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Promoting the take-up of languages and student mobility

Official launch of Le Corpus de français parlé à Bruxelles

Wednesday, 12 September, 2018 - 13:00 to 16:00
Event Type: 
West Midlands
Aston University


The exact distribution of languages in Brussels is unknown for a number of reasons. Indeed, the linguistic census was outlawed in the early 1960s upon the request of Dutch-speaking mayors who feared that the French ‘oil slick’ would contaminate further Dutch-speaking areas around Brussels and create a corridor joining Brussels and Wallonia. In addition, the balance between Dutch and French depends on the criteria chosen: Brussels is known to be more Dutch-speaking in day time than at night due to the numbers of Flemish public servants commuting to work in Flemish governmental departments located in Brussels.  Finally, Brussels is in fact a multilingual city due on the one hand to the presence of international organisations such as the EU or NATO that promote the use of English as a lingua franca, and on the other hand to immigrant communities.

In such a context of languages in contact, the French spoken in Brussels may possess specific features resulting both from its historical developments and contemporary contacts. Yet, attempts at describing that variety have been limited, notwithstanding the now dated study by Baetens Beardsmore (1971), and a detailed description of the contemporary situation is overdue:

Quant au français pratiqué par la grande majorité des Bruxellois, il reste à décrire; tout porte à croire néanmoins qu'il manifeste une grande diversité idiolectale, sans témoigner d'une spécificité régionale particulièrement marquée — il partage de nombreux traits avec le français en Wallonie — ni d'une standardisation à l'échelle de la capitale du royaume. (Francard 1998 :16) [As for the French spoken by the vast majority of Brussels inhabitants, it is still to be described; every evidence leads to believe nonetheless that it shows significant idiolectal variety, without demonstrating any marked regional specificity – it shares many features with French in Wallonia – or a standardisation at the level of the kingdom’s capital city (our translation)]

The Project

The constitution of a corpus of authentic conversation was needed to identify what those features may be, and the Corpus of français parlé à Bruxelles, a research project led by Emmanuelle Labeau (Aston University) and Anne Dister (Université Saint Louis Bruxelles), addresses that need. Thanks to the support of the British Academy (UK), the Fonds National à la Recherche Scientifique (B), the delegation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France (F) and the Modern Humanities Research Association (UK), samples of French as spoken in Brussels have been collected, transcribed with sound alignment and put online for research and teaching.

The Event

This event, part of a wider academic conference devoted to French in Multilingual Urban Centres, celebrates the official launch of the CFPB. It provides to 6th formers and language teachers the exciting opportunity to attend an authentic academic conference, to listen to talks (in French and English) about the language situation in Brussels and to sample a few typical Belgian products. It also introduces teachers to a valuable teaching resource to introduce language variation and the social impact of languages in their classes

Draft Programme

From 1.00





Rudi Janssens (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) : The challenges of multilingualism. Brussels as an example


Coffee Break


Alicia Cleary-Venables (Oxford University): The role of current French-Dutch code-switching practices in Brussels, Belgium


Anne Dister (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles) & Emmanuelle Labeau (Aston University) : Le corpus de français parlé à Bruxelles (CFPB)

Hélène Blondeau (University of Florida), Emmanuelle Labeau (Aston University) & Mathilde Guardiola (MHRA Research Associate) Le CFPB historique


Reception with typical Belgian products, courtesy of Wallonie-Bruxelles International



The event is free of charge thanks to the generous support of our sponsors: the Association for French Language Studies, Flanders House, the Modern Humanities Research Association, the Society for French Studies and WBI. However, registration is essential by Friday 7th September.


For more information, contact Dr Emmanuelle Labeau: