Welcome to the Walloon language page!


Cisse pådje egzistêye e walon eto

Cette page existe aussi en français

Deze pagina bestaat ook in het Nederlands

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.


Linguistics: just a broad overview

Walloon was "born" between the 8th and the 12th centuries from the remnants of the Latin language brought to our regions by soldiers, merchants and settlers from Rome. At the time, the autochtons calles their language "roman". The name "Walloon" (with its modern meaning) appears in the beginning of the 16th century. Our language is a member of the romance languages family and of the gallo-roman or "oïl" subgroup, of which the most famous member is French.

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

  • Latin [ka] and [g + e, i, a] gave affricate phonemes spelled "tch" (as in cherry) and "dj" (as in joke): vatche (cow), djambe (leg).
  • Latin s subsist: spene (thorn), fistu (wisp of straw), biesse (stupid).
  • Voiced consonants at the end of words are always unvoiced: rodje (red) is pronounced exactly as rotche (rock).
  • Nasal vowels may be followed by nasal consonants, as in djonne (young), crinme (cream), branmint (a lot of), etc.
  • Vowel length has a phonological value. It allows to distinguish e.g. cu (ass) and cût (cooked), i l' hosse (he cradles her) and i l' hôsse (he increases it), messe (mass) and mêsse (master), etc.

Morphology

  • The plural feminine adjectives before the noun take an unstressed ending "-ès" (except in the Ardenne dialect): compare li djaene foye (the yellow leave) and les djaenès foyes (the yellow leaves).
  • There is no gender difference in definite articles and possessives (except in the Ardenne dialect): compare Walloon li vweture (the car, feminine) and li cir (the sky, masculine), with French la voiture but le ciel; Walloon has si coir (his/her body, masculine) and si fignesse (his/her window, feminine) while French has son corps but sa fenêtre.

Lexicon

  • Walloon still has a few latin remnants which have disappeared from the neighboring romance languages, e.g. compare Walloon dispierter (to awake) and Castilian despertar (same meaning).
  • But the most striking feature is the number of borrowings to Germanic languages (Flemish and German dialects): compare Walloon flåw and today's Dutch flauw (weak). Other common borrowings, among hundreds of others, are: dringuele (tip; Dutch drinkgeld), crole (curl), spiter (to spatter; same root as the English to spit, or German spützen), li sprewe (the starling; Dutch spreeuw), etc.

Syntax

  • The adjective is often placed before the noun: compare Walloon on foirt ome (a strong man) with French un homme fort; ene blanke måjhon (a white house) and French une maison blanche.
  • A borrowing to Germanic languages: the construction Cwè-ç ki c'est di ça po ene fleur (what is this flower?) can be compared word to word to German Was ist das für eine Blume?

Sociolinguistics: just a broad overview

Walloon is one of those numerous "forgotten languages" (or "regional", "minority", "lesser used", "endangered"...), which have been living in the shadow of a linguistic big brother. The proportion of speakers of Walloon had remained rather stable until the beginning of this century: in spite of a slow erosion mainly in the upper social classes, most of the population used only Walloon in everyday life. But the number of speakers fell sharply between 1930-1960. Today, although there are no large-scale sociolinguistic surveys (there are several local surveys), the number of regular active speakers can be estimated at 35-45% of a total population of 3,200,000. In younger people (20-30), surveys suggest that about 10% say they are active speakers and 40-60% say they have a passive knowledge. The proportion of those who can read and write is very very small indeed (Walloon is not taught, except in a few voluntary and successful evening classes). In general, there are fewer female bilinguals than males. The level of bilingualism is higher in the country than in the cities. There are no or very few monolingual speakers, although there are still more than a handful whose main language is Walloon, mainly among the elderly.

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.


Dialectology: just a broad overview

Dialectological studies have been flourishing in Wallonia for nearly a century. In fact, dialectology has long been considered the only way of studying the language.

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:

  • central, with the capital of Wallonia, Nameur (Namur), and the cities of Auve (Wavre) and Dinant
  • eastern, with Lîdje (Liège), Mâmdi (Malmedy), Vervî (Verviers), Hu (Huy) and Warème (Waremme)
  • western, with Châlerwè (Charleroi), Nivèle (Nivelles), Flipvile (Philippeville)
  • and southern, i.e. the Ardennes region, with e.g. the city of Bastogne, Mautche (Marche) and Lu Tchestê (Neufchâteau).

Some classical examples of dialect differences are:

  • existence of the phoneme [h] in the eastern dialect: pèhon (fish) versus pèchon elsewhere (the proposed standard spelling is pexhon for both).
  • the Latin suffix -ellum gave or -ia, resp. in the eastern and southern dialects, and in the central and western dialects: batê versus batia (the proposed standard spelling is batea for both).
  • o is maintained in the central, eastern and southern dialects, while it became ou in the wersten dialect and parts of the southern dialect: rodje versus roudje (red).
  • Morphology of the verbs. The imperfect ending of the verb viker (to live, I lived) may be: dji vik-éve (eastern), dji vik-eûve (central), dji vik-o (southern), dji vik-eu (western), etc. (I lived).
  • Lexical differences: a nice example is "dirty", which can be said mannet (central and western), måssî (eastern), niche (southern) or yôrd (western).

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.


