Walloon language

Walloon language

(also: some speakers in the United States)
speakers=est. 600,000

Walloon ("Walon") is a Romance language spoken as a second language by some in Wallonia, Belgium. It belongs to the "langue d'oïl" language family, whose most prominent member is the French language, and is considered a French dialect. Walloon should not be confused with Belgian French, which differs from the French spoken in France only in some minor points of vocabulary and pronunciation.

Geographic distribution


Walloon is spoken in Wallonia (Belgium). It is also spoken in:
* a small part of France: the "botte de Givet" in northern Ardennes, and several villages in the Nord département, making it one of the regional languages of France
* a small district of Door County, Wisconsin, USA, owing to fairly large-scale immigration there in the 19th century
* Brussels, by some Walloon residents

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 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.


There are four dialects, found in four distinct zones of Wallonia:
* Central, spoken in Namur ("Nameur") – the Wallon capital – and the cities of Wavre ("Åve") and Dinant
* Eastern – in many respects the most conservative and idiosyncratic of the dialects – spoken in Liège ("Lidje"), Verviers ("Vervî"), Malmedy ("Måmdi"), Huy ("Hu"), and Waremme ("Wareme")
* Western – the dialect closest to French proper and with a strong Picard influence – spoken in Charleroi ("Tchårlerwè"), Nivelles ("Nivele"), and Philippeville ("Flipvile")
* Southern – close to the Lorrain and to a lesser extent Champenois languages – spoken in Bastogne, Marche-en-Famenne ("Måtche-el-Fåmene"), and Neufchâteau ("Li Tchestea"), all in the Ardennes region.

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:
* Picard, in Mons, Ath, and Tournai
* Lorrain (also called "Gaumais" locally), in Virton
* Champenois, in Bohan
* Luxembourgish, in Arlon and Martelange

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" (cow), "djambe" (leg).
* Latin [s] subsisted: "spene" (thorn), "fistu" (wisp of straw), "mwaîsse" (master), "fiesse" (party), "chaestea" (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 "cû" (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), "spiter" (to spatter; same root as the English to spit, or German "spützen"), "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 is this flower?) 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.

Example phrases

ee also

* Walloons – the people
* Wallonia – the region
* Belgian French – French as spoken in Belgium
* Doncols; Sonlez: formerly Walloon-speaking villages in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

External links

* [http://rifondou.walon.org/index-engl.html Web page of Common Written Walloon]
* [http://users.skynet.be/lorint/croejh/ Comprehensive grammar of Walloon] (in French and under GFDL)
* [http://users.skynet.be/lorint/croejh/node8.html phonetic system of Walloon]
* [http://wa.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Walloon language wiki]
* [http://babel.lexilogos.com/walloon_gastronomy.htm Wallon-English Gastronomy Dictionary]
* [http://www.ucw.be.tf/ Union Culturelle Wallonne]
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=wln Ethnologue report for Walloon]
* [http://www.arsouye.com L'Arsouye, cyber-gazette wallonne]

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