Walloon language

Native to Belgium, France
Region Wallonia, Ardennes, minority in Door County, Wisconsin (United States)
Native speakers
600,000 (2007)[1]
perhaps only 300,000 active speakers
Latin (Walloon alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 wa
ISO 639-2 wln
ISO 639-3 wln
Glottolog wall1255[2]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-hf×××

Walloon (Walon in Walloon) is a Romance language that was spoken as a primary language in large portions (70%) of Wallonia in Belgium, in some villages of Northern France (near Givet) and in the northeast part of Wisconsin[3] until the mid 20th century and in some parts of Sweden. It belongs to the langue d'oïl language family, whose most prominent member is the French language. The historical background of its formation was the territorial extension since 980 of the Principality of Liège to the south and west.

Despite its rich literature, beginning anonymously in the 16th century and with well-known authors since 1756, the use of Walloon has decreased markedly since France's annexation of Wallonia in 1795. This period definitively established French as the language of social promotion, far more than it was before.[4] After World War I, public schools provided French-speaking education to all children, inducing a denigration of Walloon, especially when accompanied by official orders in 1952 to punish its use in schools. Subsequently, since the middle of the 20th century, generational transmission of the language has decreased, resulting in Walloon almost becoming a dead language. Today it is scarcely spoken among younger people. In 1996, the number of people with knowledge of the language was estimated at between 1 and 1.3 million.[5]

Numerous associations, especially theatre companies, are working to keep the language alive. Formally recognized as a langue régionale endogène (regional indigenous language) of Belgium since 1990,[6] Walloon has also benefited from a continued corpus planning process. The "Feller system" (1900) regularized transcription of the different accents. Since the 1990s, a common orthography was established (the Rifondou walon), which allowed large-scale publications, such as the Walloon Wikipedia officially in 2003. In 2004, a Walloon translation of a Tintin comic was released under the name L'èmerôde d'al Castafiore; in 2007 an album consisting of Gaston Lagaffe comic strips was published in Walloon.

Walloon is more distinct as a language than Belgian French, which differs from the French spoken in France only in some minor points of vocabulary and pronunciation.

Disputed nature of Walloon

Hèsta, the Walloon name of the city of Herstal

Linguists had long classified Walloon as a dialect of French, which in turn is a langue d'oïl. Like French, it descended from Vulgar Latin. Arguing that a French-speaking person could not understand Walloon easily, especially in its eastern forms, Jules Feller (1859–1940) insisted that Walloon had an original "superior unity", which made it a language.[7]

The phonological divisions of regional languages of southern Belgium were studied by the contemporary linguist E.B. Atwood. He defined the precise geographical repartition of the four chief dialects of Walloon. In addition, he defined them against the dialects of Picard, Lorrain and Champenois.[8]

Since then, most linguists (among them Louis Remacle), and gradually also Walloon politicians, regard Walloon as a regional language, the first in importance in Wallonia. It is the only one to have originated from that part of Belgium. The eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica identified Walloon as the "northern-most Romance language".

Geographic distribution


Walloon is spoken in the Wallonia Region in Belgium. In addition, it is spoken in:

Although Walloon was widely spoken until the mid-20th century, today only a small proportion of the inhabitants of the region 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 is still part of the Walloon heritage; it is one component of Walloon identity.


Linguistic map of Wallonia
Main subdivisions of Walloon dialects

Four dialects of Walloon developed in four distinct zones of Wallonia:[10]

Despite local phonetic differences, there is a regional movement towards the adoption of a common spelling, called the Rifondou walon. This orthography is diasystemic, reflecting different pronunciations for 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 Walloon until the 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.


Language family

Walloon is distinguished 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

Consonant phonemes of Walloon[11]

Labial Dental/


Post-alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Trill r
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ ç χ
voiced v z ʒ
Affricate voiceless t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Approximant plain l j
rounded ɥ w





An auberge's sign in Crupet

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, although 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 first occurrence of the word "Walloon" appeared in the current linguistic sense. In 1510 or 1511, Jean Lemaire de Belges made the connection between Rommand to Vualon:

Et ceux cy [les habitants de Nivelles] parlent le vieil langage Gallique que nous appellons Vualon ou Rommand (…). Et de ladite ancienne langue Vualonne, ou Rommande, nous usons en nostre Gaule Belgique: Cestadire en Haynau, Cambresis, Artois, Namur, Liege, Lorraine, Ardenne et le Rommanbrabant, et est beaucoup differente du François, lequel est plus moderne, et plus gaillart.
And those people [the inhabitants of Nivelles] speak the old Gallic language which we call Vualon or Rommand (…). And we use the said old Vualon or Rommand language in our Belgian Gaul: That is to say in Hainaut, Cambrai, Artois, Namur, Liège, Lorraine, Ardennes and Rommand Brabant, and it is very different from French, which is more fashionable and courtly.

