Walloon language

From Academic Kids

Walloon (Walon) is a regional Romance language spoken in Belgium. It belongs to the langue d'ol linguistic family, whose most prominent member is the French language, and is sometimes considered a French dialect. Walloon should not be confused with Belgian French, which differs from the French of France only in some minor points of vocabulary and pronunciation.

Linguistic map of Wallonia
Linguistic map of Wallonia
Walloon (Walon)
Spoken in: Belgium, isolated pockets in France and the USA
Total speakers: estimated 600,000
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European


Official status
Official language of: None
Regulated by: None
Language codes
ISO 639-1wa
ISO 639-2wln
See also: LanguageList of languages

Geographic distribution


Walloon is spoken in Wallonia (in Southern Belgium). It is also spoken in:


Four dialects are found in Wallonia, in four distinct zones:

  • central, with the capital of Wallonia, Nameur (Namur), and the cities of Wve (Wavre), and Dinant
  • eastern, with Lidje (Lige), Mmdi (Malmedy), Verv (Verviers), Hu (Huy), and Wareme (Waremme)
  • western, with Chlerw (Charleroi), Nivele (Nivelles), and Flipvile (Philippeville)
  • southern, with Bastogne, Mtche (Marche), and Li Tchestea (Neufchteau), all in the Ardennes region.

Despite local phonetic differences, there is a movement towards the adoption of a common spelling, called the "rfondou walon". This orthography is based on diasystems that can be pronounced differently by different readers, a concept inspired by the spelling of Breton. The written forms attempt to reconcile current phonetic uses with ancient traditions (notably the reintroduction of xh and oi that were used for writing Wallon until late 19th century) and the language's own phonological logic.

Other regional languages

Other regional languages spoken in Wallonia, outside the Walloon domain, are:

Linguistic outline

Language family

Walloon distinguishes itself from other languages in the langue d'ol family by its significant borrowing from Germanic languages as expressed in its phonetics, its lexicon, and its grammar. At the same time, Walloon phonetics are singularly conservative: the language has stayed fairly close to the form it took on during the high Middle Ages.

Phonetics and phonology

  • Latin [ka] and [g + e, i, a] gave Walloon 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).
  • 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), mannet (dirty), etc.
  • Vowel length has a phonological value. It allows to distinguish e.g. cu (ass) and c (cooked), i l' hosse (he cradles her) and i l' hsse (he increases it), messe (mass) and msse (master), etc.


  • The plural feminine adjectives before the noun take an unstressed ending "-s" (except in the Ardenne dialect): compare li djaene foye (the yellow leaf) and les djaens foyes (the yellow leaves).
  • There is no gender difference in definite articles and possessives (except in the Ardenne dialect): compare Walloon li vweteure (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 finiesse (his/her window, feminine) while French has son corps but sa fentre.


  • Walloon still has a few Latin remnants which have disappeared from neighboring romance languages, e.g. compare Walloon dispierter (to awake) and Spanish despertar (same meaning).
  • But the most striking feature is the number of borrowings from Germanic languages (Flemish and German dialects): compare Walloon flwe to 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 sptzen), li sprewe (the starling; Dutch spreeuw).


  • The adjective is often placed before the noun: compare Walloon on foirt ome (a strong man) with French un homme fort; ene blanke mjhon (a white house) and French une maison blanche.
  • A borrowing from Germanic languages: the construction Cw ki c' est di a po ene fleur (what is this flower?) can be compared word to word to German Was ist das fr eine Blume? or Dutch Wat is dat voor een bloem?.


It is inappropriate to speak of a "date of birth" for Walloon, partly because languages are not born overnight. From a linguistic point of view, Louis Remacle has shown that a good number of the developments that we now consider typical of Walloon appeared between the 8th and 12th centuries. Walloon "had a clearly defined identity from the beginning of the 13th century". In any case, linguistic texts from the time do not mention the language, even though they mention others in the langue d'ol family, such as Picard and Lorrain. During the 15th century, scribes in the region called the language "Roman" when they needed to distinguish it. It is not until the beginning of the 16th century that we find the first occurrence of the word "Walloon" in the same linguistic sense that we use it today. In 1510 or 1511, Jean Lemaire de Belges made the connection between "Rommand" to "Vualon":

Et ceux cy [les habitants de Nivelles] parlent le vieil langage Gallique que nous appellons Vualon ou Rommand (...). Et de ladite ancienne langue Vualonne, ou Rommande, nous usons en nostre Gaule Belgique: Cestadire en Haynau, Cambresis, Artois, Namur, Liege, Lorraine, Ardenne et le Rommanbrabant, et est beaucoup differente du Franois, lequel est plus moderne, et plus gaillart.
And those people [the inhabitants of Nivelles] speak the old Gallic language which we call Vualon or Rommand (...). And we use the said old Vualon or Rommand language in our Belgian Gaul: That is to say in Hainaut, Cambrai, Artois, Namur, Lige, Lorraine, Ardennes and Rommand Brabant, and it is very different from French, which is more fashionable and courtly.

The word "Walloon" thus came closer to its current meaning: the vernacular of the Roman part of the Netherlands and of Lige. One might say that the period which saw the establishment of the unifying supremacy of the Burgundians in the Walloon country was a turning-point in our linguistic history. The crystallization of a Walloon identity as opposed to that of the thiois (i.e. Flemish) regions of the Low Countries, established "Walloon" as a word for designating its people. Somewhat later, the vernacular of these people became more clearly distinct from central French and other neighbouring langues d'ol, prompting the abandonment of the vague term "Roman" as a linguistic, ethnic, and political designator for "Walloon".

Also at this time, following the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterts in 1539, the French language replaced Latin for all administrative purposes in France. French was established as the academic language and became the object of a political effort at normalization, La Pliade, which posited the view that when two languages of the same linguistic family coexist, each can define itself only in opposition to the other. Around the year 1600, the French writing system became dominant in the Wallonia. From this time, too, dates a tradition of texts written in a language marked by traces of spoken Walloon. The written language of the preceding centuries, scripta, was a composite language with some Walloon characteristics but not attempting to be a systematic reproduction of the spoken language.

Walloon society and culture

Walloon was the predominant language of the Walloon people until the beginning of the 20th century, even though they had a passive knowledge of French. Since that time, the use of French has spread to the extent that now only 30-40% of the Walloon population speak their ancestral language. Breaking the statistics down by age, 70-80% of the population aged over 60 speak Walloon, while only about 10% of those under 30 do so. Passive knowledge of Walloon is much more widespread: claimed by some 36-58% of the younger age bracket.

Legally, Walloon has been recognized since 1990 by the French Community of Belgium, the cultural authority of Wallonia, as an "indigenous regional language" which must be studied in schools and encouraged. The Walloon cultural movement includes the Union Culturelle Wallonne, an organization of over 200 amateur theatre circles, writers' groups, and school councils. About a dozen Walloon magazines publish regularly, and the Socit de Langue et de Littrature Wallonne, founded in 1856, promotes Walloon literature and the study (dialectology, etymology, etc.) of the regional Roman languages of Wallonia.

Example phrases

Walloon English
Walon Walloon
Di wde God keep you / Hello
Bondjo Good day / Hello
A Hi (often followed by another expression)
Arvy Goodbye
Come on-z a dit Bye
Comint vos dalez? How are you?
Dji n' sai nn I don't know

See also

External links


bg:Валонски език ca:Val de:Wallonische Sprache es:Valn eo:Valona franca dialekto fr:Wallon gl:Valn it:Lingua vallone li:Waals nds:Walloonsch nl:Waals ja:ワロン語 pl:Język waloński ro:Limba valonă wa:Walon


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