Belgian French

Linguistic map of Belgium. Officially Francophone areas in red.

Belgian French (French: français de Belgique) is the variety of French spoken mainly among the French Community of Belgium, alongside related Oïl languages of the region such as Walloon, Picard, Champenois and Lorrain (Gaumais). The French language spoken in Belgium differs very little from that of France or Switzerland. It is characterized by the use of some terms that are considered archaic in France, as well as loanwords from languages such as Walloon, Picard and Dutch.[1]

French is one of the three official languages of Belgium alongside Dutch and German. It is spoken natively by around 39% of the population, primarily in the southern region of Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region.


While a number of Oïl languages have traditionally been spoken in different areas of Wallonia, French emerged as the regional language of literature in the 13th century. This was a result of heavy French cultural influence on the region over the past few centuries.[2] Owing to the diversity of local languages, the French language in Wallonia was influenced by them, with words from Walloon, Picard, Champenois and Lorrain making their way into the local variant. Until the 20th century, Walloon was the majority language of Wallonia, and most speakers were bilingual in both French and Walloon.[3]

While the French spoken in Wallonia was influenced by local languages, the variant spoken in Brussels was influenced by Dutch, specifically the local Brabantian dialect. The city, geographically located within the Flanders region, was originally just a Dutch-speaking city. However, a gradual Frenchification took place beginning in the 19th century and intensifying towards the end of that and continuing throughout the next (20th) century. Today, many Dutch idioms or expressions have been translated into French and are used as such in the Brussels area.


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 (or the ones that exist between English-Canadian speakers of Toronto and Vancouver, for instance), which might be even non-existent. Regional accents however, can vary from city to city (e.g. the Liège accent), but on the whole they may vary more according to one's social class and education.

While stronger accents have been more typical of working-class people, they have become much less pronounced since World War I and the widespread use of television, which has helped to standardize accents and the types of words speakers will use. Within the French community of Belgium, standard French pronunciation is taught to students. The following differences vary among speakers, depending on their level of education, age, and the region they come from.

Major phonological differences include:

Certain accents, such as certain urban accents (notably those of Brussels and Liège), as well as the accents of older speakers, and particularly less educated 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 farther east, in the Verviers area.


Words unique to Belgian French are called "Belgicisms" (French: belgicismes). Incidentally this term is also used to refer to Dutch words used in Belgium but not in the Netherlands. In general, the upper-middle-class or well-educated Belgian Francophones understand the meaning and use of words in standard French, and may also use standard French when speaking with a non-Belgian who speaks in standard French (as hinted by their accent). Overall, the lexical differences between standard French and Belgian French are minor (akin to the differences that might exist between two well-educated American English speakers living in different states of the United States, a well-educated Canadian English speaker and a well-educated British English speaker, for instance).

Furthermore, in many instances, these same speakers would be well aware of these differences and might even be able to "standardize" their language or use each other's words to avoid confusion). Even so, there are too many to try to form any complete list in this article. Some of the better-known usages include the following:

English Belgian, Swiss, and Canadian French Standard French
breakfastdéjeuner/petit déjeunerpetit déjeuner
late-evening meal/supperN/Asouper


See also


  1. Georges Lebouc, Dictionnaire de belgicismes, Lannoo Uitgeverij, 2006
  2. Félix Rousseau, Wallonie, terre Romane, Ed. Jules Destrée, 1967, page 42.
  3. Francard, pp.9-11.
  4. von Wartburg, Walther (1983). Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bonn, Basel.
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