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 their 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. Established as the academic language, French became the object of a political effort at normalization; La Pléiade posited the view that when two languages of the same language family coexist, each can be defined 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 it did not attempt to be a systematic reproduction of the spoken language.

Walloon society and culture

Bilingual French-Wallon street sign in Fosses-la-Ville

Walloon was the predominant language of the Walloon people until the beginning of the 20th century, although they had a passing 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. Passing knowledge of Walloon is much more widespread: claimed by some 36–58% of the younger age bracket. Laurent Hendschel estimates there are 1,300,000 bilingual people in Wallonia (Walloon-French, Picard-French...).[12] Many French words that pertain to mining and to the textile trade derive from the Walloon-Picard complex.[13]

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. 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 Walloon language (even if the latter is a part of the culture).


The singer William Dunker (R, in front of Orval Brewery glass)
Cartoon in Walloon by José Schoovaerts for a 2010 issue of Walloon-speaking magazine Li Rantoele

Walloon literature (i.e. in Walloon, the regional language, not French) has been printed since the 16th century, or at least since the beginning of the 17th century.[14] It had its "golden age" during the peak of the Flemish immigration to Wallonia in the 19th century: "That period saw an efflorescence of Walloon literature, plays and poems primarily, and the founding of many theaters and periodicals."[15]

The New York Public Library holds a large collection of literary works in Walloon, quite possibly the largest outside Belgium, and its holdings are representative of the output. Out of nearly a thousand works, twenty-six were published before 1880. Thereafter the numbers rise gradually year by year, reaching a peak of sixty-nine in 1903. After that, publications in Walloon fell markedly, to eleven in 1913.[15] Yves Quairiaux counted 4800 plays for 1860–1914, published or not.[16] In this period, plays were almost the only popular entertainment in Wallonia. The Walloon-language theatre remains popular in the region; theatre is flourishing with more than 200 non-professional companies playing in the cities and villages of Wallonia for an audience of over 200,000 each year.[17]

During the 19th-century renaissance of Walloon-language literature, several authors adapted versions of Aesop's Fables to the racy speech (and subject matter) of Liège.[18] They included Charles Duvivier (in 1842); Joseph Lamaye (1845); and the team of Jean-Joseph Dehin (1847, 1851-2) and François Bailleux (1851–67), who covered books I-VI.[19] Adaptations into other dialects were made by Charles Letellier (Mons, 1842) and Charles Wérotte (Namur, 1844). Decades later, Léon Bernus published some hundred imitations of La Fontaine in the dialect of Charleroi (1872);[20] he was followed during the 1880s by Joseph Dufrane, writing in the Borinage dialect under the pen-name Bosquètia. In the 20th century, Joseph Houziaux (1946) published a selection of 50 fables in the Condroz dialect.[21] The motive among Walloon speakers in both France and Belgium was to assert regional identity against the growing centralism and encroachment of the language of the capital, on what had until then been predominantly monoglot areas.

There are links between French literature and Walloon literature. For instance, the writer Raymond Queneau set the publication of a Walloon Poets' anthology for Editions Gallimard. Ubu roi was translated into Walloon by André Blavier, an important 'pataphysician of Verviers, and friend of Queneau, for the new and important Puppet theater of Liège of Jacques Ancion. The Al Botroûle theater operated "as the umbilical cord" in Walloon, indicating a desire to return to the source.[22] Jacques Ancion also wanted to develop a regular adult audience. "From the 19th century he included the Walloon play Tati l'Pèriquî by E. Remouchamps and the avant-garde Ubu roi by A. Jarry."[22] The scholar Jean-Marie Klinkenberg writes, "[T]he dialectal culture is no more a sign of attachment to the past but a way to participate to a new synthesis".[23]

Walloon is also being used in popular song. The most well-known singer in Walloon in present-day Wallonia is William Dunker (b. 15 March 1959).


