UNESCO to step in to save West Flemish?

The UN education agency UNESCO has labelled West Flemish a threatened language. The news came as somewhat of a surprise for many of the dialect's speakers, who believe this may be a storm in a "bottel".

Learning Dutch is no mean feat. There is Dutch-Dutch and Flemish-Dutch and both pronunciation and vocabulary differ somewhat. Learning the Dutch spoken in Flanders is also compounded by the fact that many Flemings speak a broad dialect that often sounds nothing like the standard version. Particularly in outlying areas like West Flanders and Limburg the local patois can sound somewhat unintelligible to students of Dutch.

UNESCO, the UN's education and culture organisation, has now sounded the alarm. Not only is West Flemish under threat it is also a language in its own right! Flemings are now wondering whether this conclusion also means that the international organisation is going to step in and take measures to rescue the language.

VRT News quizzed Filip Kowlier, the contemporary bard of West Flanders, whose songs in the lingo are tremendously popular in our western fringe. Does he believe West Flemish is under threat? "My feeling is it's very alive. There are popular TV series where everybody speaks West Flemish."

Linguist Reinhild Vandekerckhove is surprised, especially as other Flemish dialects have lost far more ground than West Flemish: "30, 40-year-olds in West Flanders all speak the dialect. In East Flanders, in Antwerp and Brabant, this is not the case. It's strange UNESCO has picked West Flemish."

More and more parents are trying to educate their children in standard Dutch and the dialect is losing ground, so perhaps the UNESCO's intervention is timely.

Reinhild Vandekerckhove: "True, many people feel it's five to twelve! You start to cherish a language more when it's in danger of disappearing, don't you?"