Cisse pådje egzistêye e walon eto
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What you will find here:This page offers a basic presentation of several aspects of Walloon (a romance language spoken in Wallonia) from the viewpoints of linguistics, sociolinguistics, dialectology (see our map of Wallonia) and philology. Finally there are several words about today's Walloon culture. If you want to discover Walloon more in depth, you will find a short bibliography.
Walloon is a close relative of French - but should not be taken for a dialect of French, although it has often been considered so. The relationship seems to be comparable to that between Scots and English in the UK, or Asturianu and Castellano in Spain, or Letzebuerguesh and German in Luxembourg. There are at least three language levels in Wallonia: standard French, Walloon in its different dialects, and our local French (ie a dialect of French) which is more or less deeply influenced by Walloon.
Walloon is probably the "oïl language" which managed to survive best in the shadow of French.
Here are a few characteristics of the language, just a few examples taken almost at random:
Phonetics and phonology
The number of speakers has been shrinking, and so has the functional and social range of the language: frenchifying began in the higher strata of the population. The bourgeoise also began using French in the 18th-19th centuries. Then the rest of the population saw that there was no social future outside French, which was the sole language in Walloon schools; all parents began raising their children in French (or often in a dialectal form of French more or less inspired by Walloon). Now, the extremity of the functional deadend is near, with some people claiming that Walloon should be reverred only as a relic of the past, a literary language or, at best, "the language of the heart", but not of everyday speech.
Although there has long been a group of philologists willing to promote Walloon (that is: its literature and the dialectological studies), it is only recently that a movement in favor of the Walloon language developed which simply promotes its use, and asserts that it has still a role to play in today's Walloon society. Too few too late? Wait and see!
There is no spoken standard. The efforts to develop a written standard are recent too (if you want to see how it looks, this page is available in standard Walloon too: click here).
Official attention came in 1990, with the vote of a decree which recognizes the existence of "endogenous languages" (not named) in the so-called "French community" (i.e. Wallonia and the French-speaking population of Brussels) of the Belgian federal state.The decree states that these languages should be studied and their use encouraged. A specific committee for "endogenous languages" was created with the Ministry of Culture, but nothing much has happened so far: the room allowed for Walloon on television went on declining, nothing is done in the schools, as far as place names are concerned, etc.
To date (July 1998), Belgium has not signed the European charter on regional or minority languages, adopted by the Council of Europe in June 1991.
Although our linguistic area is tiny (a square of about 150 x 150 km) and does not include the whole of Wallonia (see map below), Walloon is usually divided into four dialect groups:
Some classical examples of dialect differences are:
If you want to have a look at Walloon texts, you can read this page in Walloon, or the pater in 4 dialectal versions. Walloon is or was spoken also in tiny parts of France (north of the departement of the Ardennes, e.g. the city of Djivet and a few villages of the departement of the Nord, along the river Sambre), Luxembourg (where it disappeared recently) and the USA (region of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where a compact group of Walloons settled in the19th century).
Other regional languages spoken in certain areas of Wallonia include Picard (romance language, western half of the province of Hainaut), Lorrain (romance language, southern villages of the Luxembourg province), Champenois (romance language, one village in the south of the province of Namur) and Letzebuergesch (germanic language, region of Arlon).
All these languages are spoken in the neighboring countries: the major part of the Picard and Lorrain linguistic areas are in France (where they are not recognized at all as languages). Letzebuerguesh is the official national language of Luxembourg.
In the beginning of the 17th century, people were conscious that what they were writing was far away from what they spoke, which allowed the emergence of Walloon literature (French was and has remained the only language for official, formal use). Since then, the literature in Walloon has been developing without interruption. There were powerful (after WWII, for instance) and subdued (the beginning of this century, for instance) moments. Poetry deserves special mention owing to its quality. Theater, which has been flourishing mainly since the second half of the 19th century, is characterized by abundance (over 10,000 plays, mostly comedies!). Prose has developed later, especially in the 20th century. Other genres include comics, songs, translations, etc. An embryo of non-fiction prose has developed for a hundred years. Recently, it has been more and more present in Walloon magazines.
