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Walloon (Walon) is a Romance language spoken as a second language by some in Walloniamarker, Belgiummarker. It belongs to the langue d'oïl language family, whose most prominent member is the French language, but should not be considered a French dialect: a French speaking person can only understand Walloon with difficulty, especially in its eastern forms. Walloon should not be confused with Belgian French, which differs from the French spoken in Francemarker only in some minor points of vocabulary and pronunciation.

Geographic distribution


Walloon is spoken in Walloniamarker (Belgiummarker). It is also spoken in:

Although Walloon was widely spoken until the mid 20th century, today only a small proportion of the inhabitants of Wallonia are fluent in the language. Most younger people (those born since the 1970s) know little more than a few idiomatic expressions, often profanities. The Walloon language nevertheless remains a part of the Walloon heritage and as such is one of the foundations of Walloon identity.


Linguistic map of Wallonia
There are four dialects, found in four distinct zones of Wallonia:

Despite local phonetic differences, there is a movement towards the adoption of a common spelling, called the "rfondou walon". This orthography is based on diasystems that can be pronounced differently by different readers, a concept inspired by the spelling of Breton. The written forms attempt to reconcile current phonetic uses with ancient traditions (notably the reintroduction of xh and oi that were used for writing Wallon until late 19th century) and the language's own phonological logic.

Other regional languages

Other regional languages spoken in Wallonia, outside the Walloon domain, are:

The Picard, Lorrain and Champenois dialects spoken in Wallonia are sometimes also referred to as "Walloon", which may lead to confusion.

Linguistic outline

Language family

Walloon distinguishes itself from other languages in the langue d'oïl family both by archaism coming from Latin and by its significant borrowing from Germanic languages as expressed in its phonetics, its lexicon, and its grammar. At the same time, Walloon phonetics are singularly conservative: the language has stayed fairly close to the form it took during the high Middle Ages.

Phonetics and phonology

  • Latin [ka] and [g + e, i, a] gave Walloon affricate phonemes spelled "tch" (as in cherry) and "dj" (as in joke): vatche (vs. French vache = cow), djambe (Fr. jambe = leg).
  • Latin [s] subsisted: spene (Fr. épine = thorn), fistu (wisp of straw), mwaîsse (Fr. maître = master), fiesse (Fr. fête = party), tchestea (Fr. château = castle),…
  • Voiced consonants at the end of words are always unvoiced: rodje (red) is pronounced exactly as rotche (rock).
  • Nasal vowels may be followed by nasal consonants, as in djonne (young), crinme (cream), mannet (dirty), etc.
  • Vowel length has a phonological value. It allows to distinguish e.g. cu (ass) and (cooked), i l' hosse (he cradles her) and i l' hôsse (he increases it), messe (mass) and mêsse (master), etc.


  • The plural feminine adjectives before the noun take an unstressed ending "-ès" (except in the Ardenne dialect): compare li djaene foye (the yellow leaf) and les djaenès foyes (the yellow leaves).
  • There is no gender difference in definite articles and possessives (except in the Ardenne dialect): compare Walloon li vweteure (the car, feminine) and li cir (the sky, masculine), with French la voiture but le ciel; Walloon has si coir (his/her body, masculine) and si finiesse (his/her window, feminine) while French has son corps but sa fenêtre.


  • Walloon still has a few Latin remnants which have disappeared from neighboring Romance languages, e.g. compare Walloon dispierter (to awake) to Spanish despertar (same meaning) or Romanian destepta (same meaning).
  • But the most striking feature is the number of borrowings from Germanic languages (Dutch and German dialects): compare Walloon flåwe to today's Dutch flauw (weak). Other common borrowings, among hundreds of others, are dringuele (tip; Dutch drinkgeld), crole (curl; Dutch krul), spiter (to spatter; same root as the English to spit, or German spützen; Dutch spuwen), li sprewe (the starling; Dutch spreeuw, or German Sperling).


