Letzeburgesh in Luxembourg
Research Centre of Multilingualism
Version française
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

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2.2. Geographical and language background

Letzeburgesh is spoken throughout the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, with the exception of the mining settlement of Lasauvage. It is the only national language, although German and French are the other two official languages of Luxembourg. The country covers a total area of 2km², making it the smallest Member State of the European Union. In the west, the country borders on the Kingdom of Belgium. Three-quarters of this boundary constitutes the boundary between the Romance and Germanic languages. In the east, the country borders on the Federal Republic of Germany and, in the south, on France. Geographically, the country is divided into the northern Ösling area (32% of the total area) and the flatter Gutland/Bon Pays (68% of the total area).

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is an hereditary monarchy under the 1868 Constitution; the governmental system is parliamentary democracy. The country is divided into three districts (Luxembourg, Diekirch and Grevenmacher) with twelve Cantons and 118 municipalities. The districts are run by government officials and the municipalities by appointed mayors and lay judges, together with elected local councillors.

Luxembourgian is popularly known in this area as Letzeburgesh . It belongs to the West Moselle Frankish subgroup of the Central German branch of the family of Germanic languages. Letzeburgesh can be divided into a southern and an Ösling dialect. The former is subject to a heavily Alemannic influence and the second to a heavily Ripuarian influence. Letzeburgesh also has an official orthography, which is not always used, and a summary and descriptive grammar which is not, however, normative: such a grammar would seem to be indispensable if Letzeburgesh is to exist alongside the other two official languages.

According to a 1992 study by the Service central de la statistique et des études économiques, some 400people live in the area. The population has increased by some 75over the past 30 years (31 December 1960: 314- 31 December 1970: 339- 31 December 1991: 389 800). Luxembourg also has a high proportion of expatriates (10% of the total population in 1948, rising to 30.3% in 1993).

There has been no appreciable emigration this century, in contrast to the fairly high level of immigration. The first wave of immigration took place in the late 19th century (industrialisation), the second between 1965 and 1975 due to the establishment of new industries and the new jobs that were therefore created in the service sector.

47% of the total population of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg live in rural areas, 18% in semi-urban areas, 15% in small to medium-sized towns and 20% in cities.

According to estimates (number of births by nationality) and information from the Service central de la statistique et des études économiques, at present some 270people have learnt Letzeburgesh as their first language. Some 350people speak Letzeburgesh every day, equivalent to around 75.2% of the total population. The number of native speakers has declined slightly while the number of non- Luxembourgers learning and speaking the language has increased.

In 1991, 3.5% of the population worked in agriculture, 28% in industry and 68.5% in the service sector. The standard of living in Luxembourg is relatively high by comparison with other EU States. The GDP at market prices per inhabitant is some ECU 18 000, equivalent to around 11% of the GDP for the EU as a whole.

A command of the Luxembourg dialect is a great advantage, if not an actual requirement, particularly in businesses in the service sector and in direct contact with customers and/or the public. In Luxembourg, there is evidence of a growing interest in Letzeburgesh amongst immigrants (courses in Letzeburgesh are in demand and also on offer everywhere). In the border regions (of Belgium and France) there is growing interest in Letzeburgesh among the many "frontier workers" who commute to Luxembourg every day to work.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

Letzeburgesh is a colloquial language spoken throughout Luxembourg. It first appeared in the year 963 when Luxembourg was mentioned in documents as Lutzelburg. All Luxembourgers from every stratum of society speak their dialect, which they consider to be a type of standard language, in all areas of their private life and most areas of public life. Where there is greater intellectual content and in technology and administration, German and French are also used. This "bilingualism" is a centuries- old tradition. From the 12th century onwards, the county of Luxembourg had a German-speaking sector (Quartier allemand) and a Walloon sector (Quartier wallon). French became the official national language, however, when the land was purchased by the Burgundians (1443-1477). This situation continued through the centuries when Luxembourg was in the hands of the Hapsburgs (1477-1684), the French (1684-1697), the Spanish (1701-1704) and the Austrians (1714-1719). After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Luxembourg became, at least in theory, an independent state. After the Belgian revolution, Luxembourg was divided into two (1839). The Quartier wallon and the area around Arlon fell to Belgium, while the Quartier allemand achieved political independence for the first time. In 1939, celebrations were held for the centenary of the London Agreement, in which a deliberate attempt was made to create a sense of national identity in Luxembourg.

