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The influence of Brussels on the French spoken in Belgium

Vocabulary of Flemish and Dutch origin
L’influence de Bruxelles sur le français en Belgique. Le lexique d’origine flamande ou néerlandaise
De invloed van Brussel op het Frans in België. De woordenschat van Vlaamse of Nederlandse origine
Michel Francard
Traduction de Jane Corrigan
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’influence de Bruxelles sur le français en Belgique [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
De invloed van Brussel op het Frans in België [nl]

Résumés

Le rôle des grandes villes dans l’évolution des langues retient l’attention des linguistes depuis des décennies. Lieux de passages, de brassages et d’échanges, les centres urbains sont de véritables pôles d’innovation linguistique, dont l’influence se fait sentir bien au-delà des frontières de l’agglomération. L’influence des grands centres urbains sur l’évolution du français en Belgique n’a pas encore été étudiée de près, ni pour le présent, ni pour le passé. Cette contribution s’inscrit dans cette thématique en se focalisant sur le français aujourd’hui en usage à Bruxelles. Après un bref rappel de l’histoire des langues dans la capitale et une mise au point sur l’appellation – quelquefois trompeuse – de « français bruxellois », cette étude aborde le lexique « bruxellois » dans sa composante germanique, en distinguant les formes et locutions spécifiques à la capitale de celles qui sont partagées avec la Wallonie. À travers ces exemples, on tente de mieux comprendre le statut du français pratiqué à Bruxelles et le rôle de la capitale du pays dans la dynamique du français en usage en Belgique.

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Entrées d’index

Keywords :

languages, linguistics
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Texte intégral

Introduction

1The role of big cities in the evolution of languages has held the attention of linguists for decades. As places of constant coming and going, mixing and exchanging, urban centres are real hubs for linguistic innovation, with an impact which extends far beyond the city limits.

2The influence of major urban centres on the evolution of French in Belgium has not yet been studied in detail as regards the present or the past. There have of course been sociolinguistic studies providing an overview of the evolution of the linguistic practices of the urban population; but very few of them go as far as describing the characteristic features of the linguistic varieties which exist in the country’s main French-speaking cities.

3This article provides a brief examination of the French spoken today in Brussels. Following a short review of the history of the languages spoken in the capital (1), we shall identify precisely what is included in the sometimes misleading label “Brussels French” (2). We shall then illustrate the “Brussels” vocabulary (3) by distinguishing between the forms and idioms specific to the capital (3.1) and those which are shared with Wallonia (3.2). Through these examples, we shall attempt to better understand the status of the French spoken in Brussels and its role in the dynamics of the French used in Belgium.

1. Brussels, a French-speaking island in a historically Flemish territory1

  • 1  For more specific information regarding the historical aspects, see among others Baetens Beardsmor (...)
  • 2  The first establishment in the marshy valley of the Zenne, a tributary of the Scheldt, appears to (...)

4The French-speaking character of Brussels is the result of a long process which began in the Middle Ages. When Brussels was founded,2 the indigenous population spoke a Low German dialect called Dietsch. The city belonged to the principality – and later, duchy – of Brabant, which was bilingual in terms of its administrative use of languages: Welche (Walloon) in the “Romanic country of Brabant” and Dietsch in the rest of the territory.

5When vernacular languages were introduced in princely chancelleries in the 13th century, Latin was replaced by Dietsch in Brussels as the language of administration, unlike Flanders and Wallonia where French was chosen. This situation continued throughout the Burgundian period.

  • 3  Unlike the institution of free and compulsory primary education at the beginning of the 20th centu (...)

6The situation evolved in the 16th century during the Spanish regime due to the growing gallicisation of the court and the elite. As Charles V had made French the language of central administration, with Flemish used only in local administration, an increasing number of administrative acts were written in French. This trend became more pronounced during the Austrian regime and was reinforced considerably during the French period, which imposed in particular the teaching of French in primary education.3 After the interlude during which the Belgian provinces joined the United Netherlands, and William I’s vain attempt to impose a policy for the use of Dutch, the gallicisation movement resumed more than ever.

  • 4  As we know, with the usual means employed for surveys of linguistic practices, certain responses r (...)

