May 16, 2007

The Belgian Language

Among the announcements of new releases of software at Freshmeat is one for the WiKID Strong Authentication System, which is reported to have interfaces in English, French, Belgian, Indonesian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Turkish and Chinese. What the heck is Belgian?

As the son of a Belgian, I know that the two major linguistic groups speak French and Dutch (formerly called vlaams "Flemish", but now officially called nederlands "Dutch") and hate each other to the extent that the joke is that the only real "Belgians" are the royal family and the Jews, everyone else identifying as a Fleming or a Walloon (Walloon being the dying Romance language now largely replaced by French). Some prefer the terms "Lemmings" and "Baboons". The Royal Family and the Jews are bilingual and avoid association with either linguistic faction. There is also a small part of Belgium in which the official language is German. There is no language that is referred to as "Belgian", unless one means the language of the people known to Julius Caesar as the Belgae, after whom Belgium is named.

Unfortunately, we do not know what language the Belgae spoke. It was almost certainly either Celtic or Germanic, but we don't know which. Their territory was well within the Celtic-speaking part of Europe, and the name has a nice etymology in Celtic, but it is still possible that they were actually speakers of a Germanic language, since we know that some Germanic tribes fell within the Celtic cultural sphere and the name of the tribe, as in many other cases, may have been the name given them by some other people, not their own name for themselves.

The only true modern Belgians not known to me to be bilingual are the horses, which come from the Brabant region, around Brussels, right on the linguistic border. As far as I know, they don't have a language, but the BBC may disagree.

Posted by Bill Poser at May 16, 2007 03:59 PM