Hauts-de-France has two regional languages: Picard (often called “Chti”) and West Flemish

Picard (often called “Chti”) language

A Belgo-Romance language, Picard stood out from the 5th century in the dialects of northern France: it was the time when the Picard “cat” or “cot” began to differentiate itself from the French “chat” . At the end of the 9th century, the Cantilène de Sainte Eulalie, one of the very first texts written in the vernacular (kept in the library of Valenciennes), included forms identifiable as Picardy: “cose” for “chose”, “diaule for “diable”.
Picard became a great literary language (scripta) between the 13th and 15th centuries, with authors such as Adam de la Halle and Jean Bodel (Arras), Froissart (Valenciennes), Robert de Clari (Cléry-sur-Somme near Péronne ), or even the anonymous chantefable Aucassin et Nicolette. It was also, in the big cities of the North, the language of administration and social regulation.

Picard is a language close to French, but it is neither a patois nor a dialect of French: sociolinguists speak of a “collateral language“. It has original phonetics, grammar and vocabulary, which can be learned for example in the French-Picard Dictionary published by the Regional Agency of the Picardy Language.

Picard is traditionally spoken in a large part of Hauts-de-France, including in the northern slopes where it is often called “Chti” or “Chtimi” (nickname given during the 1st World War to the Poilus du Nord, in reference to the Picard words “chti” [the one], “ti” and “mi” [you, me] which punctuated their conversations). It is also the regional language of Western Hainaut in Belgium. According to an INSEE survey in 1999, between 10% and 27% of the adult population of Nord, Pas-de-Calais and Somme spoke or understood Picard.

map of regional languages spoken in Hauts-de-France region

Picardy literature

From the prestigious medieval literature already mentioned, succeeded from the 17th century new literary modes such as the song or the pasquille. François Cottignies dit Brûle-Maison (1678-1742) from Lille is a precursor to a line of singers.

An abundant literature in the Picardy language developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. From the years 1840-1850 appeared political writings: the revolutionary Pierre-Louis Pinguet (Gosseu), in St-Quentin, the Bonapartist Clément Paillart in Abbeville (creator of the hero Jacques Croédur), Hector Crinon in Vermandois, Henri Carion (known as Jérôme Pleum’coq) in Cambrai. Then comes the time of singers and poets: Emmanuel Bourgeois in Vers-sur-Selle, the Lille resident Alexandre Desrousseaux (author of the famous P’tit Quinquin), Jules Watteuw (known as Le Broutteux) in Tourcoing. Over the course of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, authors multiplied, as did literary genres. The best known name for Picardy is that of Édouard David, sensitive poet of the small Amiens people (Chés lazards, Chés hortillonages…). In the North, a phenomenon unique in France, miners take up the pen in Picardy: Jules Mousseron, from Denain, the author of the famous stories of Cafougnette, is the best known. In Lille, Simons remains a prominent figure with his plays which earned him the nickname “Pagnol du Nord.”

From the 1960s, Picard took the turn of modernity: Pierre Garnier (from Saisseval) was an eminent representative of “spatialist poetry” with which he combined Picard, while in Belgium the great poet Géo Libbrecht, at the autumn of his life, returns to the Tournaisian Picard of his youth to create a sensitive work. At Berck, Ivar Ch’Vavar is a key figure in contemporary poetry in Picard and French.

At the start of the 21st century, the number of authors who continue to write in Picard is surprising. The Literature Prize organized by the “Agence Régionale de la Langue Picarde” receives dozens of quality texts each year. Major national publishers have undertaken to have popular works of French literature translated into Picard, in particular comic strips: Asterix, Tintin, Little Nicolas and the Little Prince have thus begun to speak Picard.

The Picardy Regional Language Agency

Since 2009, the Regional Agency for the Picardy Language has supported the Region in promoting the Picardy language. It works to improve the image of this language in all sectors, and to develop the presence of Picard in schools and extracurriculars. It accompanies the actors in their productions and their creations, distributes written, sound and audiovisual funds, provides training in Picard, supports the organization of unifying events in Picard such as the Festival ed ches Wèpes.

West Flemish language

West Flemish is spoken in France in most of the arrondissement of Dunkerque, in the Belgian province of West Flanders and in part of the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. The total number of speakers is estimated by Unesco at 1.5 million, including a few tens of thousands to varying degrees in France.

It comes directly from West Germanic. It is the result of the fusion of two currents, one Lower Franconian from the northeast and the other from the west attributed by linguists to the establishment of Saxons settled on the coast, in particular in the Boulonnais . Another theory, based on archaeological discoveries, evokes the hypothesis of a lingua franca born of economic exchanges between the two shores of the North Sea. This second influence explains the elements that West Flemish shares with English. From the Middle Ages and because of the geographical proximity, Picard lexical and phonological elements were incorporated. West Flemish has also undergone its own evolutions, particularly in France.

In its written form, the greatest authors lived mainly in Bruges during its great period of economic prosperity. We can cite Jacob van Maerlandt in the 13th century, Cornelis Everaert, Edward De Dene or Robert Lawet in the 16th century. From the end of the 16th century, the economic center moved from Bruges to Antwerp, which caused changes in the written language. The Flemish characteristics are rejected and the written language takes on a Brabant character. Then, after the fall of Antwerp in 1585, the economic and cultural center shifted again to the major cities of southern Holland. Significant changes then occurred in writing, which reflected the language of the Dutch elites. In the course of these developments, the written language has become increasingly distant from spoken West Flemish. The author who aspired to notoriety had to write in the written form in vogue at his time. The chambers of rhetoric will be centers for the dissemination of these different varieties of written language to the elites.

It will be necessary to wait until the 19th century to see literary texts in West Flemish again, in France at Petilion and in Belgium at Omer K. De Laey or at Guido Gezelle with a very particular form of written language mixing contemporary elements and others fallen into disuse in an attempt at purist research. Outside the literary context, the man in the street who was able to write a hybrid language mixing the regional language and written forms in use at his time.

From the 18th century, we see the beginning of a questioning of the written norm. For example, in 1791, Bouchette, a native of Winnezeele and Jacobin deputy for Bergues, criticized the distance between the language of an official text probably written by a rhetorician from Bergu and the language spoken by “the country people”, that is to say the West Flemish: “His first attempt is good, and much better than the Flemish of your municipal ordinance: it is detestable, and made to make fun of your country people. Why not write his mother tongue as the people speak it? “. Also during the French Revolution, in order to reach a more popular audience, propaganda texts were imbued with West Flemish.
Nowadays, books are regularly published in West Flemish or about this language in France and Belgium. Linguists publish many scientific articles about it. The song in West Flemish had a new start from the 80s of the last century and recently it is enjoying renewed popularity in Belgium.

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