Belgian French

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Belgian French
français de belgique
Native to Belgium, northern France
Native speakers
4.3 million French speakers in Belgium  (2007)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguistic map of Belgium. Officially Francophone areas in red.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Belgian French (French: français de belgique) is the variety of French spoken mainly in the French Community of Belgium, alongside related minority regional languages such as Walloon, Picard, Champenois and Lorrain (Gaumais).

Belgian French and the French of northern France are almost identical, but there are a few distinct phonological and lexical differences. Belgian French is made up of different varieties of French, each with its own characteristics, just like the French spoken in France is made up of different varieties of French too. The accent and words used by people from Brussels, for instance, can be slightly different from the accent and words used by other Belgians from other French-speaking regions in Belgium. The differences between Parisian French or the French from Tours (which is regarded as a standard or prestige dialect) and Belgian French depends on the region Belgian speakers come from and their levels of education. The more educated, the younger, and the more urban the speaker, the higher the chances that the differences will be minimal to being virtually non-existent. In terms of writing, accent, and lexicon, the differences might be akin to the differences that exist between Canadians or between Australians, which might be non-existent (if education levels and ages are similar) to more pronounced as education levels and ages differ.

Belgian French-speakers who are well educated, are very much aware of these minor differences and will "standardize" their French pronunciation and lexicon when speaking to non-Belgian speakers or other Belgian speakers who are not from their region.[citation needed] Grammatical differences between standard French and Belgian French[when defined as?] do not exist since standard rules are taught in schools,[where?] unless the speaker forgets to apply those rules.[dubious ]

In fact, Maurice Grevisse, a Belgian, is the most renowned French grammarian of all[by whom?] and is known around the French community for his 1600 pages reference book on French grammar, Le bon usage, which received an award from the Académie française. Belgian French is a term that refers to the different varieties of French spoken in Belgium, which vary in terms of pronunciation and lexicon, depending on the region and the speaker's characteristics, which might be such that the French spoken and words used might be indistinguishable to being a bit different from other types of French spoken in France, from Paris, Tours, and many other regions of France. Generally speaking, differences are far and few between, especially with younger and well-educated speakers.

French was historically widely spoken many cities in Flanders and the Netherlands, especially by its francophone upper classes. However, the use of French declined as a result of the rise of the Flemish Movement, and later on, the popularity of the English language. The role of French in Flemish society remains a controversial topic, especially concerning the municipalities with language facilities along the language border. Belgian French remains a second language mastered by a majority of Flemings.


Historically, French-speaking Belgium was never a single political entity until being unified under French rule during the French Revolution and Napoleonic rule. Prior to that, the region had never belonged to France. It was composed of the County of Hainaut (half of which was annexed by France under Louis XIV), the County of Namur, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, the southern part of the Duchy of Brabant and the western part of the Duchy of Luxembourg.

Clovis's capital, Tournai (in modern Wallonia), was a Roman-founded city, and Latin was thus spoken there more than in other parts of the Low Countries. Two centuries later, the Carolingian dynasty progressively took over the power from the Merovingian kings. They were based in Aachen near Liege, at the opposite end of Wallonia. Tournai and Liège still mark the western and eastern limits of French-speaking Belgium. French is not an official language north of the notional geographic line above these two cities, though there are many Francophone families in Flanders, especially Gent, Antwerp and Kortrijk.

The Merovingian and Carolingian courts thus had a vital importance in spreading Latin to the otherwise Germanic Low Countries. Latin evolved into the Oïl dialects, and thence into modern French (and Walloon, in Wallonia) over the centuries, even though these territories historically had never belonged to France.

The proximity with northern France, the numerous intermarriages (as attested by the presence of surnames of both origins on either side of the border), the close economic relations, the French occupation between 1792 and 1815, the standarisation of French in education, as well as modern media, have all contributed in making modern Belgian French almost identical to its Gallic counterpart. In fact, the French spoken in the southern half of France is more different from standard French in both accent and usage than that which is spoken in current-day Belgium.


Until the beginning of the 20th century, most residents of what is now Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium in the south of the country, spoke Walloon. Many speakers were bilingual in both French and Walloon; Walloon thus had a large influence on the development of Belgian French.

The proximity of Dutch-speaking Flanders and the Netherlands has led to a sizable lexical contribution from various Dutch dialects. To a lesser extent, the proximity of Germany and the inclusion of German speaking communities within Belgium's borders since World War I have led to some borrowings from German.


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. Not everybody speaks with the same accent in French-speaking Belgium. Regional accents can vary from city to city (e.g. the famous Liège accent), but on the whole they vary more according to one's social class and education.

Stronger accents are more typical of working-class people but less so now as World War I and the television have helped to standardize accents and the types of words speakers will use. Many Belgian children watch TV programs (and listen to radio programs) from France, which are preferred in view of their higher budgets and quality. Within the French community of Belgium, many schools had special diction classes to correct or standardize the accent of children. The following differences vary amounst speakers, depending on their level of education, age, and the region they come from.

