Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch, Luxembourgeois, Luxemburgisch, Luxemburgs, Lussimbordjwès), also called Luxembourgian, also spelled Luxemburgish, is one of the West Central German dialects of High German spoken in Luxembourg. About 300,000 people worldwide speak Luxembourgish.
Luxembourgish belongs to the West Central German
group of High German languages
, and is the primary example of a Moselle Franconian
Luxembourgish is the national language of Luxembourg, but it is only one of three administrative languages (along with French and German).
Luxembourgish is also spoken in small parts of the surrounding countries of Belgium (in the Province of Luxembourg near Arlon), France (in small parts of the Lorraine) and Germany (around Bitburg and Trier). In Germany and Lorraine it is simply considered as the local German dialect. Since the Second World War, however, the language has not been taught in these countries, with the result that use of Luxembourgish is largely restricted to the older generations.
Furthermore, the language is spoken by a few descendants of Luxembourg immigrants in the United States, and a closely related variety is spoken by emigrants to Transylvania, Romania (Siebenbürgen).
There are several distinct dialect forms of Luxembourgish including Areler (from Arlon
), Eechternoacher (Echternach
), Kliärrwer (Clervaux
), Minetter, Miseler (Moselle
), Stater (Luxembourg
), Veiner (Vianden
) and Weelzer (Wiltz
). Further small vocabulary differences may be seen even between small villages.
Increasing mobility of the population and the dissemination of the language through mass media such as radio and television are leading to a gradual standardisation towards a "Standard Luxembourgish" through the process of koineization.
There is no distinct geographic boundary between the use of Luxembourgish and the use of other closely related High German dialects (for example Lorraine Franconian
); it instead forms a dialect continuum of gradual change.
Spoken Luxembourgish is relatively hard to understand for speakers of German who are not familiar with Moselle Franconian dialects, though they can usually read the language. For Germans who are familiar with Moselle Franconian dialects, it is relatively easy to understand Luxembourgish, but more difficult to speak it properly because of the French influence. Even literary German, as it is written in Luxembourg, tends to include many French words and phrases.
There is no mutual intelligibility between Luxembourgish and French or any of the Romance dialects spoken in the adjacent parts of Belgium and France.
Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, President of the Christian Social People's Party of Luxembourg 1995-2003, was active in promoting the Letzebuergesch language beyond Luxembourg's borders.
A number of proposals for standardising the orthography
of Luxembourgish can be documented, going back to the middle of the 19th century. There was no officially recognised system, however, until the adoption of the "OLO" (ofizjel lezebuurjer ortografi
) on 5 June 1946
. The proponents of this orthography were less interested in imposing a standardised spelling for the language than in providing a system for speakers of all varieties of Luxembourgish to transcribe words the way they pronounced them. Furthermore, the rules were evidently designed so that these phonetic transcriptions would resemble the corresponding German (or French) words as little as possible. For example:
- fiireje, rééjelen, shwèzt, veinejer (cf. German vorigen, Regeln, schwätzt, weniger)
- bültê, âprê, Shaarel, ssistém (cf. French bulletin, emprunt, Charles, système)
The political motivations behind certain decisions (e.g., never to use "ö" and "ä", or not to capitalise nouns as in German) are easy to imagine, but this proposed orthography was a failure precisely because it distanced itself so drastically from existing "foreign" standards that people were already familiar with.
A more successful standard eventually emerged from the work of the committee of specialists charged with the task of creating the Luxemburger Wörterbuch, published in 5 volumes between 1950 and 1977. The orthographic conventions adopted in this decades-long project, set out in Bruch (1955), provided the basis of the standard orthography that became official on 10 October 1975. Modifications to this standard were proposed by the Conseil permanent de la langue luxembourgeoise and adopted officially in the spelling reform of 30 July 1999. A detailed explanation of current practice for Luxembourgish can be found in Schanen & Lulling (2003).
The Luxembourgish alphabet consists of the 26 Latin letters
plus three modified letters: "é", "ä", and "ë". In loanwords
from French and German, other diacritics are usually preserved:
- French: Boîte, Enquête, Piqûre, etc.
- German: blöd, Büro, Bühne, etc.
A striking phonological process in Luxembourgish causes the deletion of final [n] in certain contexts. This phenomenon was originally documented in the late 19th century for the dialect of the Eifel region, hence the name Eifeler Regel (Eifel Rule).
