French, German and Dutch are the three languages typically spoken in public affairs. They are not explicitly named as official in the Constitution, but it is stated that Belgium has four linguistic areas: the French-speaking, the German-speaking, the Dutch-speaking, and the bilingual capital of Brussels, where French and Flemish are spoken.

Over the years, Belgium has had ongoing debates regarding which languages should be used officially. During the 1800s, courts and governmental affairs were conducted in French, which, at the time, was the language of the upper class. The Flemish movement began in an attempt to make Dutch the official language, which was somewhat successful in Flanders in 1873. In 1878, it was declared that the public announcements in Brussels must be made in either Dutch or both Dutch and French, and bilingual education was introduced in 1883. From 1921 until 1962, Belgium operated under the territoriality principle, which meant that the language spoken by government officials would be based on the region. This principle essentially meant that Belgians who could not speak the language of the region would be unable to communicate with public officials. Due to this, the legislation was further clarified in 1962 as to define the language to be used in each municipality. Along with this, it declared that if a minority speaking one of the official languages was living in a different language municipality, they would be able to request public services in their own language. A few years later, in 1970, the language regions were established in the Constitution, and have remained to this day.

The Flemish Region, Flemish Community, as well as the Capital Region, all speak Dutch as their official language. Thus, Dutch is the most widely spoken language in the country, followed by French, which is spoken by the French Community, the Capital Region, and the French Community. French is the native language of 40% of the population. German is the least spoken official language, spoken only by 1% of the population as their native language. The 1% is comprised mainly of the German-speaking community, which is estimated at around 77,000 individuals.

In addition to the official languages, Belgium also has a number of regional languages which are not recognized as official. Some of these, such as Walloon, Lorrain, Champenois and Picard, are very closely related to French, although the French Community has recognized them as distinct languages. Walloon is the traditional language of Belgium’s southern regions, and it was originally spoken by the ethnic community of the Walloons. Lorrain is mainly spoken in the southeast, in Gaume, while Champenois and Picard are both spoken in the Wallonia region of the country.

Other regional languages in Belgium include Low Dietsch, which is spoken in the northeast of the country in the Duchy of Limburg, as well as Luxembourgish in the eastern province of Luxembourg. Yiddish is spoken by the Ashkenazi Jews, around 20,000 of them, who are mainly populated in Antwerp.

Over the last several decades, Belgium has also received immigrants from various countries, mainly from all parts of Europe. Some of the most common ones include English, Berber, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Portuguese and Polish. English is the most widely spoken one out of all the foreign languages found in Belgium.


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