7At the same time as this evolution in the practices of the elite and in administrative spheres, the use of French slowly gained ground throughout the population. The first mentions of a Romanic presence in Brussels date from the 13th century and tell of the arrival of Walloon workers employed in the field of construction. This situation hardly changed until the 19th century when French emerged more and more as the language of social promotion. The figures gathered from censuses4 speak for themselves: French speakers represented approximately 30% of the population of Brussels in 1830, whereas 100 years later they represented 70%.

  • 5 This estimation includes the inhabitants of Brussels who use French exclusively (at least in their (...)

8The increase in the number of French speakers in Brussels in the 20th century was the result of a dual movement: the gallicisation of the indigenous population and the arrival of new inhabitants who spoke French. We know the current figures (and the difficulties involved in establishing them due to the lack of a reliable counting instrument): according to estimations, French speakers now represent more than 85% of the population of Brussels (Bernard 1997; Janssens 2001, 2008).5 But what French do they speak?

2. “Brussels French”?

9It is just as misleading to speak of Brussels French as it is to speak of Paris French or Montreal French. The linguistic, cultural and economic mix found in major urban centres prevents us from recognising a unique linguistic variety.

10Whether it is spoken by a multilingual European civil servant, a Walloon employee who has recently moved up to the capital or a student of north African origin, French in Brussels has many facets which are not specific to the city, apart from the fact that they coexist in the capital of Europe.

  • 6  This play, which premiered on 18 March 1910 at the Théâtre de l’Olympia (Brussels), was presented (...)
  • 7  This play premiered on 25 February 1938 at the Théâtre du Vaudeville (Brussels). The minor role of (...)
  • 8  The tribulations of this façadeklacher, or “house painter”, entertained readers of the newspapers (...)

11However, there is no shortage of publications dealing with “Brussels regional French” (Baetens Beardsmore, 1971) or “Brussels French” (Lebouc 1999, 2005). Among the written works to which these denominations apply are plays such as the very well-known Mariage de Mademoiselle Beulemans by Fernand Wicheler and Frantz Fonson,6 or Bossemans et Coppenolle by Paul Van Stale and Joris D’Hanswyck.7 Let us also mention comic writers such as Jean d’Osta (1909‑1993) who created the character Jef Kazak,8 or Virgile (pseudonym of Léon Crabbé, 1891‑1970), writer for several music halls in Brussels during the periods before and after World War II, prolific writer of songs and sketches which also appeared in Pourquoi Pas?, as well as his parodies of famous writers; this theme was also used by Coco Lulu (pseudonym of Victor Lefèvre, 1822‑1904), Roger Kervyn de Marcke ten Driessche (1896‑1965), etc. If we add the puppet plays of the emblematic Théâtre de Toone written since the 19th century, we end up with a rather heterogeneous inventory from a linguistic point of view, whose common denominator is the presence of Flemish elements (above all lexical and phonetic) integrated into a French morphosyntactic mould.

  • 9  In Wallonia, a “French-Walloon” mixed code was used among others by Marcel Remy (1865‑1906) from L (...)
  • 10  Here we are referring to the satirical writings found in several French-language newspapers in Afr (...)

12This mixed code – which calls to mind others in Wallonia9 as well as in other French-speaking regions10 – leads to writings which differ essentially as regards the proportion of Flemish elements introduced: they may be very numerous, thus making it difficult or impossible for an “ordinary” French speaker to understand, or, on the contrary, they may exist in small enough doses to give a feeling of local colour.

  • 11  Initially called the Marolle neighbourhood (in the singular form) and located between the Palais d (...)
  • 12  To our knowledge, the last study on this linguistic variety was conducted by Régine Wilmet (1991). (...)
  • 13  The linguistic features (vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, etc.) are certainly representative of (...)

13Another claimed characteristic of “Brussels French” is its working-class character, associated with the Marolles neighbourhood,11 which explains the denomination “Marolles French” also found in the literature. Whilst it is true that the Brussels “working-class” survived until very recently in this neighbourhood, it is however difficult to find people there today who use this mixed code.12 Furthermore, the works in “Brussels French” are usually written by intellectuals, whose ties or sympathies with the working-class milieus of the capital are undeniable, yet whose linguistic knowledge is used in order to write a literary composition, with all of the adjustments and even misrepresentations of linguistic reality which this entails, rather than for the transcription of authentic “Brussels French”.13 In other words, Beulemans, Bossemans, Coppenolle, Jek Kazak and Madame Chapeau perform in Brussels French, but do not speak “the” Brussels French.

