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Publish at September 28 2021 Updated November 08 2021

Luxembourgish at its Best!

How a Dialect Becomes a National Language

Which other national motto do you know apart from yours? France's is "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), Quebec's is "Je me souviens" (I remember), for Belgium, it's "L'union fait la force" (Unity is Strength), Switzerland claims its "Liberté et Patrie"  (Liberty and Homeland), but do you know which country might be hiding behind the slightly more surprising motto: "We want to remain who we are"?

Would you believe, if I tell you that it is a small but very rich European country? Not Switzerland, but Luxembourg! Let's discover this grand duchy that has its own way of protecting its national language through a distinctive education management system.

Welcome to Luxembourg!

A small country of only 2590 km2 (179th on the list of 224 countries), Luxembourg is nestled between Belgium, Germany, and France and as a result, has no maritime access. In 2021, over 634,000 inhabitants were recorded to have the first and highest GDP (gross domestic product) and PPP (purchasing power parity) in the world! Luxembourgers are not to be pitied... The particularity of Luxembourg is to be of Germanic culture and Romanesque essence. 

Luxembourgish

Because of its geographical location, the country is trilingual: German in the east, French in the west, and Luxembourgish for everyone! But it was not until 1984 that this language, called Letzebuergesch in the original version, could know its recognition as a national language.

In fact, this Moselle Franconian dialect (Middle West German), which sounds like Dutch and consists of a mixture of German and French, was essentially oral. It was not until a constitutional revision in 1984 that Lëtzebuergesch was given state language status.

Before that, the fact that it was only a spoken language, not a written one, prevented it from being used in Parliament. Subsequently, this dialect was transcribed phonetically, making it a new language in due form.

To show how recent this language is, at least officially, in the eyes of the state, it may be noted that the computerization of Lëtzebuergesch only dates back to the 2000s, thanks to linguist Jérôme Lulling who also set up a lexical database of some 185.000-word types.

Educational Policy

The small number of speakers of Lëtzebuergesch (about 600,000) makes it, according to UNESCO, an endangered language. This is due to its multilingual environment (French and German), but also to the languages of immigration. In fact, while 52% of the population has Lëtzebuergesch as its mother tongue, the second mother tongue is neither German (2%) nor French (16%), but rather... Portuguese (16.4%), which represents the country's largest immigrant population!

How then, do we avoid giving the lie to the national motto, "We want to remain who we are"? By actively involving the residents in the life of the language!

Several unanimous studies and surveys have been conducted: Lëtzebuergesch is popular, it is increasingly popular and appears to be the best way to get in touch with its population. Another way to revitalize this language is to obtain Luxembourgish nationality. Indeed, since 2008, Luxembourgish courses have simply tripled because knowledge of the language has become a sine qua non. The exams offered at the National Institute of Languages are recording success and described as "extraordinary" by the Minister of National Education, Claude Mesch.

Between June 1 and July 15, 2021, four exams were offered, 93% of which were for the famous "Sproochentest", essential to claim Luxembourg citizenship. There was so much demand that additional sessions had to be introduced. In total, nearly 99 different countries were represented among the applicants for the title and ultimately accumulated a pass rate on the said test of 65.6%.

Surviving

Obviously, this is not the first time a language has been saved by its government. Indeed, less than a century ago, it was Hebrew, a thousand-year-old language spoken at the time of Jesus and long before that, experienced a revival.

Despite its nine million speakers, the language was indeed threatened with extinction, as it was no longer practized except for religious purposes. It was thanks to the hard work of Jewish lexicographer and philologist Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922) that Hebrew was modernized and thus, made accessible to its people again.

Finally, good management of an education sector on the part of the government, under the impetus of one man originally, as was the case with Jerome Lulling and Lëtzebuergesch, or Ben Yehudah and Hebrew, can enable a language to rise from the ashes and endure continually.

Beautiful examples to follow...


Sources and illustrations

Luxembourg, Wikipedia, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxembourg

Languages in Luxembourg, Wikipedia, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langues_au_Luxembourg

An intro to Letzebuergesch, Government of Luxembourg, https://luxembourg.public.lu/fr/societe-et-culture/langues/letzebuergesch-intro.html

Introduction to Luxembourgish - Free Course  - https://cursus.edu/17845/introduction-au-luxembourgeois-cours-gratuit

Luxembourgeois makes a big splash at the INL, L'Essentiel, Frédéric Lambert, August 2021, http://www.lessentiel.lu/fr/luxembourg/story/le-luxembourgeois-fait-un-carton-a-l-inl-22217626 

Hebrew, Wikipedia, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hébreu 

Luxembourg map and flag, Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/images/id-1758832/

Luxembourg, Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/images/id-5016821/ 

Torah in Hebrew, Pixabay, https://pixabay.com/images/id-5671484/ 


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