Major phonological differences include:

  • Lack of the approximant /ɥ/: The combination /ɥi/ is replaced by /wi/, and in other situations /ɥ/ becomes a full vowel /y/. Thus for most Belgian speakers, the words enfuir (to run away) and enfouir (to bury) are homophones.
  • The nasal vowels are pronounced like in French of France. /ɑ̃/[ɒ̃], /ɛ̃/[æ̃], /ɔ̃/[õ]. The distinction between the nasal vowels /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ is upheld in Belgian French, whereas in many regions of France, these two sounds have merged. Thus, in Parisian French brin (stalk) and brun (brown) are pronounced the same way, but not in Belgian French.
  • The distinction between the vowels /ɛ/ and /ɛː/ is upheld, whereas in France, these two sounds have merged. The words mettre (put) and maître (master) are pronounced differently in Belgian French.
  • The distinction between the vowels /o/ and /ɔ/ is upheld in final open syllables, the words peau (skin) and pot (jar) are pronounced differently; they are pronounced the same in French of France and in Quebec French.
  • A stronger distinction exists between long and short vowels.
    • While long vowels are constrained to closed syllables in French of France, Belgian French also has them in absolute final position: ée, aie [eː]#, ue [yː]#, ie [iː]#, oue [uː]# and eue [øː]#. As a result, almost all feminine adjectives are phonetically distinct from their masculine counterparts for Belgians.
    • The marginal phoneme /ɑ/ is most of the time rendered as a lengthened version of /a/: [aː].
  • The letter "w" is almost always pronounced /w/, the same as in English, which also approximates Flemish "w". In France, it is often pronounced /v/ as in German. For example, the word wagon (train car) is pronounced /vaɡɔ̃/ in Standard French, but /waɡɔ̃/ in Belgian French.
  • For some speakers, final stops are devoiced: "d" becomes "t", "b" becomes "p", and "g" becomes "k". Combined with the dropping of consonants in final consonant clusters, this leads to pronunciations like [ɡʁɒ̃ːt] instead of [ɡʁɒ̃ːd] ("grande") and [taːp] instead of /tabl/ ("table").

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). This term is also used for Dutch words used in Belgium and not in the Netherlands. As expressed in the article related to phonological differences, upper-middle-class or well-educated Belgian Francophones can understand the meaning and use of words in standard French, but can also use standard French when speaking with a speaker using standard French, as hinted by his or her accent). Overall, lexical differences between standard French and Belgian French are minor (akin to the differences that might exist between two American 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:

  • The use of septante for "seventy" and nonante for "ninety", in contrast to Standard French soixante-dix (literally "sixty-ten") and quatre-vingt-dix ("four-twenty-ten"). These words are also used in Swiss French. Unlike the Swiss, however, Belgians never use huitante in the place of quatre-vingts ("four twenties"). Although considered a Belgicism/Helveticism, septante and nonante were common in France as well until around the 16th century, when the composite forms began to dominate.[1]
  • The words for meals vary, as described in the table below. The usage in Belgian, Swiss, and Quebec French accords with the etymology—déjeuner comes from a verb meaning "to break the fast". In Standard French, however, breakfast is rendered by petit déjeuner. Souper is instead used in France to refer to a meal taken around midnight, after going to the opera, the theatre, or a similar night-time event.
English Belgian, Swiss, and Quebec French Standard French
breakfast déjeuner petit déjeuner
lunch/dinner dîner/diner déjeuner
dinner/supper souper dîner/diner
late-evening meal/supper N/A souper
  • Many Walloon words and expressions have crept into Belgian French, especially in eastern regions of Wallonia. Examples include Qu'à torate (similar to à bientôt, "see you soon"), pèkèt ("jenever"), barakî (similar to the word chav in British English).
  • Germanic influences are also visible:
    • Crolle ("curl") reflects the Brabantic pronunciation of the Dutch word krul.
    • S'il vous plaît is used to mean "here" (when handing someone something) as well as "please", whereas in France the meaning is limited to "please" - and "voilà" is used for "here". This is comparable to the use of alstublieft in Dutch.
    • Sûr (from Dutch zuur) means "sour", while in France, the word acide is used.
    • Dringuelle, standard French "pourboire", "tip", from the Dutch word drinkgeld. Although this is less commonly used in Brussels.
    • Kot (student room in a dormitory) from Dutch "kot".
    • Ring (ring road) from Dutch "ring". In Standard French: "une ceinture périphérique".
    • Savoir (to know) is often used in the place of pouvoir (to be able [to]). This was quite common, however, in older forms of French.
    • Blinquer (to blink), instead of briller, has a German origin, through walloon.


  • Germanic influences are also visible the following:
    • Ça me goûte, standard French "ça me plaît", "I like it" (only for food), is a calque of Dutch Dat smaakt. Cf Spanish 'me gusta'
    • Tu viens avec ?, standard French "Tu m'accompagnes ?", literally "Are you coming with?" (meaning "Are you coming with me?"), is a calque of Dutch Kom je mee?
    • Ça tire ici (mainly said in Brussels), compared to standard French "Il y a un courant d'air", "there is a draught", is a calque of the Belgian Dutch Het trekt hier.
    • Phrases such as pour + V ; ex : "Passe-moi un bic, pour écrire", standard French "Donne-moi un stylo, afin que je puisse écrire", "Give me a pen, so that I may write / for me to write", is a grammatical structure found in Dutch ("om te +V").
    • "Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça pour un animal ?", standard French "Quelle sorte d'animal est-ce là ?", English "What kind of animal is this?" (literally "What is that for an animal?"), Dutch "Wat is dat voor een dier?"
    • Usage of une fois ("once") in mid-sentence, especially in Brussels, is a direct translation from the Dutch "eens". French people who want to imitate the Belgian accent often use a lot of "une fois" at the end of the sentences, which is often wrong. Example: "Viens une fois ici" - literally : "Come once here". "Une fois" cannot really be translated in other languages; its function is to soften the meaning of the sentence. The English equivalent would be "Could you come here?" or "Why don't you come here?".
    • Jouer poker, should be "Jouer au poker" in standard French. Inspired by the Dutch Poker spelen.

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