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  • Writer's pictureDilli

A Funny (Linguistic) Situation

Updated: May 27, 2019

Brussels, along with Barcelona and Quebec City, is one of very few cities in the Western world that is officially bilingual. Belgium itself is split into two regions: French-speaking and Flemish-speaking. The the only area where the two languages really mix is in Brussels. From where I stand, the linguistic situation in Belgium feels similar in a sense to that of the Catalan region. Similarly to how the Spanish historically held control over the Catalan region and still does to some extent today, government institutions in Belgium operated in French, thus alienating half the country. A famous murder trial in 1860, in which two Flemish labourers were tried and sentenced to death without having understood any of the process only to later be found innocent, saw the emergence of the Flemish Movement that advocated for Dutch to be recognised as an official language.

Brussels is officially bilingual, but the signs at the international train station, Brussels-midi, also tend to feature English and German. Although Brussels is officially bilingual, the rest of the country is far more multilingual.

Brussels is a city famed for its European feel, but that is not to say that all of its residents speak all four languages. It would be presumptuous to say that all Belgians are proud of their capital's international status. I was warned before getting off the train that speaking French to a Flanders Belgian would potentially cause serious offence. In Barcelona, the linguistic tensions are even more extreme: the Catalan people will refuse outright to speak to the Spanish in anything other than Catalan or English, even though they are all bilingual.

Living in Brussels has taught me a lot about linguistics, and it has enriched my reading of 'A History of the French Language' by... all the different phonetic and morphological distinctions between French language variations are becoming much clearer and more obvious.

I have been thinking recently about doing a masters, though I expect it would be in Medieval History or Literature, rather than Linguistics. Still, UCL offers a Medieval History course that has the option of learning a medieval vernacular, which would be very cool. I've been getting through some of the reading I skipped in second year, and I'm beginning to regret throwing myself so hard into all the extra-curricular I did. I missed so many lectures and I barely did enough reading for my essays.

I have just finished reading a medieval fabliau called Trubert, which is about a man who takes pleasure in tricking those of high social rank. It is truly bizarre, but utterly hilarious. I don't know which I love more - his tricking a Duke into letting him pluck out hairs from his arsehole or his dressing up as his own sister and conning a king into believing that a leather wallet is his vagina. It is crude and fabulous, but anyone who has read Chaucer will be very used to the hyperbolic voyeuristic absurdity of these kinds of tales.

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