  • 14  This lack leads us to take certain assertions with a grain of salt, whereby “Brussels French” is c (...)

14It is therefore impossible to identify the linguistic practices which could be called “Brussels French” as an independent variety. And although it is unquestionable that a Flemish-French mixed code existed in Brussels in the working-class neighbourhoods, we do not have a precise description of it.14

15It is interesting that this linguistic artefact is undoubtedly the one which foreigners – above all the French – associate with the way Belgians speak. That is the price paid for the international success of the abovementioned plays, and for an excusable lack of knowledge regarding the linguistic characteristics of a country whose name does not have the same origin as the language spoken on its territory. But it is not unusual to hear the same imprecision on behalf of Belgians themselves, which is less excusable.

16In this article, rather than giving substance to the sort of linguistic zinneke that is Brussels French, we shall consider that there is (and was) a variety of French which takes a specific shape when it is spoken by native French speakers (and not bilingual Flemish speakers; see note 27) in Brussels, by focusing on the influence of the Germanic adstratum, i.e. Flemish and/or Dutch. This variety is shared quite extensively with other native French speakers, yet it experiences other types of linguistic interference in Wallonia with the regional Romanic languages, mainly Walloon, the Picardy dialect and the Gaume dialect.

3. The contribution of Brussels to the vocabulary of French-speaking Belgians

3.1. Belgian-French words specifically from Brussels?

  • 15  The word list of this dictionary was established based on a sociolinguistic study conducted with a (...)

17We shall discuss only one facet of the French used in Brussels, namely vocabulary, based on information found in the recent Dictionnaire des belgicismes (Francard et al. 2010),15 which deals with lexical resources attested in both Wallonia and Brussels.

  • 16  The “immediate surroundings” of Brussels in this case refers to the part of Walloon Brabant which (...)

18Vocabulary specific to Brussels and its immediate surroundings16 is observed in the French used in the capital. As in many other regions of the French-speaking world, some dominant themes appear, with food ranking first, including forms such as bloempanch “black pudding” (cf. Flemish bloempanch, Belgian Dutch bloedpens, same meaning), kip kap “pork brawn” (cf. Flemish kip kap “minced meat; pork brawn”), plattekkeis “soft white cheese” (cf. Flemish plattekees/plattekkeis, same meaning, literally “flat cheese”), smoutebolle “doughnut served at fairs” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch smoutebol, same meaning, literally “ball cooked in lard”), and stoemp “mashed potato and vegetables” (Flemish/Belgian Dutch stoemp, same meaning).

  • 17  The forms referred to as “Wallonia French” in this paragraph (and elsewhere) are regional idiosync (...)

19These words are scarcely known in Wallonia, where synonyms are observed which may be considered as regionalisms themselves: the Brussels French term kip kap is the semantic equivalent of the Wallonia French17 term tête pressée; plattekeis, of maquée; and smoutebolle, of croustillon. Furthermore, most of the forms borrowed from Flemish (or from Belgian Dutch) are not recorded in standard Dutch: the Flemish word bloempanch corresponds to the standard Dutch word bloedworst; kip kap, to the standard Dutch word hoofdkaas; plattekkeis, to the standard Dutch word kwark or wrongel; smoutebolle, to the standard Dutch word oliebol; and stoemp, to the standard Dutch word stamppot.

20Similar observations may be made on the subject of vocabulary with respect to social relations. Examples include babelaire “unrepentant chatterbox” (cf. Flemish babbeleir; standard Dutch babbelaar; Wallonia French berdelleur); broubeler “to babble, to ramble on” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch broebelen, same meaning; standard Dutch brabbelen; Wallonia French berdeller); froucheler “to scheme, to fiddle with” (cf. Flemish froechelen; standard Dutch frutselen; Wallonia French chipoter); zwanze “1. joke which is typical of Brussels humour; 2. popular comic among the inhabitants of Brussels” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch zwans “silly thing; joke”; standard Dutch grap); and avoir un boentje pour quelqu’un “to be in love with someone” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch een boontje voor iemand hebben; standard Dutch een voorliefde, een zwak voor iemand hebben; Wallonia French être bleu de quelqu’un).

