Belgium - Languages

According to a 1970 constitutional revision, there are three official languages in Belgium—French, Dutch (also called Flemish), and German. Dutch is the language of the four provinces of Antwerp, Limburg, East Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen), and West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen), which form the northern half of the country. French is the language of the four southern Walloon provinces of Hainaut, Liège, Luxembourg, and Namur. The central province of Brabant is divided into three districts—one French-speaking (Nivelles, Nijvel), one Dutch-speaking (Leuven, Louvain), and one bilingual (composed of the 19 boroughs of the capital city, Brussels). The majority of people in the Brussels metropolitan area are French-speaking.

The relationship between the two major language groups has been tense at times. For many years, French was the only official language. A series of laws enacted in the 1930s established equality between the two languages. Dutch became the language of administration, the schools, and the courts in the Flemish region (Flanders), while French continued to be the language of Wallonia. The use of German is regulated in the same way in the German-speaking municipalities in the province of Liège. As a rule, French is studied in all secondary schools in the Flemish region, while Dutch is a required secondary-school subject in Wallonia.

In 1963, a set of laws created four linguistic regions (with bilingual status for Brussels), a decision incorporated into the constitution in 1970. Subsequent legislation in 1971–74 provided for cultural autonomy, regional economic power, and linguistic equality in the central government. Disagreement over the future status of bilingual Brussels intensified during the late 1970s. In 1980, after a political crisis, the Flemish and Walloon regions were given greater autonomy, but the issue of Brussels, a predominantly French-speaking territory surrounded by a Dutch-speaking region, remained intractable and was deferred. According to 2002 estimates, 60% of the total population speak Dutch (Flemish), 40% speak French, less than 1% speak German, and 11% are legally bilingual in Dutch and French.

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William duBois
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Aug 8, 2012 @ 2:02 am
I just wanted to make a slight correction: since 1995, the central province of Brabant was split into Flemish-Brabant and Walloon-Brabant, effectively giving both regions 5 provinces. The Brussels Capital Region is part of neither of those 2 provinces.
Tomedes Translations
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Jun 29, 2020 @ 4:04 am
I agree and just to add more information, while the official use of Flemish Dutch and French in Belgium date back centuries, German is a comparative newcomer. The German-speaking part of Belgium only became part of the Kingdom as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, at the end of World War I, when it was ceded to Belgium by the former German Empire. Germany took it back during World War II, but it was subsequently returned to Belgium.

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