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Languages of Luxembourg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Languages of Luxembourg
OfficialLuxembourgish, French, German
ForeignEnglish, Portuguese, Italian
SignedGerman Sign Language[1]
Keyboard layout

The linguistic situation in Luxembourg is characterized by the practice and the recognition of three official languages: French, German, and the national language Luxembourgish, established in law in 1984. These three languages are also referred to as the three administrative languages, as the constitution does not specify them as being "official". As of 2018, 98% of the population was able to speak French at more or less a high level (usually as a second language), 78% spoke German, and 77% Luxembourgish (which is the most common native language).[3]

Upon the founding of the country, French enjoyed the greatest prestige, and therefore gained preferential use as the official and administrative language. German was used in the political field to comment on the laws and the ordinances in order to make them comprehensible to everyone. At the primary-school level, teaching was limited to German, while French was taught in secondary education. The law of 26 July 1843 reinforced bilingualism by introducing the teaching of French in primary school.

History of language policy[edit]

German-French bilingualism dates back at least to the 12th century, when the territory of the Duchy of Luxembourg spread over the traditional Germano-Romance language border. The population comprised roughly equal numbers of Romance- and Germanic-speakers. Later, Burgundian, Spanish, Austrian and French rule favored the use of French. Also after 1815, under William I of the Netherlands, French was preferred to counter expansion of Prussia. However, after the Belgian Revolution, language policy changed in favor of German while French was maintained. Further, by 1839, Luxembourg had lost its Wallon and hence native French-speaking areas, so that nowadays, the dialectal foundation of the country is only Germanophone.[4]


Memorial to the Schengen Agreement in Luxembourgish, French, and German.

Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch), a Rhinelandic language of the Moselle region similar to German and Dutch, was introduced in primary school in 1912. It is similar to Mosel-Frankish dialects like the dialects in Germany bordering Luxembourg, and the dialects in Moselle, France. Unlike its German counterparts, it uses many French loanwords, and is recognized as a separate language rather than a German dialect. The formalization of regional German dialects into national languages arose from the desire to impress a distinct national identity, not associated with the German state. In Switzerland, written German was maintained, albeit with some differences in vocabulary, differing strongly from the spoken Swiss-German speech which the average German cannot understand. In Luxembourg, the dialect was phonetically transcribed into a new language, and while Luxembourgish and a mix of other languages is spoken on the street, French is often the main language spoken next to German and sometimes Luxembourgish in shops or other commercial sites.

The first printed sentences in Luxembourgish appeared in 1821 in a weekly journal the Luxemburger Wochenblatt. The first book in Luxembourgish was released in 1829 by Antoine Meyer: E' Schrek ob de' Lezeburger Parnassus. Until the 1980s, the language had been used mainly for poetry and drama but has since become increasingly popular for fiction which now represents a significant contribution to Luxembourgish literature. Between 2000 and 2002, Luxembourgish linguist Jerome Lulling developed a lexical database of 185,000 word forms for the first Luxembourgish spellchecker, thus launching the computerization of the Luxembourgish language.

Constitutional revision[edit]

Until 1984, the official use of the languages was based on the grand-ducal decrees of 1830, 1832 and 1834, which allowed the free choice between German and French. French was preferred in the administration. Luxembourgish had no official status at all.

The constitutional revision of 1984 gave the legislature the power to regulate the language by law. On February 24, 1984, a law, passed by the Chamber of Deputies, made Luxembourgish the national language. Furthermore, this law recognizes the three languages of Luxembourg (Luxembourgish, French and German) as administrative languages. French remains the language of legislation, due to the application of the Napoleonic civil code in Luxembourg.

Participation in German and French language councils[edit]

Ballot for the 2015 referendum written in French, Luxembourgish and German

Despite having German as one of its official languages, Luxembourg, which was not involved in devising the German orthography reform of 1996, is merely a non-voting observer in the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography). The government of Luxembourg unilaterally adopted the reform and, due to its efficiency, it is well-accepted by the country's teachers. According to the Grand Duchy's largest newspaper, the Luxemburger Wort, Luxembourg does not perceive itself as a "German-speaking country" (the only national language is Luxembourgish) and thus had no right to take part in the council.[5] Despite this, Luxembourg takes part in the annual meetings of German-speaking countries.[6]

Luxembourg does however fully participate in the Francophonie, despite French only being an official, and not national, language.[7] This might be due to the fact that Francophonie as an organization seeks to promote the use of the French language around the world, rather than regulate it,[citation needed] and thus includes many members that are not French-speaking, such as Romania and Greece.[8]


Luxembourgish is taught at pre-primary level, there is an introductory program in French since 2017/18. When Luxembourgish children are first taught to read and write in public schools, it is in German. The language of instruction in public primary school is German. Moreover, Luxembourgish is taught only one hour per week at secondary school and only in the first years. In secondary school, besides German, French and Luxembourgish, English is taught. Optionally Latin, Spanish and/or Italian in the Lycée Classique where most subjects are taught in French after 4e. At the university level, multilingualism makes it possible for Luxembourgish students to continue their higher education in French, German or English-speaking countries.[9]

Press, police, public services[edit]

German and French are the primary languages for public service information. German is the main language of the written press and for recording police case files.[10]

Other languages[edit]

Foreign-born people and guest workers make up almost half (47%) of the population of Luxembourg. The most common languages spoken by them, other than German and French, are Portuguese, English and Italian.[11]

In addition to Luxembourgish, French, and German; English is frequently an acceptable language for use in and with government services.[12]


The following tables list the percentage of inhabitants who are able to speak a language natively or as a second language.

2012[13] Luxembourgish French German English other
Native language 52% 16% 2% 30%
Second language 80% 69% 56%
Combined 96% 71%
2005[14] Luxembourgish French German English other
Native language 77% 6% 4% 1% 12%
Second language 13% 90% 88% 60%
Combined 90% 96% 92% 61%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "House of Representatives: German sign language unanimously recognised". today.rtl.lu.
  2. ^ "SPECIAL EUROBAROMETER 386 Europeans and their Languages" (PDF). ec.europa.eu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-06.
  3. ^ "What languages do people speak in Luxembourg?". luxembourg.public.lu. Retrieved 2021-09-06.
  4. ^ von Polenz, Peter (2000). Deutsche Sprachgeschichte vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Gegenwart (in German). Vol. 3. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 118–119.
  5. ^ Luxemburger Wort, 9 August 2004
  6. ^ "14. Treffen deutschsprachiger Länder in Luxemburg". BRF Nachrichten (in German). 2017-09-27. Retrieved 2024-02-28.
  7. ^ "Etats et gouvernements membres de l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie". Archived from the original on April 16, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2009.
  8. ^ "77 États et gouvernements" (in French). Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Archived from the original on 30 September 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  9. ^ "Langues à l'école luxembourgeoise". Site du ministère de l'Éducation nationale, de l'Enfance et de la Jeunesse (in French and Luxembourgish). Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  10. ^ "The use of languages in Luxembourg - Luxembourg". Archived from the original on 2015-05-20.
  11. ^ "Recensement De La Population 2011" (PDF). Statistiques.public.lu. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  12. ^ "Guichet.lu - Administrative Guide - Luxembourg". guichet.public.lu. 3 April 2024.
  13. ^ "Special Eurobarometer 386" (PDF). Ec.europa.eu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-06. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  14. ^ "Europeans and their Languages" (PDF). Eurobarometer. Retrieved 2016-04-21.