Neha Patil (Editor)

East Flemish

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Native to  Belgium, Netherlands
Region  East Flanders
Language family  Indo-European Germanic West Germanic Low Franconian Dutch East Flemish
Glottolog  oost1241  (Oost-Vlaams) oost1242  (Oostvlaams)

East Flemish (Dutch: Oost-Vlaams, French: flamand oriental) is a collective term for the two easternmost subdivisions ("true" East Flemish, also called Core Flemish, and Waaslandic, as well as their transitional and city dialects) of the so-called Flemish Dialects, a group of dialects native to the southwest of the Dutch language area, which also includes West Flemish. Though due to their intermediary position between West Flemish and Brabantian, the East Flemish dialects have also been grouped with the latter. They are mainly spoken in the province of East Flanders and a narrow strip in the southeast of West Flanders in Belgium and eastern Zeelandic Flanders in the Netherlands. Even though the dialects of the Dender area are often discussed together with the East Flemish dialects due to their location, these dialects are actually South Brabantian.



Before the occurrence of written records, the dialect continuum which took shape in the old Dutch language area was mainly characterized by differences from East to West, with the West showing more coast Germanic influences and the East more continental Germanic traits. When looking at East Flanders, it can be noted that not a single typical eastern Low Franconian trait has reached the region, while coastal characteristics are fairly common, be they less so than further to the west.

In the 15th century, the dominant position in the Low Countries shifted from the County of Flanders to the Duchy of Brabant, which brought an expansian of linguistic traits from this duchy with it, the so-called 'Brabantic Expansion'. As the Scheldt formed a large barrier in the North, these traits were mainly introduced from South Brabant, and the city of Brussels in particular. The Dender area probably already started this process in the 14th century, while Ghent (and probably the rest of the province) resisted these changes for at least a century more, as literature from Ghent still indicates a typically West Flemish phonology by the mid 16th century. Eventually two processes have caused the spread of Brabantian traits in eastern Flanders:

  • Slow infiltration from the East, i.c. the Dender area;
  • 'Parachuting' of a trait in the biggest city (usually Ghent), from where it spread to the smaller cities and rural areas, e.g. the Brussels pronunciation [yə] for [oə] was taken over in Ghent, after which it spread to most of the province.
  • While the second process has caused a fairly wide extension of some traits, traits spread through the first process have only reached the eastern quarter of the province, namely the Dender and Waasland areas.

    Having been dominated by the French, Austrians and Spaniards, their languages also have had influence on the vocabulary of East Flemish.

    Principal dialects

  • Core Flemish
  • "True" East Flemish (often called "Boers", Dutch for peasant language, by the speakers of city dialects)
  • Northeast Flemish
  • Southeast Flemish
  • The Ghent dialect (insular city dialect)
  • The Ronse dialect (insular city dialect)
  • Central Flemish (transitional with West Flemish, with which it is also commonly classified)
  • Waaslandic (transitional with Brabantian)
  • Waas
  • Eastern Zeelandic Flemish or the Land-van-Hulst dialect
  • The Hulst dialect (insular city dialect)
  • Transitional and mixed dialects

  • The Maldegem dialect (transitional with coastal West Flemish, though it also shows several innovative and intermediary traits)
  • The Philippine dialect (mixing East Flemish and Zeelandic Flemish traits)
  • The Sas van Gent dialect, a mixture of several dialects as Sas van Gent was a colonial town housing many people from different regions.
  • A special mention should go to continental West Flemish, which, despite being a West Flemish dialect, has some East Flemish colouring, as Kortrijk was historically governed under Ghent.


