February 19, 2007
Before I can get to the Chocolate Museum photos, I have to pause and talk about what they speak in Belgium. I was confused about this before I did some research. Take a look at this helpful language map.
The CIA Fact Book tells me about Belgium's Ethnic groups:
Flemings (officially speak Dutch, in the north - Flanders) 58%
Walloons (speak French, in the south - Wallonia) 31%
Mixed or other 11%
There is controversy over whether to call the Flemings' language Dutch or Flemish (herein lay my confusion). But no one contests that Wallonia speaks French (albeit the issue of a special-sounding accent could be raised). Then there is 1% of the country that officially speaks German; to no one's surprise, it is the in eastern part of the country snuggled up next to Germany.
So what is Flemish, if it's not mentioned in the list of official languages of Belgium? According to answers.com, it's "the Belgian variant of Dutch" rather than a separate language, and spoken by approximately 5.5 million people in Belgium (and by a few thousand people in France). "So closely are Flemish and Dutch related that the difference between them has been compared to the difference between American and British English; however, some scholars hold that they have diverged sufficiently since the 16th cent. to be described as separate languages." Wikipedia says Flemish is also spoken in the southwestern Netherlands.
I found this interesting tidbit about the Dutch spoken in Flanders:
The A to Z Guide of Belgium defines Dutch as
A strange language spoken in Flanders and consisting largely of the consonants v,s,c,h,r and k. Dutch is surprisingly easy to learn. Simply fill your mouth with crisps [editor's note: potato chips] and then speak English and German simultaneously without breathing.
This isn't quite right, but Dutch is quite similar to both German and English. It's the closest language to English (other than Frisian, spoken in parts of the Netherlands), thus making it sound almost comprehensible to people who have never studied the language. Its grammar is relatively simple: the only tricky bit is that, like German, there is a tendency to throw verbs to the end of a sentence. The lexicon (vocabulary) is often similar to English, so words are pretty easy to learn...even more so if you also know French and/or German. It also helps that we've borrowed some words from the Dutch as well. The one tricky thing (for me anyway) is the pronunciation.
Besides being near several countries speaking different languages, another reason Belgium speaks multiple tongues is that, at different times, it was actually ruled by France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Austria. Not to mention the Romans! The latter took over the lands of a Celtic people named the Belgae - hence the country's name. Did you know Belgium didn't become a country until after the U.S.A. did? Indeed, not until around 1830. That said, Brussels was founded in the 10th century. It just didn't have its current national identity until recently. Brussels (from the Celtic/Latin word Bruocsella) means...a bridge over the marsh.
And now, back to chocolate...
February 19, 2007 | Permalink
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