West Flemish

West Flemish
West-Vlams, West-Vloams
Native to Belgium, Netherlands, France
Region West Flanders
Native speakers
1.4 million (1998)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
vls  (West) Vlaams
zea  Zealandic (Zeeuws)
Glottolog vlaa1240  (Vlaams / West Vlaams)[2]
zeeu1238  (Zeeuws)[3]
Linguasphere 52-ACB-ag

West Flemish (Dutch: West-Vlaams, French: flamand occidental) is a dialect of the Dutch language spoken in western Belgium and adjoining parts of the Netherlands and France.[4]

West Flemish is spoken by about a million people in the Belgian province of West Flanders, and a further 120,000 in the neighbouring Dutch coastal district of Zeelandic Flanders (and another 220,000 if Zealandic is included), and 10,000 in the northern part of the French département of Nord.[1] Some of the main cities where West Flemish is widely spoken are Bruges, Kortrijk, Ostend, Roeselare, and Ypres. The dialects of the rest of the Dutch province of Zeeland, Zeelandic, are often included in West Flemish; these are part of a dialect continuum which proceeds further north into Hollandic.

West Flemish is listed as a "vulnerable" language in UNESCO's online Red Book of Endangered Languages.[5]

Geographical location of West Flemish (colour: sandy) among the other minority and regional languages and dialects of the Benelux countries
Flemish (green) and French (red/brown) as spoken in the arrondissement of Dunkirk in France, in 1874 and 1972
Bachten de Kupe scenic road sign.

Differences from Standard Dutch


West Flemish phonology differs a lot from the standard Dutch phonology. The best known are the (pre-)velar fricatives g and ch in Dutch (/x, ɣ/), being realised as glottal h - [h, ɦ], and the overall lack of diphthongs compared to Dutch. The following differences are listed by their Dutch spelling, as some different letters have evolved to the same sound in Dutch, but stayed separate sounds in West Flemish. Pronunciations can also differ a bit from region to region.

Due to the non-existent /x/ and /ɣ/ sounds in West Flemish, native speakers of the dialect have to concentrate a lot to pronounce these sounds. This often results in hyper-correction of the /h/ sounds to a /x/ or /ɣ/.

The Dutch language also has many words with an -en (/ən/) suffix (mostly plural forms of verbs and nouns). While standard Dutch and most Dutch dialects don't pronounce the final n, West Flemish typically drops the e and pastes the n to the base word. For base words already ending with n, the final n sound is often prolonged to make the suffix clear. This mute-e is similar to many English words: beaten, listen, ...

The short o ([ɔ]) in words can also be pronounced as a short u ([ʌ]). This happens spontaneously on some words, but other words keep their original short o sounds. Similarly, the short a ([ɑ]) can turn into a short o ([ɔ]) in some words without apparent reason.

The diftong ui (/œy/) doesn't exist in West Flemish, and is (depending on the word) pronounced as a long u ([ʉ]) or a long ie ([i:]). Similar to the ui, the long o ([o]) can turn into an [ø] (eu) on some words, while it becomes a [wo] in other ones.

This transition often shows similarities with English.

Here are some examples showing the sound shifts that are part of the vocabulary:

Dutch West Flemish English
vol (short o) vul [vʌl] full
zon (short o) zunne [zʌ:nə] sun
kom (short o) kom [kɔm] come
boter (long o) beuter [bøtər] butter
boot (long o) boot [bwot] boat
kuiken kiek'n [ki:kn] chicken
bruin brun [bryn] brown


Plural form

Plural forms in Dutch are made most often by appending an -en suffix, while West Flemish uses the -s suffix on more plural forms. This phenomenon is shared with the Lower Saxon Germanic dialects, and even more prominent in English (where a plural form on -en has become very rare). Under influence of Standard Dutch, the number of people that uses the -s suffix for the plural form on these words diverging from Dutch is diminishing. Younger speakers tend to resort more to the plural form on -en.

Verb conjugation

The verbs "zijn" (to be) and "hebben" (to have) are also conjugated differently.

Dutch West Flemish English Dutch West Flemish English
zijn zyn to be hebben èn to have
ik ben 'k zyn I am ik heb 'k è I have
jij bent gy zyt you are jij hebt gy èt you have
hij is ie is he is hij heeft ie èt he has
wij zijn wydder zyn we are wij hebben wydder èn we have
jullie zijn gydder zyt you are jullie hebben gydder èt you have
zij zijn zydder zyn they are zij hebben zydder èn they have

Double subject

West Flemish often shows a duplicated subject.

Dutch West Flemish English
Jij hebt dat gedaan. G' è gy da gedaen. You have done that.
Ik heb dat niet gedaan. 'K èn ekik da nie gedaen. I didn't do that.


In Dutch, the indefinite article doesn't depend on gender, while in West Flemish, it does. Though this practice is dying, and the gender-independent article more often being used. And similar to English, a connection n is only made when the next word starts with a vowel.

Dutch West Flemish English
een stier (m) ne stier a bull
een koe (f) e koe a cow
een kalf (o) e kalf a calf
een aap (m) nen aap an ape
een huis (o) en 'us a house

Conjugation of yes and no

Another feature of the West Flemish dialect is the conjugation of ja and nee (yes and no) to the subject of the sentence. This is somewhat related to the double subject, but even when the rest of the sentence isn't pronounced, ja and nee are generally pronounced together with the first part of the double subject. And there's also an extra word: toet ([tut]) which is used for negating the previous sentence but giving a positive answer.

Ja, nee and toet can also always be made stronger by adding a mo- or ba- in front of it. Both mean "but" (and are derived from "but" or "maar" in Dutch), and they even can be added together (f.e. "mobatoet").

Dutch West Flemish English
Heb jij dat gedaan? - Ja / Nee Èj gy da gedaen? - Jaok / Nink Did you do that? - Yes / No
Je hebt dat niet gedaan, hé? - Maar jawel G'èt da nie gedaen, é? - Batoet You didn't do that, eh? - But yes I did.
Heeft hij dat gedaan? - Ja / Nee Èt ie da gedaen? - Jaoj / Nij Did he do that? - Yes / No
Gaan we verder? - Ja / Nee Zyn we? - Jow / Niw Can we go? - Yes / No


West Flemish inherited many words from Saxon settlers, and later on received loanwords from wool and cloth trade with England. These two categories both differ from standard Dutch, and show similarities with English, and as such, it's difficult to differentiate between both categories.

During the industrial revolution, the trade with French became more important, and many industrial words are French loanwords

False friends

Even when words exist in Dutch and West Flemish, their meaning isn't guaranteed to be the same. This can sometimes cause confusion for native speakers who don't realise these words are used differently.

Dutch West Flemish English
achter bachten after / behind (a notion of space)
na achter past / after (a notion of time)

See also

Apartment building in Blankenberge (Belgium) with West Flemish name "Yzeren Rampe" (Iron embankment)


  1. 1 2 (West) Vlaams at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Zealandic (Zeeuws) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Vlaams / West Vlaams". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Zeeuws". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. RL Trask, "Number of Languages", in Language and Linguistics: The Key Concepts, 2nd ed. 2007
  5. UNESCO.org Archived October 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading

  • Debrabandere, Frans (1999), "Kortrijk", in Kruijsen, Joep; van der Sijs, Nicoline, Honderd Jaar Stadstaal (PDF), Uitgeverij Contact, pp. 289–299 
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