    Even though the East Flemish dialect area comprises one of the most diverse linguistic landscapes in Belgium, they do share some traits that set them apart from standard Dutch and the neighbouring dialects:

  • The vowels in ziek (ill) and voet (foot) are pronounced as a short [i] and [u] respectively, as they are in standard Dutch. In Brabantian these vowels are a long [i:] and [u:], while in West Flemish the ancient diphthongs [iə] and [uə] have been retained, though the sound [u] does occur in front of velars and labials. A notable exception is the dialect of Ghent, which, apart from having a tendency to stretch vowels in general, has diphthongized them in certain positions to [ɪ.i] and [o.u] respectively, the same has happened in the dialect of Ronse. The latter sound can also be heard in Central Flemish in front of velars and labials.
  • The so-called sharp 'oo' in boom (tree) is pronounced [yə], monophthongized to [y(:)] in de city dialects of Ghent and Ronse, while surrounding dialects have [uə], [wo] or [ɔə]. This is however a trait that originally came from the dialect of Brussels, and was spread through East-Flanders via Ghent, because of that this pronunciation also occurs in the southernmost Brabantian dialects. On top of that the [y(ə)] has not spread across the entire East Flemish dialect area: the Maldegem dialect, the easternmost dialects of the Waasland and most dialects in Zeelandic Flanders use [uə] instead, while the Central Flemish dialects use [yə] or [uə] depending on the following consonant.
  • The old Dutch long vowels in ijs (ice) en huis (house) are pronounced as the soft diphthongs [ɛi] and [œi] respectively, which, depending on the dialect and position, have often been monophthongized to [ɛ] and [œ] respectively. (Coastal) West Flemish has retained the old monophthongs [i] and [y], while western Brabantian uses very dark and heavy diphthongs. In Maldegem and in continental West Flemish intermediary monophthongs can be observed: [e] and [ø], and [ɪ] and [ʏ] respectively. Exceptions are the city dialects of Ghent and Ronse, as well as the Central Flemish dialects, that do use heavy diphthongs comparable to the Brabantian ones.
  • Plural pronouns usually end in "ulder", like wulder (we), gulder (you) and zulder (they). These pronouns are also used in continental West Flemish, while Maldegem appears to use the coastal pronouns.
  • The past tense of weak verbs is formed with the suffix "-tege" or "-dege", as opposed to "-te" and "-de" in standard Dutch and the surrounding dialects. While present in most East Flemish dialects, as well as continental West Flemish and some Dender Brabantian dialects, this phenomenon seems to be diminishing in all but the Core Flemish area.
  • Final n in plurals and infinitives is usually retained, as it is in West Flemish, while in Brabantian it is lost. It is lost however in the dialects of Ghent and some Waaslaandic towns on the banks of the Scheldt.
  • Subordinating conjunctions are conjugated. The Dutch combination "... dat ze ..." would in East Flemish be "... da(t) ze ...", pronounced /dɑ sə/, in singular and "... dan ze ...", pronounced /dɑn zə/, in plural. It shares this trait with West-Flemish and Zeelandic.
  • As in West Flemish and Brabantian the subject is doubled, or even tripled: compare Dutch "ik ga" to East Flemish "'k goa-kik". In the dialects of Ghent and its surroundings, this duplication can even occur after nouns and names.
  • As in West Flemish, Zeelandic and Brabantian, infinitive clusters are always ordered V1-V2-V3, i.e. with the auxiliary verb first.
  • As in most Belgian, except the ones from the coast and the Westhoek, and Brabantian dialects, double negations like "niemand niet" are commonly used.
  • Phonology

    As the realisation of phonemes can be quite divergent in different East Flemish dialects, the phonemes represented here are based on the most common Core East Flemish realisations.