Philology: just a very sketchy overview

The nature of the language written in our country during the Middle Ages (besides Latin) is still controversial: was it French decreasingly smacking of Walloon (a specifically written language called scripta) or Walloon increasingly smacking of French? Two or three things are sure: first, it is often hard to say how the spelling of the time was pronounced; second, this language could not have been written anywhere else in the world as it includes — at the very least — a variable proportion of Walloon occurrences; and third, as the centuries went by, the written language became closer and closer to standard French (with a very few known exceptions).

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.


Walloon culture today

Literature is alive and well with new authors appearing regularly in several magazines which are almost all — at least in part — dedicated to literature (list of magazines below).

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.


Why we do believe in the future of our language

Although certain aspects of the above picture might seem rather gloomy, we have plenty of reasons to believe our language still has, and will continue to have, a role to play in our society. The following elements (both facts and challenges) are the daily bread of Walloon promoters:

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... .


Bibliography

General overview:

  • Limes I. Les langues régionales romanes en Wallonie, Traditions et parlers populaires Wallonie-Bruxelles, Bruxelles, 1992.
  • Langues régionales de Wallonie, Coqs d'Awousse, Charleroi, 1990
  • Projet culturel global, available from the UCW, 71 rue Général de Gaulle, 4020 Lîdje (Liège)

Literature

  • Anthologie de la littérature wallonne, Maurice Piron, Liège, Mardaga, 1978 (there is a more recent edition)
  • Limes II. Choix de textes en langues régionales romanes de Wallonie, Traditions et parlers populaires Wallonie-Bruxelles, Bruxelles, 1992.
  • Scrîre. Panorama de la littérature en langues régionales de Wallonie de 1970 à 1990 (Poésie et prose), UCW édition, Liège, 1993.
  • With English translations: The colour of the weather. An anthology of Walloon poetry edited and translated by Yann Lovelock, The Menard Press, 1980.
  • In The Pupil's Mirror, Modern Walloon Poetry from Belgium, translated by Yann LOVELOCK. Iron Press books, 1997.
  • With French translations: Poètes wallons d'aujourd'hui, Maurice Piron, Gallimard, 1961.
  • With Esperanto translations: Valonaj poetoj. Antologieto / Poètes wallons. Petite anthologie, Esperanto-grupo de Gembloux, édition du Furet, s.d.

Dictionaries

There is no general dictionary but several good regional dictionaries:
  • Central dialect: Lexique namurois, Lucien Léonard, Société de Langue et de Littérature wallonne, Liège, 1989.
  • Eastern dialect: Dictionnaire liégeois, Jean Haust, Vaillant-Carmane, Liège, 1933 (reprinted since then).
  • Western dialect: Dictionnaire de l'ouest-wallon, Arille Carlier, Direction Willy Bal, Editions de l'Association royale littéraire wallonne de Charleroi, t. 1 1985; t. 2, 1988; t. 3 1991.
  • Southern dialect: Dictionnaire des parlers wallons du pays de Bastogne, Michel Francard, DeBoeck Université & Musée de la Parole au Pays de Bastogne, 1994
  • French - Walloon (eastern): Dictionnaire français - liégeois, Vaillant-Carmane, Liège, 1948 (reprinted since then).
  • French -Walloon (central, eastern, western): Walo +, Mes treûs mèye prumîs mots walons, Union culturelle wallonne, 1992 (3,000 words).

Some magazines

  • El Bourdon. Charleroi, monthly. Literature (in western Walloon) + information (in French). Write: vôye di Nameur 200, B-6200 Tcheslet.
  • Djåzans walon. Liège, quaterly. Information (in east Walloon). Write: rowe Gén. de Gaulle 71, B-4020 Lîdje.
  • Les Cahiers wallons. Namur, monthly. Literature (in all dialects, mainly central). Write: reuwe di l'Agace 77, B-5030 Djiblou.
  • Novèles. Fosses, quaterly. Literature and information (central Walloon). Write: reuwe do Grand-Bondiè, B-5070 Fosses-la-Ville.
  • Singuliers. Bastogne, quaterly. Literature (southern Walloon) and information (French). Write: Rondu 9, B-6800 Rmagne.
  • Couttcouloudjoû. Information (southern Walloon). Write: Lu Hète 21, B-6040 Lu Tchestê.
  • Li Ranteule. Information (standard Walloon). Write: Lu Hete 21, B-6040 Lu Tchestê.
  • La Wallonne. Literature (eastern Walloon). Write: Tiér des Brouwîres 11 , B-4684 Hacou.
  • Tapans 'ne dèvîse. Information (French and Western Walloon). Write: rue d'Houdeng 12, B-7070 Au Rû.
  • Li Chwè. Information (central Walloon). Write: reuwe des Grègnes 4, B-5100 Wépion.
  • MicRomania. Literature in all lesser known romance languages with translations either in French, Spanish or Italian. Write: vôye di Nameur 200, B-6200 Tcheslet.
  • El Mouchon d'aunia. Literature (western Walloon) and folklore. Address: J. Liebin, rue Sart-Longchamps, 7100 El Louviére.
  • Lu vî Sprâwe. Literature (Mâmdî). Address: 19, rowe del Borbote a 4960 Xhofrê (Mâmdi).
  • Agenda culturel wallon. Monthly. All the interesting events (concerning Waloon) all over Wallonia (theater, puppet theater, exhibits, classes...). Write: rowe Gén. de Gaulle 71, B-4020 Lîdje.

Lorint Hendschel
Last modified: Mon Dec 24 15:05:20 CET 2001
Fwait avou Emacs.