speakers, final stops are devoiced, i.e., "d" becomes "t", "b" becomes "p", and "g" becomes "k". Combined with the dropping of consonants in final consonant clusters, this leads to pronunciations like instead of ("grande") and instead of ("table").


Certain accents, such as certain urban accents (notably those of Brussels and Liègemarker), as well as the accents of older speakers, display greater deviation from Standard French pronunciation. For example, in the dialect spoken in and around Liège, particularly among older speakers, the letter "h" is pronounced in certain positions, whereas it is never pronounced in Standard French. That dialect is also known for its slow, slightly singing intonation, a feature that is even stronger further east in the Verviersmarker area.

Vocabulary

Words which are unique to Belgian French are called "Belgicisms" (French: belgicismes). This term is also used for Dutch words used in Belgium and not in the Netherlands. There are too many to try to form any complete list in this article. Some of the better-known usages include:
  • The use of septante for "seventy" and nonante for "ninety", in contrast to Standard French soixante-dix (literally "sixty-ten") and quatre-vingt-dix ("four-twenty-ten"). These words are also used in Swiss French. Unlike the Swiss, however, Belgians never use huitante in the place of quatre-vingts ("four twenties"). Although considered a Belgicism/Helveticism, septante and nonante were common in France as well until around the 16th century, when the current forms began to dominate.
  • The verb savoir is generally used instead of pouvoir in the sense of ability to do something (in other varieties of French, "savoir" is exclusively used to mean "to know"). Thus in Belgian French: Je ne sais pas dormir means "I am not able to sleep", whereas Je ne peux pas dormir means "I am not allowed to sleep". This usage is often amusing to speakers of other varieties of French, who understand "I do not know how to sleep" in the first sentence.
  • The words for meals vary, as described in the table below. The usage in Belgian, Swiss, and Canadian French accords with the etymology—déjeuner comes from a verb meaning "to break the fast". In Standard French, however, breakfast is rendered by petit déjeuner. Souper is instead used in France to refer to a meal taken around midnight, after going to the opera, the theatre, or a similar night-time event.
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  • Many Walloon words and expressions have crept into Belgian French, especially in eastern regions of Wallonia. Examples include Qu'à torate (a cognate of à bientôt, "see you soon"), pèkèt ("jenever"), barakî (similar to the word chav in British English).
  • Germanic influences are also visible:
  • The mayor of a city is called a bourgmestre in Belgium (rather than the Standard French maire), reflecting the influence of Dutch burgemeester.
  • Crolle ("curl") reflects the Brabantic pronunciation of the Dutch word krul.
  • S'il vous plaît is used to mean "here" (when handing someone something) as well as "please", whereas in France the meaning is limited to "please" - and "voilà" is used for "here". This is comparable to the use of alstublieft in Dutch.
  • Sûr (from Dutch zuur) means "sour", while in France, the word acide is used.
  • Dringuelle, standard French "pourboire", "tip", from the Dutch word drinkgeld. Although this is less commonly used in Brussels.
English
Belgian, Swiss, and Canadian French
Standard French
morning meal déjeuner petit déjeuner
midday meal dîner déjeuner
evening meal (before going out) souper dîner
late-evening meal (after going out) N/A souper


Grammar

  • Germanic influences are also visible:
    • Ça me goûte, standard French "ça me plait", "I like it" (only for food), is a calque of Dutch Dat smaakt
    • Tu viens avec ?, standard French "Tu m'accompagnes ?", "Are you coming with ?", is a calque of Dutch Kom je mee?
    • Ça tire ici (mainly said in Brussels), compared to standard French "Il y a un courant d'air", "there is a draft", is a calque of the Belgian Dutch Het trekt hier.
    • Phrases such as pour moi + V ; ex : "Passe-moi un bic, pour moi écrire", standard French "Donne-moi un stylo, afin que je puisse écrire", "Give me a pen, so that I may write / for me to write", is a grammatical structure found in Dutch ("om te +V").
    • "Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça pour un animal ?", standard French "Quelle sorte d'animal est-ce là ?", English "What kind of animal is this ?", Dutch "Wat is dat voor een dier ?"
    • Usage of Une fois ("once") in mid-sentence, especially in Brussels, is a direct translation from the Dutch "eens". French people who want to imitate the Belgian accent often use a lot of "Une fois" at the end of the sentences, which is often wrong. Ex : "Viens une fois ici" - literally : "Come once here". "Une fois" cannot really be translated in other languages ; its function is to soften the meaning of the sentence.


See also

  • Belgian Dutch, one of the major spoken languages in Belgium, and one of three official languages, along with French and German.
  • Walloon, a separate Romance language, similar to French, spoken in Belgium


References

  1. von Wartburg, Walther., Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bonn, Basel, 1983.


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