Our bibliography suggests bilingual anthologies (Walloon + English / French / Esperanto) in order to begin discovering Walloon literature.
Theatre is still flourishing with over 200 non-professional companies playing in the cities and villages of Wallonia for an audience of over 200,000 each year.
In the media, Walloon is present on the state TV (about 2 hours on Saturday afternoons) and on the state radio (about 3 hours on Friday evenings). However, the language is permanently under pressure (budget and time reductions, etc.).
Several French-speaking private radios and national papers and magazines leave a room for Walloon, either regularly or occasionally.
Walloon is sporadically present in the church (marriages, special masses...). After a boom in the 70s, the Walloon song is vegetating, though there is renewed interest with a couple of rock bands now singing in Walloon. One of them (the bluesman Alfred) has had quite a lot of success.
Walloon is almost totally absent in the educative world: teachers are not trained to teach the language, the educational material is scarce, and the lack of a written standard makes it all the more difficult to teach Walloon for teachers who are not necessarily speaking the dialect of the area where they work, to children who come from several parts of Wallonia and, in addition, who are more and more French-only speakers.
The main association for the promotion of Walloon is the Union Culturelle Wallonne (UCW), which is made of five provincial associations and over 250 local Walloon associations, the majority of which are theater companies, but also e.g. writers' associations or the five provincial "Walon è Scole" (Walloon at school) committees. The main objectives of the UCW are now to promote the use of Walloon in the basic functions and levels of social life (in the family, for instance), while defending and co-ordinating the very rich association network (theater), supporting the presence of Walloon in the media, the schools, the laws, etc.
First, the number of regular speakers is still sizeable (a few hundred thousands at the very least): those speaking Walloon can still be considered as something else than Martians (although learners often complain that they have no one to speak with. One of the problems is to establish the link between two persons who both speak Walloon but who do not know it -or do not dare to speak Walloon together!). It is still possible (and apparently more possible than ten years ago) to live in Walloon with people who speak it, with magazines which use it in writing, with theatres, songs, etc. But the situation remains, at best, one of diglossia anyway, with Walloon used in non-formal situations only, absent from schools and media... In spite of this, our humble immediate objective is to re-establish and reinforce a more generalized diglossia before aiming at more ambitious targets...
Second, although it is said above that the actual proportion of speakers remains unknown due to the lack of large-scale sociolinguistic surveys, a few such surveys indicate that the opinion is changing: while Walloon was considered as something negative in the past, it is increasingly considered as something positive (mainly from the points of view of culture and identity), which probably explains the success of the theatres (audience of over 200,000 persons each year), rock CDs in Walloon, evening classes all over Wallonia.
Third, we are convinced that, whatever its form, Walloon can only go on living, as Wallonia is quite a coherent social group tending to create its own speech. A sign of this is to be found in the fact the Walloon language is changing rapidly (among other things, younger speakers tend to use a language form closer to regional French but also with very marked hypercorrections). In our view, this should be considered as a sign of life, although language purists lament the fact that “their” Walloon is changing: if the language is being adapted by the new generation, this means that this generation still finds it useful and wishes to take it over, to make it its own.
Finally, there is a strong tradition (study of the language, literature...) and a dense association network backing the movement for the promotion of Walloon: e.g. the Union culturelle wallonne has over 200 member associations (remember that our country is very tiny). The actions it carries about are well received in general. However, support from the political world or the media is still much too weak. And (as yet) the population does not seem prepared to embrace a well-designed, ambitious and conscious plan in order to promote the language. But obviously, things are changing rapidly... .
DictionariesThere is no general dictionary but several good regional dictionaries:
Lorint Hendschel Last modified: Mon Dec 24 15:05:20 CET 2001
Fwait avou Emacs.