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8 BRUSSELS USE OF LANGUAGES

THE USE OF LANGUAGES IN BRUSSELS BEFORE 1794


BRUSSELS A PLURINATIONAL CAPITAL OF A PLURINATIONAL STATE

 

 

Capital of Belgium since its creation in 1830, Brussels is progressively becoming the capital of Europe and for that reason it is sometimes more familiar to the world at large than is Belgium itself. Indeed, very many foreigners frequently encounter great difficulty in understanding the organisation and functioning of Belgium, a state bisected by the German/Romance language frontier which has existed more or less unchanged since the sixth century. North of this frontier lies the Dutch-speaking region and south of it is the French-speaking area.

 

The Belgian state contains, in fact, no less than four language zones.

 

1.       56,1%  (5.630.129 inhabitants)of the Belgian population lives in the Dutch-speaking  part of the country, which has generally been known as "Flanders" only since the latter years of the 19th century. The only official language of "Flanders" is Dutch, the same language as is spoken in Holland.

 

2.       The French-speaking part (3.221.225 inhabitants) of the country is home to 33,1% of the Belgian population. It is only in the last few decades that this area has been known as "Wallonia". Its sole official language is French, the same language as is spoken in France.

 

3.       In the east of the country lies a small German-speaking area (65.000 inhabitants). This territory was ceded to Belgium by Germany at the end of the First World War (1914 - 1918) and its population speaks the same language as is spoken in Germany.

 

4.       Within the Dutch-speaking zone lies an enclave, the "Brussels Capital Region". The population of the nineteen districts comprising the "Brussels Capital Region" is 997.293 inhabitants (10,1 %)

 

As the Belgian capital Brussels is a region apart with a special, bilingual status, the only such region in all Belgium. Both Dutch and French are official languages in Brussels whereas Flanders and Wallonia are monolingual, respectively Dutch- and French-speaking.

Despite its official bilingual status Brussels appears, at first sight, to be predominantly French-speaking. The reality, however, is somewhat more complex. The fact is that over the last few decades Brussels has grown into a hub of international intercourse where people from all parts of the world are present. Citizens of over 120 different countries currently live and work there,  effectively making it a multicultural city. This international character, together with the presence of such important organisations as the European Commission, NATO etc, has led to the increasing use of the English language.

It requires only a glance at the map of Belgium to see that Brussels lies in the monolingual Dutch-speaking zone and all its historical place names, without exception, are Dutch - Coudenberg (cold mountain), Nieuwland (new land), Orsendael(valley of horses), Ruysbroeck, Warmoesbroeck and Borgendael. Indeed, Brussels was originally solely Dutch-speaking. Since that is no longer the case today it is obvious that over the course of time a process of language-change must have been at work in this city. That directly gives rise to two questions: when did this process occur and what were the factors that determined it? The explanation of the phenomenon lies in the history of the town of Brussels, of the duchy of Brabant and of the Netherlands.

 

 

BRUSSELS, BRABANT AND THE NETHERLANDS

 

The present day capital of Europe was originally an unassuming village in the marshy valley of the River Zenne. The name  "Brussels" derives from the old Dutch words  "broec" and "saal", broadly signifying "settlement in the marsh". From around 1000 AD the hamlet began steadily to blossom into a town. Brussels was situated at the crossroads of two major trade routes; the one linking England to Germany and the other joining Northern Europe to the South. Around 1200 a first defensive wall was built  around the town. In 1229 Duke Henry I of Brabant (1190-1235) granted the inhabitants of Brussels a charter guaranteeing them a number of rights. Brussels developed into an important centre of the textile industry in the duchy of Brabant.

Brabant was a principality under the suzerainty of the German Empire. It embraced, apart from the present-day "Brussels Capital Region" (established in 1989), not only what is now "Flemish Brabant" and "Walloon Brabant" but also "Antwerp" and even the Dutch province of "North Brabant". The greater part of the duchy was situated within the Dutch-speaking region, in which the four principal towns of Brussels, Leuven (Louvain), 's Hertogenbosch and Antwerp lay. Only the agricultural "Roman Pays de Brabant", containing the abbey town of Nivelles, lay in the French-speaking region.

