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FlemishBackground and status

Flemish is an alternative name for Dutch in Belgium. Flemish/Dutch is one of Belgium's three official languages, the other two being French and German. Most of the people who speak Flemish live in the northern half of Belgium, called Flanders. It is the majority language in Belgium, being spoken natively by three-fifths of the population - approximately 5.5 million people in Belgium and by a few thousand people in France.

Although linguistically Flemish and Dutch are similar enough to be considered the same, politically speaking the relationship is more complicated. For many reasons, some of which go back several centuries, the Flemish don’t like to think that they are speaking another people’s language. They insist on calling the language they use Flemish rather than Dutch. The relationship between Dutch as used in the Netherlands and Dutch as used in Flanders can best be compared to that between the English that is used in England and the English that is used in America (or any other part of the world where English is the first language).

Growth and usage

The Flemish have developed an ethnic political movement that emphasises the use of the Flemish language at home, practice of Flemish art forms, and training in traditional industrial skills and work patterns. It is used in schools, government and the media.

Informal Flemish (‘tussentaal) is used in daily speech. ‘Tussentaal’ is slowly gaining popularity in Flanders, since it is being used a lot in television dramas and comedies. Often, middle-class characters of a TV series will be speaking ‘tussentaal’, while lower-class characters will use the dialect of the location where the show is set, and upper-class characters will speak standard Dutch. This has given ’tussentaal’ the status of normality in Flanders, hence it is slowly being accepted by the general population. This evolution has led to some controversy among linguists, who are afraid it dilutes the usage of standard Dutch. ‘Tussentaal’ is only used in entertainment television however, informative programmes (like news shows) in general use standard Dutch.

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