Languages, Brussels

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  • Brussels = the Tower of Babel.
    Brussels = the Tower of Babel.
    by breughel
  • "Madame Chapeau" statue.
    by breughel
  • Languages
    by scottishvisitor
  • breughel's Profile Photo

    Brussels's French based dialect.

    by breughel Updated Aug 4, 2011

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    As the Flemish speaking inhabitants started over the two last centuries to speak more and more French they often did it keeping the Flemish tonic accent at the begin of the word on the contrary of French. The result sounds typical and is easily noticed by the French. Even if I do my best, they will notice from my accent that I'm from Belgium in the same way as I will notice who is from the south of France.

    Some light comedies have been written using that Brussels dialect like "Le Mariage de Mademoiselle Beulemans" by Frantz Fonson et Fernand Wicheler. Best actors were Christiane Lenain and Jacques Lippe.
    This comedy met such a success in Belgium and France that Marcel Pagnol found here his inspiration for "Marius".
    Another comedy was "Bossemans et Coppenolle" by Joris d'Hanswyck et Paul Van Stalle famous with these lines:
    " Je ne m'appelle pas Madame Chapeau, ça est les crapuleux de ma strotje qui m’ont donné ce surnom parce que je suis trop distinguée pour sortir en cheveux"
    Please note that in Brussels (the Brussels of the time of Jacques Brel) these lines were more famous than any lines of Racine or Shakespeare.
    She was usually played by a male actor.
    There is even a statue of "Madame Chapeau" at rue du Midi, 1000 Bruxelles.

    Now this "Bruxellois or Brusseleer" dialect is quite different from Walloon which is close to the French-Picard language.
    French actors, although they tried, are unable to imitate the Brussels dialect.

    I tried to get rid of my Brussels's accent but with no success.

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    A multilingual city.

    by breughel Updated Dec 27, 2010

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    Surprising the previous comment about people from Brussels ignoring other languages than French. It always seemed to me that Brussels was a multilingual city.

    It's a fact that nearly 90% from the population of Brussels speaks French but often not as sole language.
    The social composition of Brussels is a complex one.
    Next to that large majority of "Bruxellois" having French has principal language, there is minority (less than 15%) having Flemish/Dutch has principal language (The difference between spoken Dutch and Flemish is striking; for me it's difficult to understand an Amsterdammer and he won't understand my Brussels dialect).

    Furthermore you have also a large number of immigrants from European countries who are often bilingual combining their country of origin language with French. More and more important is that part of the population in Brussels coming from North-Africa and Turkey (22% of the population of Brussels are Muslims). They assemble in parts of Brussels and keep their languages and traditions. Their second language is also often French, what explains that globally this international language dominates in Brussels in the same way as English dominates in London.
    As what concerns the pretended lack of knowledge of English this is not the opinion of the large or small companies, EU organizations, or Nato HQ established in Brussels.
    Americans, British can live here for years only speaking English.

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    Brussels's genuine Flemish dialect.

    by breughel Updated Aug 4, 2011

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    Brussels has like other cities her own dialect. The specificity of that dialect is the fact that it mixes two languages Flemish and French.
    At the origin it is Flemish (a couple of centuries ago most people in Brussels were speaking Flemish) with a typical pronunciation as found in and around Brussels.
    For example - my Flemish and Dutch VT friends will best understand - the sound 00 is sometimes pronounced UU ("schoon>schuun") and EE becomes sometimes IE ("geen>gien") other times EI ("peer>peir").
    Furthermore the fun really starts when French words or expressions are used and mixed with the Flemish.

    This was my first language, that of my grand-parents, which was later corrected by my parents and school to "normal" Flemish called "Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands". That means "General Civilized Netherlands". More recently some intellectuals found that "beschaafd = civilized" rather odd and reduced to Algemeen Nederlands or Standaard Nederlands".