At first Latin was the language of government in Brabant, as it was throughout Europe, but from about 1290 it was gradually replaced by the vernacular in official documents. In the Dutch-speaking part of the duchy (and thus also Brussels) this was Dutch, of course - or, as it was then called, "Diets", Duutsch" or "Duytsch". In the French-speaking area French was used.

From the 13th century the development of Brussels began to accelerate and the town steadily expanded. The protection provided by the first fortifications became insufficient and between 1357 and 1379 a second city wall was built. During the 14th century the textile industry enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity. Culturally, too, Brussels occupied an increasingly important position. The town on the Zenne played a pioneering role in the development of the Brabantine gothic style of architecture, while one of its citizens, Jan van Ruusbroec enjoyed great respect throughout Europe for his mystical writings in medieval Dutch. At the same time Brabant was forging its own political culture, too. The powers of the prince were circumscribed  by several important concessions, embodied in charters.

In Brabant, just as in England, a constitutional system was being constructed. By 1422 Brabant had acquired a form of government that was beginning closely to resemble a parliamentary regime, in which the dukes were to some extent answerable to a kind of people's representation. Furthermore, long before the French Revolution of 1789, the citizens of Brabant had secured the right to depose their prince should he fail to honour his engagements. This "Privilegium Brabantinum" was to become a beacon for future liberation movements (and also for the drafters of the American constitution).

Brussels, together with the rest of the duchy of Brabant, came under the rule of the house of Burgundy in 1430. These French dukes of the House of Valois had made themselves masters of a number of principalities in the Low Countries, such as Flanders, the province of Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Namur and Hainault. The ducal household and the central institutions of the Burgundian state were French-speaking and Duke Philip the Good (1430-1467) stayed in the "Coudenberch" Palace in Brussels from time to time. The rich tide of artistic achievement continued to rise in the 15th century: Roger vander Weyden (d.1464) was appointed official painter for the town of Brussels, while Jan van Ruysbroeck, "meester vanden steenwerke van den torre van der stad raithuse op de merct" (master mason for the spire of the Brussels Town Hall in the Market square) completed the building of the spire between 1449 and 1454. It was in Brussels, too, that during this Burgundian era the most important 15th century works of Dutch-language literature were written.

With the extinction of the Burgundian dynasty in 1482 the Low Countries (broadly coterminous with the present-day states of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg) came under the rule of the Habsburgs. During the reign of Emperor Charles V (1515-1555) Brussels became the capital of the wide-reaching Habsburg empire. This embraced, apart from the Low Countries, all of Spain, parts of Germany, Austria and Italy and even a number of overseas territories. From 1531 onwards the ducal household and central administration remained in Brussels.

The arts flourished as never before during this period. Woodcarving and tapestry weaving, in particular, reached new artistic heights. To this day, wall tapestries and carved wooden altar-pieces produced in Brussels at that time still grace countless museums, churches and palaces at home and abroad. Significant advances in science were also seen: Andreas Vesalius (d. 1564), founder of modern anatomy, was a citizen of Brussels. The city also maintained its important role in the literary arts.

16th century Brussels, "Princelijk Hoofdstadt van't Nederland" (Princely Capital of the Low Countries), was the home of many adherents of the Reformation. They were enraged at the religious fanaticism of the Spanish king, Philip II, who wanted to keep the Low Countries Roman Catholic and brought many Calvinists and Lutherans to trial. This aroused deep resentment throughout the territory and Brussels joined the general rebellion against the Spanish domination.  The Spaniards were driven out and the Low Countries obtained their independence. Prince William of Orange celebrated his "Blijde Inkomst" (Joyous Entry) in Brussels.