Since Luxembourgish orthography strives for phonetic accuracy, this deletion of n is also reflected in writing. Nowadays the Eifeler Regel is presented as a spelling rule, but its correct application still depends on a knowledge of spoken Luxembourgish. The rule targets words ending in -n or -nn, and since this is an extremely common ending for verbs, plural nouns, and function words (e.g. articles, pronouns, prepositions) in Luxembourgish, its effects are widespread. The basic rule can be described as follows (see Schanen & Lulling 2003):
- Final -n(n) is deleted before another consonant.
- (between words) den + Ball → de Ball ("the ball"), wann + mer ginn → wa mer ginn ("when we go")
- (in compound words) Dammen + Schong → Dammeschong ("women's shoes")
- It is not deleted, however:
- before the consonants n, d, t, z, or h.
- den Tuerm ("the tower"), wann hien drénkt ("when he drinks")
- Gromperenzalot ("potato salad"), fënnefandrësseg ("35")
- before a vowel
- den Apel ("the apple"), wann ech ginn ("when I go")
- Ouerenentzündung ("ear infection")
- at the end of a sentence or before a punctuation mark
- Ech hunn (wéi gëschter) vill geschafft. ("I have (like yesterday) done a lot of work.")
- Deletion is optional before the following function words beginning in s: säin, si/se/s', sech, seng, sou (and perhaps others).
It is important to know that many words ending in -n or -nn are not affected by the Eifeler Regel:
- proper nouns: Schuman, Johann, München
- loanwords: Roman, Maschin(n), nouns ending in -ioun
- the prefix on-: onvergiesslech ("unforgettable")
- many nouns and adjectives (for historical reasons): Mann (man), dënn (thin), Kroun (crown), Loun (salary), blann (blind), Reen (rain), …
In fact, n as a stem consonant (as opposed to part of a grammatical ending) is generally stable in content words, with notable exceptions such as Wäi(n) (wine), Stee(n) (stone), geschwë(nn) (soon).
When final -n is dropped from a plural noun whose singular form also ends in -e, a diaeresis must be used to distinguish the plural:
- Chance (singular), Chancen (plural, full form), Chancë (plural + Eifel Rule)
Luxembourgish has three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and has three cases (nominative, accusative, and dative). These are marked morphologically on determiners and pronouns. As in German, there is no morphological gender distinction in the plural.
The forms of the articles and of some selected determiners are given below:
|| neuter |
|| d' |
| def. emphatic
|| déi |
|| dës |
|| — |
|| keng |
|| seng |
|| hir ||
|| neuter |
|| den |
| def. emphatic
|| deenen |
|| dësen |
|| — |
|| kengen |
|| sengen |
|| hiren |
Distinct nominative forms survive in a few nominal phrases such as der Däiwel ("the devil") and eiser Herrgott ("our Lord"). Rare examples of the genitive are also found: Enn des Mounts ("end of the month"), Ufanks der Woch ("at the beginning of the week"). The functions of the genitive are normally expressed using a combination of the dative and a possessive determiner: e.g. dem Mann säi Buch (lit. "to the man his book", i.e. "the man's book"). This is known as a periphrastic genitive, and is a phenomenon also commonly seen in dialectal and colloquial German, and in Dutch.
The forms of the personal pronouns are given in the following table (unstressed forms appear in parentheses):
|| dative |
|| mir (mer) |
|| du (de)
|| dir (der) |
|| hien (en)
|| hien (en)
|| him (em) |
|| si (se)
|| si (se)
|| hir (er) |
|| hatt (et)
|| hatt (et)
|| him (em) |
|| mir (mer)
|| äis/eis |
|| dir (der)
|| iech |
|| si (se)
|| si (se)
|| hinnen (en) |
The 2pl form is also used as a polite singular (like French vous
, see T-V distinction
); the forms are capitalised in writing. Women and girls can be referred to with forms of the neuter
- Dat ass d'Nathalie. Hatt ass midd, well et vill a sengem Gaart geschafft huet. ("That's Nathalie. She is tired because she has worked a lot in her garden.")
Luxembourgish morphology distinguishes two types of adjective: attributive
. Predicative adjectives
appear with verbs like sinn
("to be"), and receive no extra ending:
- De Mann ass grouss. (masculine, "The man is tall.")
- D'Fra ass grouss. (feminine, "The woman is tall.")
- D'Meedchen ass grouss. (neuter, "The girl is tall.")
- D'Kanner si grouss. (plural, "The children are tall.")
