Brussels is a multicultural city that is home to an estimated 1.19 million people. The city was originally unilingual with Flemish-Dutch being the sole language used in Brussels. However, the city went through a linguistic paradigm shift in the 19th Century in what was known as the Francization of Brussels. During this period Belgian French grew to become the majority language in the city and Brussels’ lingua franca. Today, Flemish-Dutch and Belgian French are recognized as the majority languages in the city of Brussels. Other languages spoken in the city include German, Arabic, Turkish, Berber, and English. Immigrants in the 20th Century introduced these languages.
Official Language: Belgian French
One of the official languages in Belgium is Belgian French, a language which enjoys widespread use in the country and particularly in Brussels. Belgian French is among the popular languages in the nation’s capital and is used as the primary language by half of Brussels’ inhabitants, while about 45% of the capital’s population use Belgian French as the lingua franca. The language is spoken by an estimated 40% of the total population of Belgium. While the language is similar to the French spoken in Switzerland and France, it has distinctive phonological characteristics. For instance, the language has numerous loanwords from other local languages including Dutch, Walloon, and Picard. The French language is spoken in Belgium also has distinct vowels which are unlike those found in Parisian French language.
Official Language: Flemish-Dutch
Flemish-Dutch is another language whose usage is widespread in Brussels. The language, along with Belgian French, are the two official languages of Brussels. More than 6.5 million people in Belgium can converse in the language which is equivalent to three-fifths of the nation’s population, making Flemish-Dutch among the most popular languages in the country. Flemish-Dutch differs from other variants of the Dutch language as it heavily influenced by Belgian French making it distinct. The language is made up of four main dialects; West Flemish, East Flemish, Limburgish, and Brabantian. Nonetheless, the universal colloquial form of the language used all over the country and in Brussels is known as Tussentaal.
The German language was introduced to Belgium in the early 20th Century. The spread of the German language is limited to the regions which were settled by Nazi Germany after the Hitler-led government re-annexed part of the country during the Second World War. However, the language is a minority language in the nation’s capital, Brussels where it is only spoken by the few German communities residing in the city. An estimated 77,000 people in the country are recognized as German speakers.
As a cosmopolitan city, Brussels is also home to a large number of foreigners who have brought their languages to the city. Some of the foreign languages having many speakers in Belgium’s capital city include Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish, and Spanish. In recent years, English has experienced widespread use in Brussels particularly among the young generation. The language is also used as the language of instruction in some of the city’s institutions of higher learning.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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