Philip II, however, could not reconcile himself to the loss of the Low Countries and set about winning these "rebellious provinces" back. He succeeded only partially, his field-marshal, Alexander Farnese, reconquering the southern Low Countries  for the Spanish crown. The northern Low Countries, however, went their own way from 1585. Protected by their great rivers, they were able to preserve their independence. The "United Provinces" (more or less present-day Holland and officially acknowledged in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648), developed into a protestant, trade-oriented republic. Calvinist refugees from the South made a significant contribution  to the prosperity of this state.

However, the southern Low Countries - broadly coterminous with present-day Belgium - continued under Spanish Habsburg domination until 1713, when they passed into the inheritance of the Austrian branch of that dynasty.

Brussels remained throughout the capital of the Low Countries and was closely involved in all the important events of the province's restless history. The land was frequently ravaged by war - ever since the Middle Ages the French kings had nursed the ambition to annex the Low Countries. Brussels was the foremost victim of the ensuing devastation and it suffered its harshest ordeal in August 1695, when Louis XIV ordered Marshal de Villeroy to bombard the city. In the course of this onslaught, which Napoleon was later to qualify as "as barbaric as it was pointless", countless buildings and works of art were destroyed and many documents were lost from the archives. Despite all the violence and disruption of the wars the artisans of Brussels continued to produce an abundance of work of great quality: tapestries, lace and porcelain in particular. The coach makers of Brussels also established an excellent reputation throughout Europe.

In 1793/94 Brussels and the rest of the southern Low Countries were invaded by the French and in 1795 the whole territory was simply incorporated into the French Republic. From 1793 until 1815 a policy of systematic "gallicisation" was enforced in the southern Low Countries. After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815 the Allies, particularly England, resolved to establish a buffer against France.

Consequently, the southern and northern Low Countries, which had gone their separate ways since 1585, were united once again under King William I of the Netherlands. The prince threw himself energetically into the task of bringing the South up to the level of prosperity already enjoyed by the North. His approach was not always the most adroit, however, and he met resistance from the catholic bishops, always suspicious of the protestant king. The autochthonous administrators, who had been subjected to gallic influence under the French occupation, also tended to regard William with hostility. Above all, the newly emerged middle class demanded the right of participation in government, hitherto dominated by the aristocracy and wealthy merchant classes.

In 1830 a revolt broke out against the king "of Holland", reviving French hopes of annexing the southern Low Countries. The English (in particular) were firmly opposed to this, however, and in consequence an independent state, which nobody really wanted, was brought into existence - Belgium. Brussels was the capital of the new country.

Belgium was completely dominated by the French-speaking  bourgeoisie. Although the majority (about 60%) of the Belgian population spoke Dutch it was French that became the official language. Civil administration, justice, education and even socio-economic business were for a long time conducted in French, even in the Dutch-speaking areas of the country. "Flemish", as the French-speakers invariably called the Dutch language, was treated with racist arrogance. Officials from Wallonia, or even France, were appointed as civil servants, tax collectors, stationmasters and judges even in the furthest reaches of Dutch-speaking Belgium.

Brussels, naturally, attracted far more French-speaking immigrants than any other part of the country since it was there that the apparatus of the central government of the French-only speaking state was installed. Brussels was therefore exposed more harshly than other Belgian towns to process of "gallicisation".

A movement, the "Vlaamse Beweging" (Flemish Movement) engaged in a long, stubborn struggle for the elementary right of a people to be governed in its own language in its own land by its own democratically elected representatives. They forced a number of changes to the language laws at the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century. From 1930 Dutch gradually gained ground as the official language for the Dutch-speaking part of the country (which, from the end of the 19th century, had begun to be known as "Flanders").

For Brussels (the capital), however, exceptional dispositions were repeatedly introduced. It was, in effect, surrendered by the Dutch-speaking community (usually called "Flemish"). The capital - and this is a common phenomenon - was branded with a negative image: this, after all, was where the seat of the French-speaking governing authority was established, the place from which countless irksome directives that so afflicted the lives of ordinary citizens (taxes, military service etc) were handed down. In short, a great many Dutch-speakers identified (and still identify) "Brussels" with the Belgian regime.

