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West Flemish

Related subjects: European Geography; Languages

Background Information

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Position of West Flemish (colour: sandy) among the other minority languages, regional languages and dialects in the Benelux

West Flemish (West Flemish: Vlaemsch, Dutch: West-Vlaams, French: Flamand occidental) is a group of dialects spoken in parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

The West Flemish dialect is spoken by around 1.05 million people in West Flanders (in Belgium), 90,000 in the neighboring Dutch coastal district of Zeelandic Flanders, and approximately 20,000 in the northern part of the French département of Nord where it is classified as one of the languages of France.

The dialects of the Dutch province of Zeeland, Zeelandic, are sometimes also classified under West Flemish Hollandic Dutch but this is sometimes disputed. The dialects of Zeelandic Flanders however do count as West Flemish variants. In fact, both dialects are linked by a dialect continuum which proceeds further north into Hollandic.

West Flemish is very different from standard Dutch in pronunciation as well as vocabulary and grammar, to the extent that it's quite unintelligible to Dutch speakers unaccustomed to the dialect. A simple phrase like "Ik ben gisteren nog bij hen geweest" (I was at their place only yesterday) will be pronounced as " 'k zyn histern no(c)h toet ulders (h)ewist".

A classic example is its unique conjugation of yes (ja) and no (nee):

jaok (ja ik = "Yes, I do", "Yes, I have", "Yes, I am", etc. in English)
jaog (ja gij = Yes, you do"... - singular)
jaoj / jaos / jaot (ja hij/zij/het = "Yes, he/she/it does"...)
jaow (ja wij = "Yes, we do"...)
jaog (ja gij = "Yes, you do"... - plural)
jaos (ja zij = "Yes, they do"...)
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