  • 18  In Wallonia, the phrase au vogelpik “at random” is also used (cf. choisir au vogelpik, répondre au (...)

21This double specificity – with respect to Wallonia French and standard Dutch – characterises many other Belgian-French words typical of the French spoken in Brussels, regarding the weather (douf, in il fait douf “it is close”; cf. Flemish het is doef; standard Dutch het is zwoel/drukkend; Wallonia French il fait malade), games (vogelpik “game of darts”; cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch vogelpik “game of darts”; standard Dutch darts; Wallonia French jeu de flèches18), and other “emblematic” forms such as caberdouche “pub” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch kabberdoe(ke); standard Dutch kroegje; Wallonia French estaminet) and fritkot “chip shop” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch fritkot; standard Dutch frietkraam; Wallonia French baraque à frites/friture), etc.

22All of these forms – most of which are borrowed from Flemish – are characteristic of Brussels and its immediate surroundings, yet they are part of the French spoken in Belgium to the extent that, although they are not used in Wallonia – except in humorous contexts – they are often understood there. In other words, these forms are “available” and, due to external circumstances, may be the object of a diffusion which deregionalises them, i.e. which ensures their vitality well beyond their area of origin.

  • 19  Under this name (as an allusion to the group of French humorists called les Nuls), Frédéric Jannin (...)
  • 20  The Zinneke Parade is a colourful biennial event created in Brussels in 2000, which highlights the (...)

23Recent cases of deregionalisation of forms from Brussels are illustrated by words such as snul “moron, idiot” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch snul; standard Dutch sul), well known today throughout French-speaking Belgium thanks to television programmes made by a group of cheery lads19 who use this word as their name; stut “problem” (cf. Flemish/Belgian Dutch stoot “noteworthy fact” – used ironically), made popular in Wallonia by the humorist Marc Herman, with his famous line “Y a un stuuût!”, and more recently, zinneke “mongrel” (cf. Flemish zinneke “mongrel”; standard Dutch straathond), which has grown in popularity thanks to the Zinneke Parade.20

3.2. Belgian-French words from Brussels used in Wallonia?

  • 21  Close to 400 000 people come to Brussels every day for their professional activities, two thirds o (...)

24The small size of the country and the attractiveness of the capital, both in the economic21 and cultural domains (performances, media, etc.), leads one to think that linguistic uses spread from the capital city to the other regions of the country. The city’s role as an innovative centre in terms of language has not yet been described. Compared with the role played by Paris in the development of French in France (Lodge 2004), it is inevitably more limited in time and in its impact, essentially for historical reasons (see above).

  • 22  Although certain Belgian-French words are considered to be “respectable” (in particular the archai (...)

25If we examine the loan words from Flemish or Dutch in Wallonia, we notice that a not inconsiderable number of these forms are attested in French as well as in the regional Romanic dialects. Words such as amigo “police premises” (cf. Flemish amigo), blinquer “polish” (cf. Dutch blinken), brol “stuff; junk; rubbish” (cf. Flemish brol), cloppe “fear” (cf. Flemish klop “beat of the heart”), clopper “to be in agreement” (cf. Flemish kloppen “to agree”), crolle “curl” (cf. Flemish krol), and dracher “to pour with rain” (cf. Flemish draschen) appear in the lists of Belgian-French words to proscribe22 as well as in certain Walloon dialectal glossaries. Even if Brussels has played a role in their diffusion (as a bilingual city), the presence of these Flemish and/or Dutch words in Wallonia is explained more generally by the contacts on either side of the linguistic border.

26It would also be rash to attribute to Brussels the presence of grammatical structures or phrases in Wallonia which are evidently translated literally from a Germanic adstratum, such as trop court (to say that a certain quantity is missing: for example in deux jours trop court, quelques centimètres trop court; cf. Dutch te kort), bière au fût “draught beer” (cf. Dutch bier van het vat, literally “beer from the barrel”; German Bier vom Faß), qu’est-ce que c’est pour (a person, a thing) ? “what sort of (person, thing) is that?” (cf. Dutch wat is dat voor…?; German was ist das für…?), jouer sur la rue “play in the street” (cf. Dutch op straat spelen), sous toit “sheltered from bad weather following the installation of the roof (in reference to a building)” (cf. Dutch onder dak; German unter Dach), etc. Once again, it would be more appropriate to speak of linguistic interference with Flanders in general rather than loan words from the French spoken in Brussels.

