Belgicism

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'Kot' is an example of a common belgicism. A loan from Dutch meaning 'shack', but with a French plural 's' (which humorously would translate as 'vomit' into Dutch).

A belgicism (known in French and Dutch as a belgicisme) is a word, expression, or turn of phrase that is uniquely Belgian French. Even though the French spoken in Belgium is closer to the French spoken in France than the French spoken by Québécois, there are a considerable number of words and phrases that have disappeared from common usage in other Francophone nations that remain common in everyday Belgian speech.

Certain words used in Belgium that are not used in Standard French are also found in northern France and in Switzerland, for example chicon (‘endive’) and septante (‘seventy’, unlike the ventigesimal soixante-dix, or ‘sixty-ten’, used in France.) In these cases, these words are sometimes not classified as being solely belgicisms.

Origins of Belgicisms[edit]

Belgium has three national official languages, and consequently, the French spoken in the French part of Belgium is considerably under the influence of the languages of the other Belgian regions, and is also enriched by vocabulary from the languages of neighbouring countries, mainly Dutch, but to a much lesser extent German and English as well.

Belgian French is also enriched by vocabulary from other regional Romance languages, such as Picard, Walloon, Lorrain and Champenois. Belgicisms directly influenced by Walloons are specifically called Wallonisms.

Different types of belgicisms[edit]

One can point to:

  • phonetic belgicisms, which are not written differently from standard French words, but are pronounced differently:
    • Many Belgians pronounce <ui> /ɥi/ like /wi/, unlike French speakers of French. Most French individuals notice a difference between the two sounds, but many Belgians do not. Another difference in pronunciation stems from how loan words with the letter 'w' are pronounced. Belgian Francophones tend to always pronounce w as /w/ in words like wagon /waɡɔ̃/ whereas in Standard French, this would be pronounced /vaɡɔ̃/, since French Francophones generally pronounce /w/ like /v/.
    • The distinction between the nasal vowels /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ is upheld, whereas in many regions of France, these two sounds have merged. Thus, although for many French people, brin (stalk) and brun (brown), are homophones, for Belgians they are not.
    • Another unusual aspect of Belgian French is the clear difference between the pronunciation of 'ai' and 'ais' at the end of a word. Belgians pronounced the first like an /e/ and the second like an /ɛ/. As a consequence, Belgians rarely confuse the future tense and conditional when writing.
    • Belgian speakers pronounce the final T in certain words that some French do not: for example, huit (eight) and vingt (twenty) are pronounced /wɪt/ and /vɛ̃t/ respectively.
  • Archaic belgicisms that come from the foreign rule over Belgium in the past. Belgium has been occupied by Dutch, English, Spanish, Austrian, French and German powers, and all of which have indubitably laid a footprint on Belgian French. Also worth mentioning is the use of 'septante' and 'nonante' for 70 and 90 respectively. Although these words are used in Switzerland and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the rest of the Francophone world, the ventigesimal 'soixante-dix' and 'quatre-vingt-dix' are used.
  • Belgicisms that were manufactured by the Belgian government. Like France and Québec, Belgium too has an administration in place to prescribe language use. Belgium undertook a series of measures to combat linguistic sexism by creating feminine versions of masculine gender occupations. For example, professeur and docteur had no feminine-gender equivalent words, even though many women had these occupations. In March 1989, the Belgian administration prescribed that all jobs would have a grammatically masculine and feminine form (le docteur could be la doctoresse.) This feminization of words has no official equivalent in metropolitan France.
  • Belgicisms of Germanic origin such as the word bourgmestre which comes from the Dutch Burgemeester and refers to the chief magistrate of a village.
  • Belgicisms with different meanings to other variants of French. Some words have a different meaning in Belgium from those in other Francophone countries:
    • La cassonade in Belgium is a light or dark brown sugar extracted from beets; in Québec, it is a brown cane sugar.
    • outre-Quiévrain is used to refer to Belgium by the French, and to France by the Belgians; Quiévrain is the border crossing point on the old main Paris-Brussels railway line.

Some examples[edit]

Belgicism Dutch Metropolitan French English
à tantôt tot later à tout à l'heure see you later
aller à la toilette naar het toilet gaan aller aux toilettes to go to the toilets
astruquer verslikken s'étrangler to choke drinking something
au matin deze morgen ce matin this morning
auto-scooter botsauto auto-tamponneuse bumper car
boiler boiler chauffe-eau boiler
brosser un cours brossen, spijbelen sécher un cours to skip class
patates aardappels pommes de terre potatoes
canule slechte voetballer (No French equivalent) terrible football player
carabistouilles stommigheden bêtises antics, silly things
carrousel draaimolen, carrousel manège forain carrousel
chicon witloof endive Belgian endive
co-koter samenwonen partager un logement to have a roommate (usually students)
couque koek brioche bun
dikkenek dikkenek (literally: fat neck) vantard boasting, boastful
divan sofa, zetel canapé sofa
douf ("Il fait douf!") heet chaleur étouffante ("il fait très chaud") asphyxiating heat
drache stortregen très grosse pluie heavy rain
écolage opleiding apprentissage training
fraiser kloppen frapper to knock
GSM gsm téléphone portable mobile/cell phone
kot kot petit studio d'étudiant digs; student residence
(avoir des) krolles krullen hebben (avoir les) cheveux frisés, bouclés (to have) curly hair
lait russe ("Russian milk") koffie verkeerd café renversé, café au lait café au lait, latte
nonante negentig quatre-vingt-dix ninety
septante zeventig soixante-dix seventy
spéce speciaal, ongewoon spécial special; unusual
toquer "nen toek geven", kloppen frapper to knock
torchon dweil serpillière floorcloth
volle gaz volle gas rapidement quickly (full steam ahead)

See also[edit]