Varieties of French

Belgian French is the variety of French spoken in Belgium. The language spoken in Congo, Rwanda and Borundi, that were formal Belgian colonies, may also be considered a variety of Belgian French. Belgian French and the French spoken in France, are almost identical with minor lexical differences. One obvious difference between the Belgian and Swiss French on one hand and standard French on the other hand is the use of the word ‘septante’ to denote the number seventy instead soixante-dix (literally meaning “sixty-ten ‘), and ‘nonante’ for ninety instead of quatre-vingt-dix ( literally meaning ‘four- twenty-ten’). Unlike in the Swiss French people in Belgium do not use the word “huitante” for the number eighty but the standard quatre-vingt (‘four-twenty “). Another interesting difference is the meaning of the words déjeuner and dîner (” lunch “and” dinner “in the standard French Translation). Déjeuner means “a breakfast that is eaten in the morning”. However, the French King Louis XIV was in the habit to get up at noon and therefore breakfast replaced lunch, both in life as well as in the dictionary (similarly dîner “lunch”, shifted in the evening). As servants of the king still had to get up early, they had “little breakfast” – petit déjeuner. French nobles quickly embraced the change, spreading the new use of the word déjeuner. However, the Belgium French Translation of the word déjeuner is still breakfast, and dîner  is still used for “lunch” for today’s Belgium, which is not part of France, kept the original meaning of both words. Another difference often found surprising or funny to speakers of other variants of French is the use of the verb savoir instead of pouvoir to express ability. In other versions of French savoir means only “know”.

There are some differences in pronunciation between the two Legal translation versions of the language, but they are not particularly significant. The most important of these is that the letter “w” in the Belgian version is almost always pronounced as “u” while in standard French it is usually pronounced as “v”.

Words which are unique to Belgian French are called “belgicisms” (the French Translation of the term is belgicismes). Although most belgicisms have similar meanings in all Francophone countries, there are some of different meanings. Such are, for example the word ‘sofa” the standard French Translation of which is “canapé” while the belgicism is “divan”or the word “mobile” the standard Language Translation of which is téléphone portable while the belgicism is “GSM”.

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