27Let us also mention that the absence of pertinent sources sometimes prevents us from determining which language is the lender and which is the borrower. What should be concluded from the presence in both Brussels and Wallonia of forms such as brosser “skip a class” (cf. Belgian Dutch brossen, same meaning; standard Dutch spijbelen), extension téléphonique “telephone extension number” (cf. Belgian Dutch extensie same meaning; standard Dutch toestel), frigobox “cooler” (cf. Belgian Dutch frigobox, same meaning; standard Dutch koelbox), etc.? Or phrases such as assiette profonde “soup dish” (cf. standard Dutch diep bord “deep dish”), clé sur porte “turnkey (in reference to a building)” (cf. Belgian Dutch een sleutel-op-de-deur woning; standard Dutch onmiddellijk te betrekken woning), faire de son nez “to give oneself airs” (cf. Flemish van zijn neus maken; standard Dutch opsnijden, pochen), plaine de jeux “playground” (cf. standard Dutch speelplein “playground”), etc.?

  • 23  Loan words from English explain why identical forms appear on either side of the linguistic border (...)

28In certain cases, the comparison with other French-speaking areas provides an indirect response. Although attendre famille “to be pregnant” is close to the Belgian Dutch familie verwachten (standard Dutch zwanger zijn), the presence of this phrase – or of similar variants – in Quebec, Acadia, Louisiana and in several African countries is a point in favour of a loan word from French used in Belgian Dutch. Likewise for the structure cent et un, cent et deux, with a coordinating conjunction as in Belgian Dutch (honderd en een, honderd en twee), which is not used in standard French (cent un, cent deux) or in standard Dutch (honderd een, honderd twee), but is well attested in French as it was spoken in the past. Another example is the verb driller “submit someone to repeated exercises”, which is used with the same meaning in Dutch but is heard in particular in Quebec, thus suggesting a loan word from English23 rather than from Dutch.

  • 24  The most simple cases are those of the words whose phonological form and spelling identify them cl (...)

29However, the absence of evidence in other French-speaking regions or of a corresponding English term leads us to consider the hypothesis of a loan word from Flemish or Dutch.24 This is probably the case with the phrase conducteur fantôme “person who drives in the wrong direction on a motorway”, which is translated literally from the standard Dutch spookrijder, analogous to the German Geisterfahrer “ghost driver”. Once again, it is unlikely that Brussels would play a role in the diffusion of this type of form in Wallonia.

30In the current state of our documentation, we must therefore accept the fact that, although there are matching characteristics in Flemish or Dutch for a significant number of features of Belgian French, it is sometimes difficult to determine the language source with certainty due to a lack of documentation.

4. Conclusion

  • 25 These languages of immigration were the object of recent investigations, in particular within the f (...)

31For our illustration of the French spoken in Brussels, we chose to limit our approach to vocabulary and its Germanic component. We did not discuss the languages of immigration25 as a major source of (recent) linguistic variation, or the uses of French which correspond to the reference standards.

32The emphasis on the Germanic adstratum does away with the fact that most of the French spoken in Brussels also exists in Wallonia: hundreds of forms of Romanic origin from the fields of administration, politics and education are used throughout French-speaking Belgium; university slang, construction vocabulary, the world of entertainment, commercial terms and many more are commonly used by the inhabitants of Brussels and Wallonia.

33The Germanic component of the vocabulary which is scarcely used beyond the city and its immediate surroundings is objectively limited with respect to that which exists both in Brussels and Wallonia. It is unlikely that Brussels had an influence on the diffusion of the latter – whose origins sometimes date back several centuries – in Wallonia. Instead, the many interferences have been the result of contacts on either side of the linguistic border, with their scope often extending to the regional Romanic languages of Wallonia.

  • 26  In-depth studies of a transdisciplinary nature may lead to unexpected discoveries. Thus, to demons (...)

