English spoken: The position of English in Brussels

May 30, 2017

Université Saint-Louis, Brussels, Belgium

[Website]


Rationale

Located in a Germanic dialectal area as attested by all historical toponyms, Brussels has known over the centuries an increasing influence of French that culminated in the 19th century when French became de facto the language of the newly funded Belgian state. That state of affairs discriminated against speakers of Dutch dialects, which led to claims for linguistic equality that is still being pursued through the reforms of the Belgian State. Since 1989, Brussels is officially bilingual (French-Dutch). However this status does not reflect the linguistic diversity of the capital city where over 100 languages are spoken according to the latest “Taalbarometer” (Janssens 2013) nor the influence of English that is the second best known language after French.

The presence of English as a world language is well documented in metropolises but it may have found in Brussels a very fertile ground due to the presence of EU- and international institutions but also due to its increasing instrumental value as a lingua franca between French- and Dutch-speaking Belgians.

Call for Papers

Yet, the position of English in Brussels is under-documented and the first aim of this research day is to offer a better overview of the prevalence and functions of English in Brussels. More specifically, the following questions among many others could be discussed:

  • In what domains – for instance business, advertisement, (higher) education, the media… – is English used in Brussels?
  • Is the use of English widespread or restricted to specific geographical areas?
  • Where and how is English visible in Brussels? How prevalent is it in the linguistic landscape? What is its share in the local media?
  • Among which groups is it used? Is it the prerogative of highly educated expats or is it reaching other parts of the population such as recent migrants? Could it become an intra-national lingua franca between Dutch- and French-speakers?
  • What are the attitudes towards English? Is it welcome as a prestige marker or a useful neutral lingua franca or is it resented as a foreign influence?
  • What are the characteristics of the English spoken in Brussels? Is it a foreign language relying on British or American norms or is it turning into a second language with local features as may be the case in EU institutions and their ‘Euro-Speak’? Could the recent Brexit influence the future of English in Brussels?

The research day is primarily intended to facilitate cross-disciplinary discussions as a starting point for a large scale research project on English in Brussels.

Proposals of 400 words (+ references) for 20-minute papers (+ 10 minutes discussion) are invited by March 31, 2017 through Easy Abstracts (https://easychair.org/cfp/ESB1).

Further Information

Languages of the research day: Dutch, English, French with written support in one of the other two languages.

Participation is free but enrolment is compulsory.

Organisers: Emmanuelle Labeau (Aston University, Birmingham, UK) and Rudi Janssens (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, B)

With the support of SESLA (Université Saint-Louis, Bruxelles), CLaRA (Aston University), BRIO, Brussels Studies Institute.