  • /g/ only occurs in the consonant cluster /gz/ or as an allophone of /k/ when it undergoes voicing assimilation or, in the case of Core Flemish, intervocalic lenition.
  • The most common realization of the /r/ phoneme is an alveolar trill [r], uvular realisations [ʀ] or [ʁ] are used in the dialects of Ronse and Ghent, and are spreading from the latter city.
  • The lateral /l/ is velarized postvocalically. In the dialects around Maldegem syllable-final /l/ is omitted altogether.
  • In the western dialects /ɣ/ is usually realised as an approximant.
  • /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are not native to a lot of East Flemish dialects and usually occur due to palatalisation of /s/ and /z/ respectively, this is especially common close to the Dender area. Similarly /tʃ/ may merge into /ts/ in some dialects that lack postalveolar fricatives, such as Platgents.
  • As in Dutch all plosives and fricatives are devoiced word-finally, while Core Flemish tends to voice plosives between a coloured vowel and /ə/. In some dialects /k/ also has the allophone [ʔ] in that position.
  • Vowels

    The following table gives an overview of some common phonemes in stressed syllables. A lot of East Flemish dialects have lost the phonemic vowel length distinction, nevertheless the distincition is made in the following table for those dialects that still make it. Apart from these vowels there is also the central vowel /ə/, which only occurs in unstressed syllables and is often heavily reduced or even omitted in a lot of dialects.


  • In the true East Flemish dialects /ɪ ʏ/ are usually diphthongized to [ɪə øə]. In the dialects of Ghent and Ronse, on the other hand /e ø/ are diphthongized to /ɛɪ œʏ/.
  • /ʏ/ is merged into /ɪ/ in several dialects. This included a now extinct lower-class Ghent dialect, which had the indirect effect of current Platgents rounding /ɪ/ to /ʏ/ in multiple words as a counter-reaction.
  • /ɛ œ/ are diphthongized to [ɛi œi] before /z/ and /v/. In some northwestern dialects this is the common pronunciation in most positions. The same goes for /æi/ which has merged with /æ/ in most dialects.
  • When followed by a /d/ or at the end of the word /ɛ/ is pronounced [æ] in most dialects. In the dialect of Ghent it is pronounced [æ] or even [a] in most positions, except before /ŋ/.
  • /ɪ ɛ æ/ are merged into [ɛ(i)] when they are followed by /ŋ/.
  • When followed by alveolars /ɔ/ is diphthongized to [oə] in most dialects. In the city dialect of Ronse it is always realised as [u].
  • In many dialects /o/ and /o:/ have merged into a single phoneme. In the dialect of Ghent this phoneme has later split based on its position: [ɔu] before velars and labials, and [o] before alveolars. One exception is the short /o/ in front of nasals, which has consistently become [u] in Ghent.
  • /æ/ and /ɑ/ have become [ɪ] or [ɪə] and [æ] respectively when followed by an /r/, this system is however no longer productive on more recent borrowings or when the /r/ is followed by an alveolar. When either is followed by /rm/ they become [oə] in a lot of dialects.
  • In the Ghent dialect /i/ has diphthongized to [ɪi], /y/ has diphthongized to [yə] when followed by an /r/ or /l/, and /u/ has inconsistently diphthongized to [ou]. The same diphthongisations of /i/ and /u/ occur consistently in the dialect of Ronse.
  • Word-finally or when followed by /β̞/, /y/ can be pronounced [œ], [ɔ], [ʏ], etc. depending on the dialect.
  • In Platgents /ə/ has an allophone [o] when followed by /l/.
  • Diphthongs

    The following table shows the common diphthong phonemes in East Flemish, though it also includes some allophones or alternative realizations of the vowels mentioned above.