34Does this mean that Brussels does not play a role as a centre of linguistic innovation in French-speaking Belgium? It would be premature to affirm this before determining more clearly the paths taken by the words which travel from one region to another, based on detailed documentation.26 The hundreds of thousands of Walloons who are in regular contact with inhabitants of Brussels probably adopt forms or turns of phrase which were unfamiliar to them. The presence of federal institutions in the capital has an impact on the linguistic practices of the departments and administrations under their remit. It is thus likely that a series of administrative terms (which J. Pohl refers to as statalisms) spread outwards from the capital, to each linguistic region. But is this situation – characteristic of a centralised and unitarian state – not simply a thing of the past, since the process of the federalisation of Belgium devolved part of the federal responsibilities to the Regions and Communities?

  • 27  The only large-scale study of French in Brussels was the one conducted by Baetens Beardsmore (1971 (...)

35In-depth studies involving both written documentary resources and speakers themselves shall provide us with welcome input, as our knowledge in these areas is greatly lacking with respect to Brussels.27

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Bibliographie

BAETENS BEARDSMORE, Hugo. 1971. Le français régional de Bruxelles. Brussels: Presses universitaires de Bruxelles.

BERNARD, Bruno. 1997. “Le français dans la région bruxelloise. Un panorama historique”. In Le français en Belgique. Une langue, une communauté (Blampain, Daniel, Goosse, André, Klinkenberg Jean-Marie, Wilmet, Marc dir.). Louvain-la-Neuve: Duculot, 239‑250.

DE WITTE, Astrid and MACHARIS, Cathy. 2010. “Commuting to Brussels: how attractive is ‘free’ public transport?”. In Brussels Studies, No. 37, 17 p. http://brussels.revues.org (consulted on: 13 October 2010).

DOPPAGNE, Albert. 1979. Belgicismes de bon aloi. Brussels: Office du Bon Langage-Fondation Charles Plisnier.

FRANCARD, Michel, GERON, Geneviève, WILMET, Régine and WIRTH, Aude. 2010. Dictionnaire des belgicismes. Brussels: De Boeck.

JANSSENS, Rudi. 2001. Taalgebruik in Brussel. Taalverhoudingen, taalverschuivingen en taalidentiteit in een meertalige stad. Brussels: VUB Press.

JANSSENS, Rudi. 2008. “Language use in Brussels and the position of Dutch. Some recent findings”. In Brussels Studies, No. 13, 16.p. http://brussels.revues.org (consulted on: 13 October 2010).

LEBOUC, Georges. 1999. Le bruxellois en septante leçons. Brussels: Labor.

LEBOUC, Georges. 2005. Dictionnaire du bruxellois. Brussels: Le Cri.

LODGE, Antony R. 2004. A Sociolinguistic History of Parisian French. Cambridge: University Press.

MASSION, François. 1987. Dictionnaire de belgicismes. Frankfurt-Bern-New York-Paris: Peter Lang. - Vol. 1 (A‑K). Vol. 2 (L‑Z).

POHL, Jacques. 1979. Les variétés régionales du français. Études belges (1945‑1977). Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles.

PRIKHODKINE, Alexei. 2009. Dynamique normative du français en usage en Suisse romande. Enquête sociolinguistique dans les cantons de Vaud, Genève et Fribourg. Lausanne: Université de Lausanne (unpublished doctoral thesis).

TEIRLINCK, Isidoor. 1866. Woordenboek van Bargoensch. Roeselaere: De Seyn-Verhougstraete.

WILMET, Régine. 1991. Bruxellois et fiers de l’être. Pratiques et attitudes linguistiques dans le quartier des Marolles. Louvain-la-Neuve: Université catholique de Louvain (unpublished master’s dissertation).

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Notes

1  For more specific information regarding the historical aspects, see among others Baetens Beardsmore 1971 (19‑56) and Bernard 1997 (239‑250).

2  The first establishment in the marshy valley of the Zenne, a tributary of the Scheldt, appears to date back to the 6th century; the first record of the city’s name dates from 966.

3  Unlike the institution of free and compulsory primary education at the beginning of the 20th century, which modified linguistic practices considerably, the measures taken during the French period had a limited impact, as the majority of families in Brussels did not have the means to send their children to school.

4  As we know, with the usual means employed for surveys of linguistic practices, certain responses reflect perceived reality or “desired” reality rather than experienced reality. The last survey of this type took place in Belgium in 1947 (and the results were only published in 1954), with an end being put to this practice following the pressure from 300 Flemish mayors in particular who questioned the accuracy of the data gathered with respect to actual linguistic practices.

