Walloons (Wallons, Walons) are a Romance people living in Belgium principally in Wallonia. They speak French, but also regional languages like Walloon or Picard.
The term Walloon is derived from Walha, a very old Germanic term used by Germanic Tribes to refer to Celtic and Latin speakers. According to region, Walha transformed, in particular by loans in other languages, and by semantic reduction. "Walloon" was created in Roman languages alongside other related terms, but it supplanted them. Its oldest written trace is found in Jean de Haynin's Mémoires de Jean, sire de Haynin et de Louvignies in 1465, where it refers to Roman populations of the Burgundian Netherlands. Its meaning narrows yet again during French and Dutch periods, and at Belgian independence, the term designated only Belgians speaking a Romance language (French, Wallon, Picard, …) The linguistic cleavage in the politics of Belgium and the birth of a Walloon Movement adds a «conceptual and emotional content» to the term Walloon so that it then also designates the inhabitants of Wallonia — a monolingual French-speaking territory — as opposed to Flemish.
Conceptual and emotional aspects
As in any part of the world where languages are spoken in areas that have no physical barrier between them, the extent of Wallonia has shifted through the ages; the more so in that through history the low-lying area of Flanders and the hilly region of the Ardennes have been under the control of many city-states and external powers, all of which have brought variations to the borders, culture, and language. The Walloon language itself, widespread up till the Second World War, has been dying out of common use owing to growing internationalisation, official education that does not include it as a language, and the efforts of the French government to support the use of French within the "Francophonie" commonwealth. This is complicated by the federal structure of Belgium, which splits Belgium
into three language groups - French community
(though not Walloon), Flemish community
and German community
- with the privilege of using their own tongues in official correspondence, but into three autonomous regions, known as "Vlaanderen" (Flanders) and "la région wallonne" (Walloon region, including the German community) and the bilingual (French-Dutch) Brussels region, also the federal capital of Belgium.
Brussels - not Walloon but French-speaking
Many non-French-speaking observers (over)generalize Walloons
as a term of convenience for all Belgian French-speakers (even those born and living in the Brussels Region
). While the mixing of the population for economic and practical reasons over the centuries means that most families can trace ancestors on both sides of the linguistic divide, the fact that the Brussels
region is around ¾ French-speaking but lying geographically in Flanders has led to friction between the regions and communities. The local dialect in Brussels, "Brussels Vloms", is a Brabantic
dialect, reflecting the Dutch heritage of the city.
Walloons are historically credited with pioneering the industrial revolution in Continental Europe in early 19th century. In relatively modern history, Brussels has been the major town or the capital of the region. Because of long Spanish and French rule, French became the sole official language; after a brief period with Dutch as the official language while the region was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, French was reinstated after independence in 1830, and the Walloon region, being a major coal and steel producing area, developed very quickly into the economic powerhouse of the country. Walloons were therefore politically dominant, and many Flemish immigrants came to work in Wallonia. Between the 1930's and the 1970's, the gradual decline of steel and more especially coal, coupled with the imbalance in investment in service industries and light industry which came to predominate in Flanders, started to tip the balance in the other direction, and Flanders became gradually politically dominant; and in their turn Walloon families have moved to Flanders in search of jobs. This evolution has not been without political repercussions.
The heartland of Walloon culture is the Meuse Valley, Dinant
(the regional capital), Huy
. Its Walloon language
could be considered as an element of Walloon identity. However, the entire French-speaking population of Wallonia cannot be culturally considered Walloon, since a significant portion in the west (around Tournai
) and smaller portions in the extreme south (around Arlon
) possess other languages (namely Picard
, and Lorrain
) as mother tongues. Furthermore, Walloon and these other languages are mostly spoken by elderly people nowadays, and all of them can speak French as well or better. The younger population can usually understand only bits and pieces of their ancestors' language. On the other hand, Givet commune
, several villages in Ardennes département
, and a few villages in Luxembourg
are historically Walloon-speaking.
The Walloon Region institutionally comprises also the German-speaking community of Belgium around Eupen, in the east of the region, next to Germany which ceded the area to Belgium after the First World War. Many of the 60,000 or so inhabitants of this very small community fiercely reject being considered as Walloon and – with their community executive leader Karl-Heinz Lambertz – demand separation from Wallonia and recognition as a separate region in Belgium.
In the 13th century, the medieval German colonisation of Transylvania (central and North-Western Romania) comprised also considerable numbers of Wallons. Almost 10% of Romanian Germans are of Wallon descent. At their height, the German minority of Transylvania accounted for over 10% of the area's population. Actually, there are about 700.000 Transylvanian Germans and descendants all over the world, especially in Germany. Only 39.000 of them are still living in Transylvania (as of 2007). Place names like "Wallendorf" (Wallon Village) and family names as "Valendorfean" ("Wallon peasant") can be found among the Romanian citizens of Transylvania.
Starting from 1620s, a considerable number of Walloon miners and their families had settled in Sweden. They were originally led by the entrepreneur Louis de Geer who commissioned them to work in the iron mines of Uppland and Östergötland. The wave of migration continued substantially into 18th century. Walloons became gradually integrated into Swedish society. However, Walloon ancestry is still traceable through Walloon surnames and people of Walloon descent are organised in Sällskapet Vallonättlingar (Society of Walloon Descendants).
Including people from the region before it became known as Wallonia.
- Baldwin I of Constantinople, Count of Flanders and Hainaut, first Emperor of the Latin Empire
- Gilles Binchois, Franco-Flemish composer
- Godfroid de Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade and first European King of Jerusalem
- Robert Campin, Flemish painter
- Jacques Daret, Flemish painter
- Jesse deForest, Walloon settler, first colonizer of New Netherland and what would become New York City. Monument dedicated and located in Battery Park, Lower Manhattan.
- Nicolas Defrecheux, poet in the Walloon language
- Léon Degrelle, Belgian Rexist politician and leader of Waffen SS Walloon contingent
- Paul Delvaux, surrealist painter
- Louis Dewis, Post-Impressionist painter
- Guillaume Dufay, Franco-Flemish composer
- César Franck, Belgian composer
- Louis De Geer, merchant and industrialist
- Zénobe Gramme, inventor of the Gramme machine
- Justine Henin, tennis champion
- Orlande de Lassus, Franco-Flemish composer
- Jean Lemaire de Belges, late Medieval, early Renaissance poet and historian
- Georges Lemaître, originator of the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the universe
- Rene Magritte the surrealist artist
- Pierre Minuit, who purchased the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans and founded what would become New York City
- Edouard Remouchamps, playwright in the Walloon language
- Pierre de la Rue, Franco-Flemish composer
- Jean-Michel Saive, table tennis champion
- Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone
- Georges Simenon, author of Maigret and other novels
- Ernest Solvay, inventor of the Solvay process and founder of the Solvay Business School.
- Rogier van der Weyden (Rogier de le Pasture), Flemish painter