Babel in (Spite of) Belgium: Patterns of Self-Translation in a Bilingual Country

  • Rainier Grutman
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Translating and Interpreting book series (PTTI)


This chapter looks at Belgium as a case study in order to examine self-translation patterns and their possible correlation with societal bilingualism, both in terms of official language policies (de iure) and in actual fact (de facto). The approach is inductive, as patterns are detected in a list of Belgian self-translators gathered through bibliographical research. In order to explain these patterns, I look at the linguistic evolution of Belgium since independence (1831). The promotion of different languages at different moments either opened up or, conversely, limited certain avenues for bilingual writers as potential self-translators. Initially, laissez-faire linguistic policies, far from promoting literary bilingualism, encouraged writing (exclusively) in the dominant language, French. With the late recognition of Dutch (1898) came the possibility of being schooled (1932) in a standard version of the dialects spoken at home by a majority of Belgians. Only then does self-translation become a real option for the bilingual citizens of Belgium. Since the Second World War, however, this officially bilingual country has seen its twin speech communities and concomitant literary fields drift apart. Writers from Wallonia and Brussels publish in French, like before. Their Flemish colleagues, in the meantime, have largely turned the page on literary bilingualism and write their creative work in Dutch with the result that Belgian self-translation is very much a thing of the past.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rainier Grutman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OttawaOttawaCanada

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