The wide variety of languages and regional dialects spoken in the ‘Low’ or ‘Benelux’ countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) fall into two main groups: Germanic, Low Saxon languages and their variants, and French-based ‘langue d’oïl’ Romance languages and their variants. The prevalent language in the former group is Dutch, spoken by up to 30 million people, while French is the main official language in Belgium (population 12 million). Vlaams, or Flemish, is a Dutch dialect spoken in Flanders by about 6.5 million people, while Frisian languages are widely spoken by about half a million people living along the North Sea coast. Luxembourgish is a variety of High German spoken by about 400,000 people. But many of the regional dialects are dying out, or are being kept alive only by government action and voluntary support groups. Tweants and Achterhooks, for example, have been recognized by the Dutch government as regional languages as defined in the European Charter, and have been afforded state funding. Picard has been designated by UNESCO as ‘seriously endangered’. Walloon, which boasts an historical literature, started withering upon France’s annexation of Wallonia in 1795, but it has recently been revived by an established pronunciation system and orthography.
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