Since the existence of Letzeburgesh is not in any danger, campaigns by organisations such as "Action Lëtzebuergesch" are concerned with improving and preserving the purity of Letzeburgesh.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

Letzeburgesh is recognised as a language by Luxembourg's central institutions. According to the 1984 Languages Law, the national language of the Luxembourgers is Letzeburgesh, the language of legislation is French, and the three languages, i.e. Letzeburgesh, German and French, can be used in administration and the courts. Article("National language") of the Act of 241984 governing Language Regulations reads as follows:

"The national language of the Luxembourgers shall be Luxembourgian."

This sub-division into official languages and national languages is similar to the situation in Switzerland. It helps to strengthen Letzeburgesh without unnecessarily undermining the position of the other two languages.

This Law marks the end of efforts to consolidate the position of Letzeburgesh in the State of Luxembourg which started with the movement against the occupation policy of Nazi Germany. Letzeburgesh had not previously enjoyed the same status as German and French, although freedom of language has in principle applied in Luxembourg since 1848 and was retained in the revised 1948 Constitution. Since the War, German has lost a good deal of its prestige but cannot be abolished as an official language for practical reasons. To use French as the only official language does not reflect the true language situation, if only because Letzeburgesh has gained in prestige. Although it was able to replace German in oral communication in Parliament, it is not yet sufficiently well developed as an official language.

According to the sources interviewed by the EUROMOSAIC Group, the government provides adequate support for the language. It is noticeable that there is less satisfaction with the current language policy in education and linguistic research.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

Letzeburgesh is best represented in primary education, which is clearly governed by Article of the Education Act:

"The teaching of Luxembourgian shall be compulsory in Luxembourgian primary-school curricula".

It is for this reason that Letzeburgesh is the compulsory and principal language for the children in nursery schools (with the exception of a few private schools).

In all primary schools (six years of education) Letzeburgesh is a compulsory subject (half a period a week) and an informal language for 26pupils, as well as the medium of instruction in some classes in various subjects. A relatively large number of books are available in Letzeburgesh for each age range. The presence of the language has increased significantly over the past ten years.

In all lycées, Letzeburgesh is a compulsory subject for 18pupils in the first year (one period a week). From the 1992/93 academic year, an optional Cours de civilisation luxembourgeoise has also been offered in the final two years of upper secondary education. In general secondary education (enseignement complémentaire) one period of Letzeburgesh a week is provided in the 7th, 8th and 9th years. In technical secondary education, one period of Letzeburgesh a week is given in class one (7th year), and half a period a week in class two. In class three Letzeburgesh teaching is integrated with German teaching, and it disappears altogether in the top classes. Generally speaking, only a few secondary education textbooks (mainly on language) are available in Letzeburgesh. The presence of the language has remained unchanged over the past ten years and is used almost exclusively as an informal language between pupils, or between pupils and teachers.

The language does not feature (except as an informal language) at universities and colleges, except at the Institut Supérieur d'Etudes et de Recherches Pédagogiques (ISERP) in Walferdingen. In the 3rd and 4th semesters of primary-school teacher training courses, Letzeburgesh is a compulsory subject (one period a week), and the history and literature of the Letzeburgesh language are likewise compulsory in general secondary teacher training.

In adult education and further education generally, the Luxembourg government offers courses largely taught in Letzeburgesh. Letzeburgesh is also offered as a subject.

The Luxembourg government has also taken a few measures to ensure that teachers are proficient in terms of the specific language policies by providing relevant training and further training programmes.

Letzeburgesh is also taught experimentally in Belgian and French schools in the border area and is offered at evening classes and language institutes.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

Letzeburgesh may be used in the courts and is used for oral communications in particular. Documents sent with correspondence between authorities are usually written in German or French. Since the 1984 Languages Law, the use of Letzeburgesh has also been permitted in administrative acts and municipal ordinances, although only French, as the language of Luxembourgian legislation, has full and exclusive legal validity.