Attributive adjectives are placed before the noun they describe, and change their ending according to the grammatical gender, number, and case:
- de grousse Mann (masculine)
- déi grouss Fra (feminine)
- dat grousst Meedchen (neuter)
- déi grouss Kanner (plural)
Interesting to note is how the definite article changes with the use of an attributive adjective: feminine d goes to déi (or di), neuter d' goes to dat, and plural d' changes to déi.
The comparative in Luxembourgish is formed analytically, i.e. the adjective itself is not altered (compare the use of -er in German and English; tall → taller, klein → kleiner). Instead it is formed using the adverb méi: e.g. schéin → méi schéin
- Lëtzebuerg ass méi schéi wéi Esch. ("Luxembourg is prettier than Esch.")
The superlative involves a synthetic form consisting of the adjective and the suffix -st: e.g. schéin → schéinst (compare German schönst, English prettiest). Attributive modification requires the emphatic definite article and the inflected superlative adjective:
- dee schéinste Mann ("the most handsome man")
- déi schéinst(e) Fra ("the prettiest woman")
Predicative modification uses either the same adjectival structure or the adverbial structure am+ -sten: e.g. schéin → am schéinsten:
- Lëtzebuerg ass dee schéinsten / deen allerschéinsten / am schéinsten. ("Luxembourg is the most beautiful (of all).")
Some common adjectives have exceptional comparative and superlative forms:
- gutt, besser, am beschten ("good, better, best")
- vill, méi, am meeschten ("much, more, most")
- wéineg, manner, am mannsten ("few, fewer, fewest")
Luxembourgish exhibits "verb second" word order in clauses. More specifically, Luxembourgish is a V2-SOV language, like German and Dutch. In other words, we find the following finite clausal structures:
- the finite verb in second position in declarative clauses and wh-questions
- Ech kafen en Hutt. Muer kafen ech en Hutt. (lit. "I buy a hat. Tomorrow buy I a hat.)
- Wat kafen ech haut? (lit. "What buy I today?")
- the finite verb in first position in yes/no questions and finite imperatives
- Bass de midd? ("Are you tired?")
- Gëff mer deng Hand! ("Give me your hand!")
- the finite verb in final position in subordinate clauses
- Du weess, datt ech midd sinn. (lit. "You know, that I tired am.")
Non-finite verbs (infinitives and participles) generally appear in final position:
- Ech hunn en Hutt kaaft. (lit. "I have a hat bought.")
- Du solls net esou vill Kaffi drénken. (lit. "You should not so much coffee drink.")
- infinitival clauses (e.g., used as imperatives)
- Nëmme Lëtzebuergesch schwätzen! (lit. "Only Luxembourgish speak!")
These rules interact so that in subordinate clauses, the finite verb and any non-finite verbs must all cluster at the end. Luxembourgish allows different word orders in these cases:
- Hie freet, ob ech komme kann. (cf. German Er fragt, ob ich kommen kann.)
- Hie freet, ob ech ka kommen. (cf. Dutch Hij vraagt, of ik kan komen.)
This is also the case when two non-finite verb forms occur together:
- Ech hunn net kënne kommen. (cf. Dutch Ik heb niet kunnen komen.)
- Ech hunn net komme kënnen. (cf. German Ich habe nicht kommen können.)
Luxembourgish (like Dutch but unlike German) allows prepositional phrases to appear after the verb cluster in subordinate clauses:
- alles, wat Der ëmmer wollt wëssen iwwer Lëtzebuerg
- (lit. "everything what you always wanted know about Luxembourg")
Luxembourgish has borrowed many French words. For example, the name for a bus driver is Buschauffeur
), which would be Busfahrer
in German and Chauffeur de bus
Some words are different from High German but have equivalents in German dialects. An example would be the word potato, which is Gromper in Luxembourgish, but pomme de terre in French and Kartoffel in High German. Other words are exclusive to Luxembourgish, for example the word for match, which is Fixfeier.
Selected common phrases
Note: Words spoken in sound clip do not reflect all words on this list.
- Jo. Yes.
- Neen. No.
- Villäicht. Maybe.
- Moien. Hello.
- Gudde Moien. Good Morning.
- Gudde Mëtteg. Good Afternoon.
- Gudden Owend. Good Evening.
- Äddi. Goodbye.
- Merci. Thank you.
- Firwat? Why
- Ech weess nët. I don't know.
- Ech verstinn nët. I don't understand.
