Le Franglais et le Néerlançais à Bruxelles

I arrived in Brussels just over one month ago, to study urban studies. However, if I had several lives to live I would also be studying languages and linguistics and for this reason the way that people speak in a bilingual city like Brussels is very interesting to me.

While Belgians already have a particular set of French expressions that are not used in Québec or in France (septante, nonante, drache…), the multilingual nature of Brussels leads to a lot of language mixing: Dutch-speakers use French words when they speak Dutch or English (adding “Voilà” and “Allez” to the end of Dutch/English statements) and they use French formulations when speaking English (“Engage people” for “hiring people”, “objects that train” for “objects that are left lying around”, “sympathetic” for “nice”). Also, French is influenced by the Dutch language, with many “dutch-icisms” in the spoken French of Brussels. Here are some examples from my first month here.

Le Français belge: 

> Savoir = pouvoir (Ex: Je ne sais pas aller au magasin après le boulot);

> … cinquant, soixante, septante, quatre-vingt, nonante… In Belgium “soixante-dix” is septante and “quatre-vingt-dix” is nonante. However, they still do not use huitante which is used instead of quatre-vingt in Switzerland;

> Other expressions: Adding “quoi” to the end of sentences (like in France) and “trache” (meaning very hard rain).

Néerlançais: where French meets Dutch…

> Kot for student dormitory (from kot in Dutch);

> “S’il-vous-plaît” = voilà! (here you go). Salespeople and servers respond “S’il-vous-plaît” to thank you/when they give you your change. Apparently this comes from alstublieft in Dutch;

> Adding “une fois” to the middle of sentences. This is a direct translation from the Dutch eens which means “once” and works like the English “like” in a sentence. I have not heard “une fois” that much, but I have heard a Dutch speaker use “eens” about a hundred times during the course of a presentation in English. This transformation of “eens” to” une fois” is akin to the use of “come”/”genre” in Québec, directly translated from the English “like”.

Belgians in English:

> Adding “Voilà” and “Allez” to sentences

> “Engage people” = hire people

> Objects that “train” = objects that are lying around (“traîne” in French)

>  “Sympathetic” = nice (“sympa” in French)

> “Plus or minus” = more or less (“plus ou moins” in French)

> “Or…” at the beginning of sentences (“Soit…” in French)

Brussels is officially a bilingual, and in fact a very multilingual, city. While French is the Lingua Franca, people speak a myriad of languages and this sometimes includes Franglais with a touch of Dutch.

Bilingual street signs

Bilingual street signs in Brussels


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