5 This estimation includes the inhabitants of Brussels who use French exclusively (at least in their private lives), representing 57% of the population according to Janssens (2008), as well as those who use it in addition to at least one other language. According to the same author, 95.5% of the inhabitants of Brussels interviewed declare that they speak French well/very well.

6  This play, which premiered on 18 March 1910 at the Théâtre de l’Olympia (Brussels), was presented that same year from the month of June onwards in Paris, where it was a resounding success (being performed hundreds of times).

7  This play premiered on 25 February 1938 at the Théâtre du Vaudeville (Brussels). The minor role of Madame Chapeau went on to become a character in her own right, often being referred to as an illustration of Brussels “zwanze”.

8  The tribulations of this façadeklacher, or “house painter”, entertained readers of the newspapers Pourquoi Pas? and Vlan for many years.

9  In Wallonia, a “French-Walloon” mixed code was used among others by Marcel Remy (1865‑1906) from Liege, in his collection of short stories entitled Les ceux de chez nous (Liege: Editions Bénard, 1916), as well as by Aimé Quernol (1886‑1950), author of Toussaint de chez Dadite (Brussels: Office de publicité, 1937), and more recently by Paul Biron, Louis Chalon and Léon Warnant.

10  Here we are referring to the satirical writings found in several French-language newspapers in Africa, works written in Joual by writers from Quebec, works in Chiac from Acadia, New Brunswick, etc.

11  Initially called the Marolle neighbourhood (in the singular form) and located between the Palais de Justice, Rue Haute and Boulevard de Waterloo, this neighbourhood gradually extended southwards to the area bordered by the former city wall and took the name of the Marolles (in the plural form).

12  To our knowledge, the last study on this linguistic variety was conducted by Régine Wilmet (1991). This indicates that, for most of the people interviewed, “Brussels French” is considered to be a variety of Flemish with a significant number of French words; this observation had already been made by Baetens Beardsmore (1971: 51), thus raising the question as to the appropriateness of the name “Brussels French” when referring to the French spoken in Brussels.

13  The linguistic features (vocabulary, pronunciation, syntax, etc.) are certainly representative of the dialect spoken by the working-class inhabitants of Brussels, but there was also a will on behalf of the authors to condense these features and to accentuate the “local” character of the works; hence the texts “saturated” with these features in certain parts. For more on this subject, see Baetens Beardsmore 1971: 298ff.

14  This lack leads us to take certain assertions with a grain of salt, whereby “Brussels French” is composed of loan words from the slang spoken by butchers (louchebem) or from the bargoensch spoken by Flemish criminals, with some forms recorded by Teirlinck (1866). However, the significant presence of words of Walloon origin in the Marolles dialect is well documented (including in the literature, see Baetens Beardsmore 1971: 302ff.) and is explained quite easily. To the benefit of the development of Brussels in the 19th century and, in particular, the construction of many public buildings, Walloon workers came to the city and settled in working-class neighbourhoods such as the Marolles.

15  The word list of this dictionary was established based on a sociolinguistic study conducted with approximately one hundred people from Brussels and Wallonia. In order to appear in this dictionary, the forms and phrases tested had to be used by at least 30% of the people, from both Brussels and Wallonia, or used by the vast majority (80%) of the people in a given region. One may refer to this dictionary for a more precise description of the forms mentioned in this article, as regards their spelling, pronunciation, meaning, vitality and geographic distribution, etymology, etc.

16  The “immediate surroundings” of Brussels in this case refers to the part of Walloon Brabant which is close to the capital and which is influenced by the linguistic uses in Brussels much more than the other Walloon provinces.

17  The forms referred to as “Wallonia French” in this paragraph (and elsewhere) are regional idiosyncrasies and therefore compete with their equivalent in standard French in the linguistic practices of French-speaking Walloons.

18  In Wallonia, the phrase au vogelpik “at random” is also used (cf. choisir au vogelpik, répondre au vogelpik, etc.), but it competes with its regional synonym (more common) à pouf.

19  Under this name (as an allusion to the group of French humorists called les Nuls), Frédéric Jannin, Nicolas Fransolet, Kristiaan Debusscher, Stefan Liberski and Serge Honorez began making a series of television programmes for Canal+ Belgium since its creation in 1989, and then for RTBf.

