Difference between the Dialects in Belgium
Dutch as spoken and written in Flanders. By this, it means a language that is Dutch in its written form, with a grammar identical to the Dutch of the Netherlands, but with a preference for specific words and expressions that are described as “Zuid-Nederlands” in the dictionary.
(By the way, the definition of “Flanders” for this purpose is the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium, not restricted to the regions of East and West Flanders.)
The regional dialect is spoken by people in the area of Northern France known as “French Flanders.” West-Flemish dialect is now being taught in schools to preserve the local culture.
The definition of Flemish is that it is Dutch when spoken by a native of the Dutch-speaking common in Belgium. Dutch is officially spoken in many countries, and in each of these countries, several dialects exist. As such in Flanders (the above mentioned Dutch part of Belgium) several dialects occur. These dialects differ as much from each other as from those from the Netherlands. For instance, people from the coastal area can easily understand their Netherlands’ neighbor much better than they would understand somebody from Antwerp or Limburg (Belgian or the Netherlands). Don’t forget that these dialects not only vary from each other in pronunciation, but also in the practice of different words for the same item. There are several good references for studies on the internet into these dialects. So to conclude, Flemish is not a dialect, but a conglomerate of a mass of dialects all based on the Dutch language and Flemish to English translation isn’t an easy task.
The most noticeable difference when speaking with or listening to talkers of Dutch and Flemish is the pronunciation. Even to the new ear, the two dialects seem very different. While Flemish leads towards French pronunciations, Dutch in the Netherlands has more of an English touch.
For instance, the word national is pronounced Nasional in Flanders and natzional in the Netherlands. To Dutch ears, the Flemish sound a little old-fashioned while to the Flemish, the Dutch sound a bit rude because of this stylistic difference.
One of the more surprising differences between Dutch and Flemish is the use of informal language. Over the times, the formal U (you) has come out of practice in the Netherlands to the point of extinction, affecting most Dutch speakers to opt preferably for the informal je (you) when speaking to strangers.
Both languages are alike, but the differences are sometimes so significant that, for the Dutch and the Flemish, they could seem to be two separate styles. They have a hard time getting each other at times.
The pitch of the language in Flanders is more melodic than in the Netherlands. The Dutch tend to use more staccato, and the intonation falls more often at the end. Flemish is much softer, rounder and regarding tone is the intonation at the end of a sentence often raised.
Language Areas in Belgium
Belgium is divided into two areas – Flanders to the north and Wallonia to the south. To make it more difficult, the Walloons speak French but do not acknowledge themselves French, and the Flemish speaks Dutch but does not accept themselves Dutch. There is also a small area of German-speaking Belgians on the German boundary.
Bi-lingual parts of Belgium
As a consequence of this division, many road symbols and other signs around Belgium are printed in both Dutch and French. German, one of the three formal languages, is much less common and only addressed by less population.
In Brussels, the primary language spoken is French but like many center cities these days is multilingual, maybe even more so given it is the home of the EU and the high estimate of international officials and representatives who live there. All public assistance and data are in both French and Dutch.
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