Around 1900 it became apparent that Belgium's besetting problem amounted to far more than a linguistic "war". "Flemings" and "Walloons" do, indeed, speak totally different languages - in fact, the difference between Dutch and French is greater than that between English and French. Far more important, however, is that "Flemings" and "Walloons" hold wholly divergent views on a host of social questions (such as the government's role in economic affairs, sickness and invalidity insurance, ethical matters, the functioning of the judicial system, the organisation of the police services, punishments for traffic offences, the role of the monarchy, the arms trade, tobacco advertising and so on). 

What Belgium faces, in other words, is not so much a "language" problem as a full-blown "nationality" problem.

In the face of these not infrequently diametrically opposed outlooks it was necessary (generally with great difficulty) to seek some sort of weak compromise. This, of course, satisfied neither side. More often, though, no solution could be found, in which event the civil servants usually pushed the problem to one side in the hope that it would eventually resolve itself - with the inevitable results. In the last few years in particular, the consequences of the "Belgian sickness" have become steadily more manifest.

As early as 1900 it was obvious to a great many observers that Belgium could survive only if the two peoples who lived in that state were each granted the widest possible degree of autonomy. Only so could potential areas of friction be kept to a minimum. These voices were ignored: the Belgian rulers, anxious to protect their privileges, obstinately opposed any reform. Nevertheless, democratisation of society continued to gather pace. Under the momentum of a growing political awareness, the old Belgian unitary state was forced to concede more and more autonomy to the two peoples living within its confines. This "peaceful revolution" was accomplished through a series of reforms, one following the other at an ever accelerating tempo. In four constitutional amendments (in 1970-71, 1980, 1988-89 and 1993) a great many of the responsibilities of the Belgian (federal) government were devolved to the member states - Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. In many respects Belgium has become a confederation.

 

THE USE OF LANGUAGES IN BRUSSELS BEFORE 1794

 

The Brussels municipal archives are particularly well endowed with records from the period after the bombardment (1695-1794). A wealth of documents from the last century of the "Ancien Régime" has been preserved, material in abundance for the study of the linguistic usages of Brussels. Indeed, such was the sheer quantity of this material that it was impossible to deal with it all in a single study and consequently the research was broken down into two phases. During the first phase (1977-1981) all (!) the documents originating in Brussels before 1500 were examined. Those from 1500-1794 are being dealt with in the second phase, which began in 1984. Archives are being sifted through, collection after collection, and it has even proved necessary, at times, to restrict the research to particular types of documents.

 

RESULTS OF THE RESEARCH OF THE ARCHIVES

LINGUISTIC USAGES BEFORE 1500

 

All documents from Brussels from the period before 1500 were systematically examined with respect to the language used. These were:

 

a)       Twenty cartularies from 14th and 15th century Brussels,

b)       Nine city accounts registers

c)       Over 1,600 files containing documents from the aldermanic registries, trades guilds, cloth guilds, churches, abbeys and convents, almshouses and hospitals.

 

Practically all these 1,600 files concern either a register with several dozen folios or else a box containing dozens of original charters or packets of several loose documents. Thus, the archives of the collegiate church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula alone harbour more than 5,000 original charters dating from before 1500 - more than enough material from which to form a well-founded judgment of the linguistic customs of Brussels before 1500.

All this systematic research led to the following conclusions. In Brussels, just as everywhere else in western Europe, early official documents were drawn up in Latin. From the late 13th century a gradual switch to the use of the vernacular began. This, in the case of Brussels, was Dutch or, as it then was called, "Dietsch", "Duutsch" or "Duytsch". It was used at first in connection with matters affecting the population at large (regulations, by-laws, statutes etc.) and also for the public accounts. For more "private" business, such as property transactions (e.g. sale of land, rents and tithes) the authorities continued, for the time being, to use Latin. In fact, this practice continued until the start of the 16th century, when Dutch finally replaced Latin.