20  The Zinneke Parade is a colourful biennial event created in Brussels in 2000, which highlights the multicultural and cosmopolitan nature of the capital of Europe.

21  Close to 400 000 people come to Brussels every day for their professional activities, two thirds of whom come from Flanders and one third from Wallonia. See De Witte and Macharis 2010: 2.

22  Although certain Belgian-French words are considered to be “respectable” (in particular the archaisms, see Doppagne 1979), the Flemish words are condemned most severely. A similar situation was observed in French-speaking Switzerland with respect to loan words from German-speaking Switzerland (Prikhodkine 2009).

23  Loan words from English explain why identical forms appear on either side of the linguistic border, such as mop (also in Flemish; standard Dutch zwabber), plinth (also in Belgian Dutch; standard Dutch kast), roofing (also in Belgian Dutch; standard Dutch dakleer), etc. Football vocabulary also contains forms borrowed from English in the French and Dutch spoken in Belgium (back, goal, half, keeper, etc.).

24  The most simple cases are those of the words whose phonological form and spelling identify them clearly as loan words: e.g. kern “restricted ministerial committee” (cf. Belgian Dutch kern[kabinet]), which is also used for the meetings of the main members of the Walloon regional government; or a phrase such as en stoemeling “on the sly, on the quiet”, which is not confined to Brussels and its surroundings, and which is an adapted loan word from the Flemish/Belgian Dutch stoemelings “without saying anything; in a hidden manner” (standard Dutch zwijgend, heimelijk). The opposite process prevails for forms borrowed by the Flemish from Belgian French, such as cache-poussière “blouse” (standard Dutch stofjas), clignoteur “turn signal indicator” (standard Dutch knipperlicht), and navetteur “someone who commutes regularly to work” (Belgian Dutch pendelaar; standard Dutch forens or, with reference to students, spoorstudent). But the distribution in both Wallonia and Flanders of the forms mentioned in this footnote is not clearly attributable to the influence of Brussels in particular.

25 These languages of immigration were the object of recent investigations, in particular within the framework of a concerted research action (ARC) entitled “Régulation de l'hétérogénéité linguistique en contexte multicultural” promoted at Université Catholique de Louvain by Michel Francard (spokesperson), Ludovic Beheydt, Luc Colles, Philippe Hambye, Silvia Lucchini, Anne Catherine Simon and Marie Verhoeven. The first results of this research were published in doctoral theses by Stéphanie Audrit, Karolien Declercq, Salima El Karouni and Jean-Louis Siroux.

26  In-depth studies of a transdisciplinary nature may lead to unexpected discoveries. Thus, to demonstrate the linguistic influence of Brussels, Jacques Pohl (1979: 19) puts forward the example of bakery vocabulary, which is found in the region the furthest away from the capital, i.e. Gaume (in the south of the province of Luxembourg), and which the author associates with the origin of the wheat used in Gaume (Brussels region).

27  The only large-scale study of French in Brussels was the one conducted by Baetens Beardsmore (1971). Due to its date of publication, this work is now somewhat outdated from a methodological point of view (in particular in its lexical component), and suffers from a more fundamental lack (mentioned by Massion 1987: 52): this study does not differentiate clearly enough between the French spoken by the unilingual inhabitants of Brussels and that spoken by the bilingual inhabitants of Brussels (Dutch-French). The situation is somewhat different in Wallonia, where a long tradition of the study of regional Romanic dialects has attached importance to the relationship with regional French as well as to linguistic interference with the Germanic dialects.

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Référence électronique

Michel Francard, « The influence of Brussels on the French spoken in Belgium  », Brussels Studies [En ligne], Collection générale, n° 45, mis en ligne le 13 décembre 2010, consulté le 22 avril 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/829 ; DOI : 10.4000/brussels.829

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Auteur

Michel Francard

Michel Francard is a professor at Université catholique de Louvain (Louvain-la-Neuve, Centre de recherche VALIBEL – Institut Langage & Communication), where he teaches French linguistics and sociolinguistics. His current research is centred in particular on the varieties of French in use today and their relationship with the linguistic, social, political and economic environment. He has worked in collaboration on several French dictionaries, such as the Nouveau Petit Robert beginning with the 2008 edition. He has just published the Dictionnaire des belgicismes with G. Geron, R. Wilmet and A. Wirth (Editions De Boeck, 2010)

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