Flemish - Orientation


The Flemish are an admixture of the original Celtic inhabitants of the region, Roman invaders and settlers in this remote outpost of the empire, and Salian Franks, who invaded the Roman empire in the fifth century. The name "Vlaanderen," Flanders, derives from a Carolingian District, Pagus Flandrensis, of the eighth century. Today, the Flemish are the ethnic majority in the kingdom of Belgium and an ethnic minority in France.

Location. For the most part, the Flemish people are Culturally integrated into the nation of Belgium, playing an equal role in national politics and social life. Belgium, located at 51° N and 4° E, southwest of the Netherlands, northeast of France, and northwest of Germany and Luxembourg, is comprised of Flanders and Wallonia, the French-speaking area of the country, separated by a linguistic border that runs eastwest. Flanders is the northern region, composed of low-lying and coastal areas bordering the North Sea and reaching inland to the hills of Brabant. Some Flemish live in the northeast regions of France, in an area known as French-Flanders. Others have migrated to Africa and the New World. Political and religious divisions have through the centuries divided a people previously united by a common language and cultural traditions into distinct national ethnicities: the Dutch, the French-Flemish, and the Belgian Flemish.

Demography. The population of Belgium in 1990 was roughly 9,868,000 divided into 58 percent Flemish, 32 percent Walloon, with the remaining 10 percent a mixture of German speakers, Jews, Muslims, and others. The number of Flemish in France and elsewhere is unknown.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Flemish speak numerous dialects of Flemish Dutch, called Vlaams, which is distinct from the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands (Nederlands). Regional dialect differences are characterized by vowel and consonant changes, distinct word differences, and unique expressions that refer metaphorically to regional history. An identification of language use with culture is not possible; however, French-speaking Flemish in both France and Belgium retain traits specific to Flemish culture. In France, where the use of regional dialects has been actively discouraged and proscribed in the schools, the Flemish have developed an ethnic political movement that emphasizes the use of the Flemish language at home, practice of Flemish art forms, and training in traditional industrial skills and work patterns.

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