    The Brussels's dialect is dying because the genuine "Brusseleirs" have left the city to live outside in the country. They have been replaced by immigrants who speak their own languages. Brussels is now like the "Tower of Babel".

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    The difference between Dutch and Flemish.

    by breughel Updated Aug 28, 2009

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    My Dutch friends know how different are the Dutch and Flemish languages.
    Even if scholars and intellectuals use the term "Algemeen Nederlands" or "Standaard Nederlands" and try to impose this official language to the 16 Mio Netherlanders and the 6 Mio Flemish Belgians, the only place where you might hear Algemeen Nederlands is at the news bulletin by the speakers of the official televisions or radios.
    In the street dialects are predominant. Furthermore the intonation between Dutch and Flemish is very different even when people speak a correct Algemeen Nederlands.
    Best is to compare with English from the UK and English from the USA.

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    Mind your language

    by scottishvisitor Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The City of Brussels is officially biligual with both Flemish and French spoken widely although the majority of its citizens speak French. Street signs are also dualled in the two languages as are major buildings. Strangely, for me any way, I notice that advertisment were quite often in English. Don't worry if your French is not up to scratch English is widely used here too.

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    Brussels: the Tower of Babel.

    by breughel Updated Mar 23, 2013

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    Brussels = the Tower of Babel.

    The Flemish University of Brussels VUB has just published a study about the languages spoken in Brussels.
    There are 104 different languages spoken in Brussels. I don't know if there were as many at the Tower of Babel?

    Nr 1 is French 88%, Nr 2 English 30%, Nr 3 Dutch 23%, Nr 4 Arab 18%, and Nr 5 Spanish 9%.
    (A large number of inhabitants speak several languages).
    The position of Arab is not surprising as 25% of the Brussels' inhabitants are Muslims mostly immigrants from North-Africa; the increase is spectacular 7% in 2006 now 18%.
    This has also an important impact on daily life in a number of districts.

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    Cinema : beware of the dubbed versions

    by Bendokan Written Jul 24, 2003

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    When visiting a cinema in Belgium, remember that Belgium has 3 official labguages and dubbed versions of movies are everywhere.

    To avoid stumbling on to a film you wouldn't understand always look for the sign next to the movie title...

    OV or VO
    This means Original Version which comes with subtitles but is spoken in the original language.

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    Officially bilingual Brussels

    by Norali Updated Mar 25, 2004

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    Bilingual?

    We said it enough, Brussels is officially bilingual (Dutch+French). Yet, go to the Grand-Place or take the tub and you will hear myriads of languages, be they European, African, Asian, Arabic languages.

    Something you would not hear is the Brussels dialect, initially spoken in the Marolles area. By clicking on the picture, you would notice on the black plaque both French and Dutch. Normally, walkers make do with that... seemingly not in the Marolles area where Dannie and I spotted this extra white plaque with the Brussels dialect on it.

    GROESESTROET (in "Marollian") means Gratiesstraat (in Dutch), Rue de Grâces (in French). It refers to the same name, in fact. See the link between those languages ?

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    "S'il vous plaît!"

    by Norali Updated Feb 25, 2004

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    Success, beauty, politeness are an item in Brussel

    A thing that stroke me a lot while arriving in Belgium (and still amazes my mum when she comes in Belgium though she comes every summer) is to hear people saying "S'il vous plaît!" all the time.

    Of course, this happens if you speak French but I heard it sometimes in Dutch as well ("Als U/je Blieft!").

    This happens when you buy something. You choose the item, pay and would hear the cashier or sales(wo)man saying "S'il vous plaît!" while handing your bag to you.

    I've never discussed about it but just see it as a sure sign of kindness, more beyond politeness. Politeness would be to hand the bag to client with a smile and say goodbye... but here, it's more than that! And I am not a brown tongue !

    Well, this is one of impressions a Malagasy girl had while arriving in Belgium.