  • In most dialects /yə̯/ is realised as [yə̯], while some peripheral dialects realise it as [uə̯]. Central Flemish has both sounds depending on its position, while in the Southeast of the Waasland it is pronounced [uə̯] or [iə̯] depending on position.
  • In the city dialects of Ghent and Ronse /yə̯/ and /iə̯/ are monophthongized to [y] and [i] respectively. In the Ghent dialect the diphthongal pronunciation is however still present in front of /r/ and /l/.
  • [ɪə̯] and [øə̯] are "true" East Flemish realisations of /ɪ/ and /ʏ/.
  • [oə̯] is an allophone of /ɔ/.
  • [ɛi̯] and [œi̯] are northwestern realisations of /ɛ/ and /œ/ respectively, while /æi̯/ is only a separate phoneme from /æ/ in the same area. In many other dialects diphthongal pronunciations only occur when followed by /v/ or /z/. In the Central Flemish and city dialects these phonemes are generally realised as dark diphthongs.
  • /ɛə̯/ used to be an allophone of /e/ before /r/. Because of r-elision /ɛə̯/ can now also be found in front of other consonants, while d-elision and borrowing from French have re-introduced [e] in front of /r/. In the dialect of Ghent /ɛə̯/ is similar or identical to /ɪ/.
  • In the dialect of Ghent /u/ has inconsistently split into two phonemes /ou̯/ and /u/. In the dialect of Ronse [ou̯] is the common realisation for /u/, while in Central Flemish [ɔu̯] is an allophone of /u/ when it is followed by velars or labials.
  • [ɔu̯] is an allophone of /o/ in the dialect of Ghent, and the common realisation of this phoneme in the dialect of Ronse.
  • /ɑu̯/ is a highly divergent phoneme in East Flanders. In most dialects it has two different realisations: when followed by /d/ or /w/, [ɑu̯] and [æu̯] are common realisations, while in front of /t/ and /s/ it is usually pronounced [ɑi̯] or [æ]. Other realisations may however occur in both positions.
  • Verbs

    As in many southern Dutch dialects verbal constructions can take several forms depending on stress, position of the subject, and the following word. Unlike West Flemish however a subjunctive mood doesn't occur. The following table gives the general rules of conjugation in the present tense and the regular example of zwieren (to toss). The spelling is based on Dutch orthography with the addition of  ̊  to show devoicing and  ̆  to show vowel shortening.


  • The first person singular varies depending on the dialect: western dialects tend to add -e, while Waaslandic simply uses the stem. In the case of verbs with a vocal stem, like doen (to do) Waaslandic and the dialects around Maldegem add -n to the stem, while Core Flemish simply uses the stem.
  • The ending -t in the second person and in the third person singular has several realisations: when it is followed by a consonant or the neuter pronoun et, it is not pronounced though it devoices the following consonant; it is pronounced [t] when followed by a pause; in front of vowels it is usually rendered [d], except when it follows a voiceless consonant in which case it becomes [t].
  • In dialects that differentiate between long and short vowels the stem vowel tends to be shortened in the third person singular. Compare Waaslandic "gij sloapt" with "ij slopt".
  • Inversed forms tend to contract with the subject: verb + "ge" becomes -de, or -te when following a voiceless consonant, verb + singular "ze" becomes -se (written as -̊ze in the table above), verb + "we" turns into -me. When stressed the pronoun is simply added behind the contracted form. In the first person plural the contracted form also commonly occurs in the regular indicatives in main clauses.
  • Praeterite

    Like most Germanic languages, East Flemish differentiates between strong verbs and weak verbs. And even though there are a few strong verbs in East Flemish that are weak in standard Dutch, the overall tendency is that East Flemish has more weak verbs. Unlike many Germanic languages the rules of conjugation of the strong praeterite are exactly the same as in the present tense. The weak praeterite is formed by adding the suffix "-dege" ("-tege" when the stem ends in a voiceless consonant) to the verb stem. While an "n" is usually added in the first and third person plural, the t-ending is only added to this form in a few southwestern dialects.

    Ghent dialect

    The dialect of the province's capital, Ghent, is also different from the language of the surrounding region. The abovementioned Brabantic expansion is believed to have started in Ghent, setting its speech apart from the other Flemish dialects. Some of these Brabantic traits were exported to other East Flemish dialects, but many were not. Differences include n dropping and more extreme diphthongisation of ancient ii and uu. At the same time, Ghent resisted many innovations characteristic for rural East Flanders. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the French (uvular) r was adopted. Ghent's dialect is especially known by these traits.


    East Flemish Wikipedia