The archives of Brussels contain virtually no record, earlier than 1500, written in French; virtually everything was drawn up in Latin or medieval Dutch. Close examination of the few deeds that were drafted in French leads to a surprising discovery: they arise, almost without exception, from proceedings heard, not in Brussels, but outside the city. They concern, for example, French-speaking princes such as the Count of Hainault, the Prince-Bishop of Liège and the Duke of Burgundy or else civic dignitaries or religious establishments in the French-speaking region. It is not surprising, then, that such proceedings should have been conducted in French. It might also be mentioned that lying in the archives of Brabant are a number of documents drawn up in German (concerning relations with the archbishops of Cologne).

Whenever a plot of land in Walloon Brabant or in Hainault was purchased by an abbey situated in Brussels or Brabant the deed of sale would, quite naturally, be drawn up in French by the local (French-speaking) authorities. The same is just as true for purchases by abbeys not situated in Brussels. Thus, in the archives of certain abbeys in Dutch-speaking areas, such as Affligem or 't Park (Louvain), whole sections of Walloon deeds, relating to property situated in the French-speaking region but owned by these establishments, may be found. On the other hand, the archives of the abbeys of Nivelles, Villers-la-Ville and La Ramée (Jauchelette), in Walloon Brabant, contain various deeds in Diets (medieval Dutch) relating to property situated in the Dutch-speaking region but belonging to these abbeys.

There is not the slightest doubt that Dutch was the official language in Brussels - and elsewhere in Brabant. Only in Walloon Brabant was French used, quite naturally. Conditions in the medieval duchy of Brabant were fundamentally different from those in the county of Flanders (which was only a fragment of the present-day "Flanders"). Flanders was largely dependent on the French crown and its civil administration had used the French language since time immemorial. Indeed, study of the archives of  Bruges, Ghent and Ypres reveals that the proportion of French-language documents before 1500 varied between 30% and 60%.

Such French influences were quite unknown in Brabant, whose medieval dukes paid allegiance to the German Emperor. In the towns of Brabant such as Brussels, Antwerp, Louvain, Lier, Tienen, Zoutleeuw, 's Hertogenbosch and Breda the only official language was Dutch. Among the thousands of pre-1500 documents in the various archives of Brussels, just three were drafted in French by the municipal authorities: one respecting the county of Hainault, one concerning the chancellor of Burgundy and one relating to the duke of Burgundy.

The archive of the collegiate church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula (29) contains 5,027 original pre-1500 manuscripts. A mere 49 of these are in French. Furthermore, these 49 documents arise from proceedings as follows:

 

          41      involving authorities or institutions in Walloon Brabant or Hainault,

           7       involving the dukes of Burgundy,

           1       involving the collegiate church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula (1455). Even this document relates to the French count of Etampes.

The conclusion is inescapable: despite the fact that from 1430 onwards Brussels (and, indeed, the entire duchy of Brabant, as well as the counties of Holland and Flanders, inter alia) were under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy, and notwithstanding the establishment of numerous Burgundian institutions in Brussels, Dutch continued throughout the 15th century as the official language of Brussels. In fact, traces may be found of a certain linguistic chauvinism: in 1488 the Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet wrote that, during the wars of the Austrian emperor Maximilian, the people of Brussels had unceasingly hated the Walloons and the French - because of their language!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LINGUISTIC USAGES BETWEEN 1500 AND 1794

 

Naturally, vastly more documents have been preserved from the period from 1500 to 1794 than from the previous period and that has necessitated a step by step approach to the research. Complete collections of documents are examined for the language in which they were written. Sometimes this involves whole archives; sometimes specific sequences of documents are studied. This project, therefore, will stretch over several years.

 

The following archives, collections and sequences have already been examined. In some cases the number of documents contained in the archive is given:

 

1.       the archive of the collegiate  church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula (12,052 documents),

2.       archives of the trades guilds of Brussels (1,100 documents),

3.       archives of the almshouses and hospitals of Brussels  (4,377 files)

4.       city catularies containing 16th, 17th and 18th century documents (23 documents),

5.       "publicatieboecken" - records of ordinances proclaimed from the steps of the Town Hall between 1635 and the end of 1793 (26 documents),

6.       "correctieboeken", containing similar ordinances (13 documents)

7.       various sorts of municipal accounts and other accountancy documents (1,112 documents),

8.       registers and "resolutieboeken" (minutes books) of the city           council (38 documents),

9.       registers and "resolutieboeken" of the treasury (56 documents),

10.     "wijckboeken" (district books), in which were recorded, by district and by street, all transactions relating to land, houses etc.