Walloon French Limburgian Dutch German English Phonetic
Walon Wallon Waals Waals Wallonien Walloon [walɔ̃]
Diè wåde Adieu Diè wah Tot ziens Tschüss Bye [djɛ woːt] / [djɛ wɔːt]
Bondjoû Bonjour Daag Goedendag Guten Tag Hello [bɔ̃dʒuː]
A Salut Ha/hoi Hoi Hallo Hi (often followed by another expression) [a]
A rvey Au revoir Saluu/Daag/tot ziens/Diè wah Tot ziens Auf Wiedersehen Goodbye [arvɛj]
Cmint dit-st on? Comment dit-on? Wie zaet meh? Hoe zegt men? Wie sagt man? How do you say? [kmɛ̃ dɪstɔ̃]
Cmint daloz? Comment allez-vous? Wie geet ut? Hoe gaat het? Wie geht es? How are you? [kmɛ̃ dalɔ]
Dji n' sais nén Je ne sais pas Ich weet 't neet Ik weet het niet Ich weiß es nicht I don't know [dʒɪn sɛː nɛ̃ ] / [dʒɪn se nẽ]

See also



  1. Walloon at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Walloon". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Université du Wisconsin : collection de documents sur l'immigration wallonne au Wisconsin, enregistrements de témoignages oraux en anglais et wallon, 1976 (English) University of Wisconsin Digital Collection : Belgian-American Research Collection
  4. "It seems the revolutionaries themselves consider the fact French was enough close to the Walloon language so as not to manage Wallonia as Brittany, Corsica, Alsace or Flanders." (French) "Le décret du 8 pluviôse An II (...) ne prévoit pas d'envoyer des instituteurs dans la Wallonie romane (contre l'avis de Grégoire qui souhaitait une campagne linguistique couvrant tout le territoire). Les révolutionnaires eux-mêmes semblent donc considérer que la proximité entre le français et le wallon est suffisamment grande pour ne pas traiter la Wallonie comme la Bretagne, la Corse, l'Alsace ou la Flandre." (French) Astrid Von Busekist, Politique des langues et construction de l'État, Éd. Duculot, Gembloux, 1998, p.22-28
  5. Jean-Michel Eloy (29–30 November 1996). "Chapitre Evaluer la vitalité : variétés d'oil et autres langues". actes du Colloque international, " Evaluer la vitalité des variétés régionales du domaine d'oïl " (in French). Amiens: Centre d'études picardes.
  6. Décret Valmy Féaux, 14 of December 1990
  7. Feller Jules (1912). Notes de philologie wallonne. Liège: Vaillant Carmanne.
  8. E.B. Atwood, "The phonological divisions of Belgo-Romance", in Orbis, 4, 1955, pp. 367-389.
  9. "Belgian-American Research Collection", University of Wisconsin
  10. Steven G. Kellman Switching languages: translingual writers reflect on their craft, p.152.
  11. Hendschel, Lorint. "Li Croejhete Walone Contribution à une grammaire de la langue wallonne." (2001). Accessed 6/29/2016 from http://www.lexilogos.com/wallon_dictionnaire.htm
  12. Some other figures in Laurent Hendschel, "Quelques indices pour se faire une idée de la vitalité du Wallon", in Lucien Mahin (editor), Qué walon po dmwin?, Quorum, 1999, p. 128. ISBN 2-87399-072-4
  13. Steven G. Kellman, Switching languages: translingual writers reflect on their craft, p.152.
  14. In his Anthologie de la littérature wallonne, Mardaga, Liège, 1978, ISBN 2-8021-0024-6 Maurice Piron is speaking (p. 5) about four dialogues printed between 1631 and 1636
  15. 1 2 Switching Languages, Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft, Ed. y Steven G. Kellman, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003, p. 153. ISBN 978-0-8032-2747-7
  16. Yves Quairiaux, L'image du Flamand en Wallonie, Essai d'analyse sociale et politique (1830-1914) (The Image of Flanders in Wallonia, Essay in Social and Political Analysis), Bruwxelles: Labor, 2006, p. 126. ISBN 2-8040-2174-2
  17. Lorint Hendschel, "The Walloon Language Page", Skynet, accessed 21 Oct 2010
  18. Anthologie de la littérature wallonne (ed. Maurice Piron), Liège, 1979; limited preview at Google Books Google Books
  19. There is a partial preview at Google Books
  20. The text of four can be found at Walon.org
  21. "Lulucom.com". Lulucom.com. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
  22. 1 2 Joan Gross, Speaking in Other Voices: An Ethnography of Walloon Puppet Theaters. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Press, 2001, ISBN 1-58811-054-0
  23. Benoît Denis et Jean-Marie Klinkenberg, "Littérature : entre insularité et activisme" (Literature: between insularity and activism), in Le Tournant des années 1970. Liège en effervescence, Bruxelles, Les Impressions nouvelles, 2010, pp. 237-253, p. 252. French : Ancion monte l'Ubu rwè en 1975 (...) la culture dialectalisante cesse d'être une marque de passéisme pour participer à une nouvelle synthèse...


External links

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