- Watgelift? or Entschëllegt? Excuse me?
- Metzleschjong. Butcher's son.
- Schwätzt dier Däitsch/Franséisch/Englesch? Do you speak German/French/English?
- Wéi heeschs du? What is your name?
- Wéi geet et? How are you?
- Politeschen Anstand. Political Decency
- Sou. So.
- Fräi. Free.
- Heem. Home.
- Ech. I.
- An. and.
- Mäin. my.
- Iesel. donkey.
- Mat. With.
- Kand. Kid/Child.
- Wee. Way.
- Gromper. Potato.
in Luxembourgish include both entirely new words, and the attachment of new meanings to old words in everyday speech. The most recent neologisms come from the English language in the fields of telecommunications
, computer science
, and the Internet
Recent neologisms in Luxembourgish include:
- direct loans from English: Browser, Spam, CD, Fitness, Come-back, Terminal, hip, cool, tip-top
- also found in German: Sichmaschinn (search engine, German: Suchmaschine), schwaarzt Lach (black hole, German: schwarzes Loch), Handy (mobile phone), Websäit (webpage, German: Webseite)
- native Luxembourgish
- déck as an emphatic like ganz and vill, e.g. Dëse Kuch ass déck gutt! ("This cake is really good!")
- recent expressions used by teenagers mainly: oh mëllen! ("oh crazy"), "en décke gelénkt" ("you've been tricked") or "cassé" (French for "(you've been) owned")
Between 2000 and 2002, the Luxembourgish linguist, Jérôme Lulling
, compiled a lexical database of 125,000 word forms as the basis for the very first Luxembourgish spellchecker
The LaF (Lëtzebuergesch als Friemsprooch – Luxembourgish as a Foreign Language) is a set of four language proficiency certifications for Luxembourgish and follows the ALTE framework of language examination standards. The tests are administered by the Centre de Langues Luxembourg, which is a member of the ALTE.
- Bruch, Robert. (1955) Précis de grammaire luxembourgeoise. Bulletin Linguistique et Ethnologique de l'Institut Grand-Ducal, Luxembourg, Linden. (2nd edition of 1968)
- Schanen, François and Lulling, Jérôme. (2003) Introduction à l'orthographe luxembourgeoise. (text available in French and Luxembourgish)
- NEWTON, Gerald (ed.), Luxembourg and Lëtzebuergesch: Language and Communication at the Crossroads of Europe, Oxford, 1996, ISBN 0-19-824016-3.
- BRAUN, Josy, et al. (en coll. avec Projet Moien), Grammaire de la langue luxembourgeoise. Luxembourg, Ministère de l'Éducation nationale et de la Formation professionnelle 2005. ISBN 2-495-00025-8.
- SCHANEN, François, Parlons Luxembourgeois, Langue et culture linguistique d'un petit pays au coeur de l'Europe. Paris, L'Harmattan 2004, ISBN 2-7475-6289-1.
- SCHANEN, François / ZIMMER, Jacqui, 1,2,3 Lëtzebuergesch Grammaire. Band 1: Le groupe verbal. Band 2: Le groupe nominal. Band 3: L'orthographe. Esch-sur-Alzette, éditions Schortgen, 2005 et 2006.
- BRUCH, Robert, Grundlegung einer Geschichte des Luxemburgischen, Luxembourg, Publications scientifiques et littéraires du Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, 1953, vol. I; Das Luxemburgische im westfränkischen Kreis, Luxembourg, Publications scientifiques et littéraires du Ministère de l'Éducation nationale, 1954, vol. II.
- MOULIN, Claudine and Nübling, Damaris (publisher): Perspektiven einer linguistischen Luxemburgistik. Studien zu Diachronie und Synchronie., Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg, 2006. This book has been published with the support of the Fonds National de la Recherche
- GILLES, Peter, "Die Emanzipation des Lëtzebuergeschen aus dem Gefüge der deutschen Mundarten", in Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 117 (1998), 20-35.
- BERG, Guy, Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin: Soziolinguistische und sprachtypologische Betrachtungen zur luxemburgischen Mehrsprachigkeit., Tübingen, 1993 (Reihe Germanistische Linguistik 140). ISBN 3-484-31140-1.
- (phrasebook) REMUS, Joscha, Lëtzebuergesch Wort für Wort. Kauderwelsch Band 104. Bielefeld, Reise Know-How Verlag 1997. ISBN 3-89416-310-0.
Spellcheckers and dictionaries