 

The proportion of French-language documents in the various archives of Brussels fluctuates around 5%. In other words, until the end of the "Ancien Régime" in 1794 some 90% to 95% of the official documents relating to Brussels were in Dutch.

That is not all: closer examination of the few documents that were written in French reveals that they practically never concerned the local population of Brussels. Time after time, they were initiated by, or related to, particular milieus, such as :

a)       the Habsburg royal household or the government institutions of the southern Low Countries,

b)       a few noble families,

c)       a number of Walloons (craftsmen, clerics, officials etc) who had immigrated to Brussels,

d)       institutions or people from the French-speaking region.

 

What is clear is that Dutch remained the normal language of the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Brussels until 1794. Even the civic administration seems to have been sympathetic to the use of "Neder-Duytsch". Whenever French-speakers, from not only within Brussels but also outside, addressed written requests to the councillors the latter would invariably send their reply in Dutch. It was only in dealings with the court, the aristocracy and central government institutions that this (unwritten) rule was sometimes relaxed.

It has already been observed that certain types of document lend themselves to a quantitative approach. The "publicatieboecken" of Brussels are merely one example. These files contain the texts of 4,036 ordinances which were proclaimed from the steps of the Town Hall between 1635 and the December 1793. If any documents may be deemed to be of a "public" nature, it is these. They were intended for the whole population of Brussels, the general public. 95% of these publications are in Dutch and just 4.7% in French. Moreover, of the 4.7%, not one order referred specifically and solely to Brussels. Their scope was far wider: indeed, they were sent to the administrators of other towns in the Low Countries, inter alia Antwerp, Louvain, Ghent and Courtrai, since they concerned the whole of the southern Low Countries. Some even applied to the entire Habsburg empire. Fairly typical of these orders are that over the riots in Hungary or that concerning the free ports of Trieste and Fiume (Rijeka).

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

There is not the slightest doubt that from 1531 Brussels was the home of the French-speaking court and the predominantly French-speaking central administration of the Habsburgs. It is also well established that the city took in a number of poor folk, economic refugees, from the Walloon region.

Although the systematic study of the archives of Brussels relating to the period from 1500 to 1794 is still not complete, broad conclusions are already emerging. What is quite clear is that there is nothing to show that the presence of a privileged gentry had any profound "gallicising" influence on the ordinary people of Brussels. Had any such evidence existed, countless traces of it would have been discovered in the archives - but none have been found. Until the French occupation of 1794 Dutch remained the official language of the city's institutions. It was the only language with which the typical inhabitant ever came into contact.

But that was not all. Even those central administration officials who had to deal with files concerning Brussels needed to have at least a passive knowledge of Dutch. No less a personality than the plenipotentiary envoy Cobenzl regarded ignorance of Dutch as  "une espèce de défaut" (a sort of shortcoming) - and French-speaking officials were consequently obliged to learn Dutch. In 1752 Charles Alexander of Lorraine, governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands, mentioned in a letter to his sister-in-law, the Empress Maria-Theresa, that a certain Cazier, a French-speaking official and member of the Finance Council (one of the central institutions of the Habsburgs), knew no Dutch at all originally. However, he studied the language so assiduously that within a short while he was even able to audit the accounts of the city of Brussels: "cependant, il s'est tellement appliqué à la langue flamande qu'il a été en état d'entendre les derniers comptes de la ville de Bruxelles qui sont couchés dans cette langue" (but he applied himself so well to learning Flemish that he was able to audit the most minute accounts of Brussels drawn up in that language). Nowhere is the huge difference in attitude between the Brussels officialdom on the one hand and the Habsburgs on the other hand more clearly illustrated than in that letter.