  • The adjective is often placed before the noun: compare Walloon on foirt ome (a strong man) with French un homme fort; ene blanke måjhon (a white house) and French une maison blanche.
  • A borrowing from Germanic languages: the construction Cwè çki c'est di ça po ene fleur? (what kind of flower is this?) can be compared word to word to German Was ist das für eine Blume?, Dutch Wat is dat voor een bloem?, or Norwegian Kva er det for ein blome?.


It is inappropriate to speak of a "date of birth" for Walloon, partly because languages are not born overnight. From a linguistic point of view, Louis Remacle has shown that a good number of the developments that we now consider typical of Walloon appeared between the 8th and 12th centuries. Walloon "had a clearly defined identity from the beginning of the 13th century". In any case, linguistic texts from the time do not mention the language, even though they mention others in the langue d'oïl family, such as Picard and Lorrain. During the 15th century, scribes in the region called the language "Roman" when they needed to distinguish it. It is not until the beginning of the 16th century that we find the first occurrence of the word "Walloon" in the same linguistic sense that we use it today. In 1510 or 1511, Jean Lemaire de Belges made the connection between "Rommand" to "Vualon":

The word "Walloon" thus came closer to its current meaning: the vernacular of the Roman part of the Low Countries. One might say that the period which saw the establishment of the unifying supremacy of the Burgundians in the Walloon country was a turning-point in our linguistic history. The crystallization of a Walloon identity as opposed to that of the thiois (i.e. Dutch speaking) regions of the Low Countries, established "Walloon" as a word for designating its people. Somewhat later, the vernacular of these people became more clearly distinct from central French and other neighbouring langues d'oïl, prompting the abandonment of the vague term "Roman" as a linguistic, ethnic, and political designator for "Walloon".

Also at this time, following the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539, the French language replaced Latin for all administrative purposes in France. French was established as the academic language and became the object of a political effort at normalization, La Pléiade, which posited the view that when two languages of the same language family coexist, each can define itself only in opposition to the other. Around the year 1600, the French writing system became dominant in the Wallonia. From this time, too, dates a tradition of texts written in a language marked by traces of spoken Walloon. The written language of the preceding centuries, scripta, was a composite language with some Walloon characteristics but not attempting to be a systematic reproduction of the spoken language.

Walloon society and culture

Walloon was the predominant language of the Walloon people until the beginning of the 20th century, even though they had a passive knowledge of French. Since that time, the use of French has spread to the extent that now only 15% of the Walloon population speak their ancestral language. Breaking the statistics down by age, 70–80% of the population aged over 60 speak Walloon, while only about 10% of those under 30 do so. Passive knowledge of Walloon is much more widespread: claimed by some 36–58% of the younger age bracket.

Legally, Walloon has been recognized since 1990 by the French Community of Belgium, the cultural authority of Wallonia, as an "indigenous regional language" which must be studied in schools and encouraged. The Walloon cultural movement includes the Union Culturelle Wallonne, an organization of over 200 amateur theatre circles, writers' groups, and school councils. About a dozen Walloon magazines publish regularly, and the Société de Langue et de Littérature Wallonne, founded in 1856, promotes Walloon literature and the study (dialectology, etymology, etc.) of the regional Roman languages of Wallonia.

There is a difference between the Walloon culture according to the Manifesto for Walloon culture and the Wallon language (even if this latter is a part of the culture).

Example phrases

Walloon French Dutch English Phonetic
Walon Wallon Waals Walloon
Diè wåde Adieu Vaarwel God keep you / Goodbye / Farewell
Bondjoû Bonjour Goedendag Good day / Hello
A Salut Hoi Hi (often followed by another expression) a
A rvey Au revoir Tot ziens Goodbye
Cmint dit-st on Comment dit-on Hoe zegt men How does one say / How do you say
Cmint daloz ? Comment allez-vous? Hoe gaat het? How are you?
Dji n' sais nén Je ne sais pas Ik weet het niet I don't know

See also

External links

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