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    Zinneke, ketje, zwanze, etc.

    by melissa_bel Updated Jan 15, 2005

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    Brussels is officially a bilingual city (French and Dutch) but...the city had its own dialect for a while. A mix of mainly Flemish, a bit of French and even a dash of Hebrew and Spanish, this dialect is now rarely spoken but a lot of words still have sprung in the French spoken in Brussels. So here is a little vocabulary.

    First of all, Brussels is a city of Zinneke: a mutt, mixed-blood dog and by extension now, multi-cultural person. Brussels is so proud of being a Zinneke that it has the huge Zinneke Parade once every 2 years. Usually,4 different procession start at the different geographic corner and join in the center of Brussels, celebrating the wealth of the melting-pot Brussels is.

    Brussels is a city that where the "Zwanze" is alive! Zwanze is a joke and by extension, describe a a predilection to play tricks and having a good time.
    If you're that kind of person, then you are likely a "zwanzer".

    If you are a young boy, don't be surprised if you're being called a "ketje" (or ket), that's an affectionate little word for a boy or a young man. Older men can be refered to as a "peï".

    Also, if you end up at the "Amigo", it can be one of Brussels's most luxurious hotel... but it can also be... the city jail.

    For French-speakers, see the link for an interesting site about "Brusseler":http://www.eurobru.com/visit16.htm and more in the link section.

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    two languages in one city

    by chancay Written Dec 17, 2002

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    seems to me a very special phenomon to find two languages spoken in one city. In Brussels they speak french and dutch. You can say that the city is divided in the french and in the dutch zone. The poeple normally understand each other but not everyone speaks both languages. They told me that a lot of times one speak in dutch and the other responds in french and they understand it each other. Impressing!

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    Bi- or multilingual Brussels?

    by matcrazy1 Updated Dec 29, 2003

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    AT  GRAND  PLACE

    Officially Brussels is a bilingual city of French and Dutch languages (in real it's Dutch dialect called Flemish - similar to "regular" Dutch). So always menu was written at least in these two languages in front of restaurants. But I noticed that they mostly could speak either English (most) or German (less) as well.

    We were talking with a couple of natives at Grand Place (in English) and they told us that they both spoke Flemish at home (minority) but could understand French as well and sometimes they had to speak using both languages at the same time to communicate with other natives :-). Not so easy, I suppose.

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  • Sjalen's Profile Photo

    Brussels dialect experience

    by Sjalen Written Sep 25, 2007

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    Brussels hears more and more French, and even English for that matter, but there is one place where you can still experience the old Brussels peculiar dialect and that is at the famous Toone puppet theatre where the puppets are used in plays about Belgium's vivid history. You won't understand much but it is a fascinating experience. Head for Impasse Schuddeveld amongst all the tourist trap restaurants near Grand Place and look for the old inn where you can have a drink before the play. On the second site below, you can read the amazing story of this beloved Brussels institution.

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    What language do they speak there?

    by mickebear Updated Feb 15, 2005

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    It was not by accident that Brussels was chosen as Capital of European Union... As French speaking city with sizable Dutch speaking minority, the city has long traditions as making compromises, also in what language to use. You get by easily in English, but if you know French, more doors open for you. And if your counterpart is Dutch speaking Brusselaare, you will certainly make impression, if you know a few words of Dutch, let alone be fluent in it;)

    Other languages besides Dutch, French and English can be also heard everywhere in Brussels, due to sizable communities: Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Polish, Russian, Greek, Hebrew, Jiddish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Thai, Swedish, Finnish...

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    Street names

    by matcrazy1 Updated Dec 27, 2003

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    ST. JAMES CHURCH OF PALACE ROYAL

    I noticed that all street names are written in two languages: French and Flemish.

    There is Flemish name at the top of the sign and French at the bottom.
    Street is "rue" in French and "straat" in Flemish. They put the name of the street at the end in French and at the beginning in Flemish. So, there is: Rue Neuve and Nieuw Straat.

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