Thus, in Brussels, as in numerous other European cities, there resided a predominantly French-speaking court and corresponding central administration. The direct "gallicising" influence exercised by the nobility, the courtiers and the high officials was, however, a great deal less than has been imagined until now. The French-speaking upper class represented only a tiny portion of the population of Brussels. They lived withdrawn, for the main part, in the upper town, the Coudenberg and Zavel (Sablons) districts and had little contact with the average (or even wealthy) local inhabitants. In any case, they had no interest in integration with the host population, particularly since French language and culture were greatly in vogue throughout Europe.

Although contact between the host population and the non Dutch-speaking newcomers undoubtedly did exist this certainly did not lead to a generalised bilingualism. Quite the contrary! Requests in French sent to the civic authorities were almost invariably replied to in Dutch. Some tradesmen did, of course, make the effort to learn a few words of French to increase their chances of doing business with the foreign élite, but they certainly did not strive for thorough mastery of the language.

But the influx of French-speakers to Brussels was not limited to courtiers, aristocrats and high officials; large numbers of ordinary folk from the Walloon region were also tempted to seek their fortune in the capital. Not only did the latter enjoy little social prestige, but they also found themselves in an overwhelmingly Dutch-speaking environment. Consequently, they had to adapt to the local ways and language - Dutch. Examples abound in the city archives of people with typically Walloon names who yet used Dutch in all their contracts, agreements, correspondence and accounts. The language-changing process, therefore, did not always operate only to the advantage of French. The arrival of Walloons of modest background did, however, lead to the assimilation of numerous Walloon words into the Brussels dialect, though even words of Spanish and Italian origin also found their way into the vernacular.

From about 1780 a very small number of isolated cases began to appear in Brussels (and in other Netherlands cities, for that matter) of extremely wealthy, locally born and bred members of the monied class switching over to the French language. It is certainly no coincidence, then, that Jan Baptist Verlooy chose this precise time (1788) to write his "Verhandeling op d'onacht van de moederlyke tael in de Nederlanden" (Treatise on the neglect of the mother tongue of the Netherlands). During the  revolution of Brabant in 1790 a great many pamphlets appeared in French. This did not escape the notice of the Austrian emperor, Joseph II, who commented " Les habitants de Bruxelles et des Pays Bas sont des imitateurs de leurs voisins. Le fond est hollandais et le vernis français" (The inhabitants of Brussels and the Low Countries merely imitate their neighbours. Their core is "Hollandish", their varnish French).

There arose, among many in Flanders, a great aversion for the capital. "Brussels", it was asserted, had forced "gallicisation" on "Flanders". As has already been clearly demonstrated, however, this was not true; control of the capital's municipal institutions continued to be exercised by Dutch-speakers until the French occupation. Indeed, on the eve of the attack by the sansculottes, 90% to 95% of the city's population spoke Dutch.

It was not until the modern era that the fundamental "gallicisation" of Brussels was carried out. During the French occupation (1793-1815) a policy of "gallicisation" was put systematically into effect, by force. The reign of King William I of the United Netherlands (1815-1830) was not long enough for him to restore the official language of government and justice to that of the ordinary citizen. After 1830 the Belgian regime introduced the so-called "freedom of language". The result was that large sections of the population of Brussels were made French-speaking, a trend which was reinforced after the First World War, with the introduction of compulsory education. This "gallicisation" under social pressure was carried out not only in Brussels; the whole of Dutch-speaking Belgium - known later as "Flanders" - was affected in the same manner.

The conclusion, then, may be clearly and simply stated as:

 

                                Belgium (1830 -  ) made Brussels French-speaking.

 

 

 

 

In :  Secretum Scriptorum. Liber alumnorum Walter Prevenier.

        Leuven-Apeldoorn, 1999 (ISBN 90-5350-968-2), p. 145-164.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul De Ridder Brussel&Firenze

Paul De Ridder Brussel&Firenze

Paul De Ridder Brussel&Firenze

Paul De Ridder Brussel&Firenze