Article("Language of legislation") of the 1984 Languages Law reads:

"Legislative instruments and their implementing regulations shall be drafted in French. Where legislative instruments and regulations are accompanied by a translation, only the French text shall be authentic"....

As Letzeburgesh is the national language, parties summoned to appear in court may always express themselves in that language, although in criminal proceedings the judge will address the accused in Letzeburgesh only where the accused is a Luxembourger. Witnesses testify in Letzeburgesh. All other parties speak Letzeburgesh or French. Prosecution and defence pleadings and proceedings are in French. The judgment is pronounced and the record of proceedings drafted in French or German, however.

Even if counsel is a Letzeburgesh speaker, he may address the court in French or Letzeburgesh. Most Luxembourgian judges also have a command of the language. Oral or written requests and statements in Letzeburgesh are admissible and legally valid. Documents in court proceedings are drafted in either French or German.

In civil cases, French is always used as the language of the proceedings and arguments and is the language in which the judgment is pronounced. Luxembourgian witnesses are questioned by the judge in Letzeburgesh, as in criminal cases.

There has been no change in the use of Letzeburgesh in this field over the past ten years.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

In the Lower House, the Chamber of Deputies, most debates are conducted in Letzeburgesh. Only standard formulae such as recognition by the Speaker involve the use of French. German has almost entirely lost its status as a language of discussion and reporting. The records of the debates regularly sent out to households are written in the language of the speaker in question.

Letzeburgesh is not used a great deal in communications between central government and the people. Most documents are in French and/or German; Letzeburgesh is sometimes the third language.

According to our sources, Letzeburgesh is permitted without question in communications between central government and the people; it is also stressed that Letzeburgesh is the main language used in oral communication.

Articles 3 and 4 of the Languages Law ("Languages of administration and the courts") read as follows (extracts):

Article 3

"In contentious or non-contentious administrative matters and in judicial matters, French, German or Luxembourgian may be used without prejudice to the special provisions governing certain matters."

Article 4

"When an application is written in Luxembourgian, French or German, wherever possible the authority shall reply in the language used by the applicant."

According to our sources, Letzeburgesh is permitted without question in communications between regional government and the people. It is the main language in oral communications. The same applies at local government level.

The Luxembourg government ensures that administrative authority staff speak Letzeburgesh with Luxembourgers. Luxembourgers may submit oral or written requests and documents in Letzeburgesh and receive a reply in the same language. Administrative texts and forms are not freely available, however, in Letzeburgesh.

The Luxembourg government allows Letzeburgesh speakers to make enquiries and receive a reply in that language in the public services sector. The Luxembourg government also guarantees that Letzeburgesh will be taken into account when recruiting public servants and, if necessary, in training and further training.

The services offered in Luxembourg are generally monolingual (French). Closer inspection shows the following peculiarities. The telephone directory is in German and French but contains a trilingual list of place names. Electricity bills and signs in the local hospital, local post office and local police station are usually only in French.

The traditional, correct forms of place names in Letzeburgesh are largely accepted by the authorities. For example, land registry unit names have recently been kept in Letzeburgesh in the land survey offices. The same applies to surnames and first names.

The situation as regards road signs in Luxembourg is as follows: the signs at the entrance to the local town council are monolingual (French), as are the signs to the local school, for example. The names of towns and adjacent towns on road signs are in French and Letzeburgesh. Since the 1970s many French road names have been replaced by Letzeburgesh names.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

Letzeburgesh is permitted by law in the mass media and is officially supported by financial or other forms of aid. The press is multilingual in theory but is very much dominated by German.

Daily newspapers

Four daily papers are published in Luxembourg: the Luxemburger Wort, the Tageblatt, the Lëtzebuerger Journal and the Zeitung vum Lëtzebuerger Vollek. Letzeburgesh is increasingly used in readers' letters, classified advertisements, advertising or other private and personal communications. Only 2% of Luxembourgian newspaper articles are written in Letzeburgesh. German accounts for over four fifths (82%) of newspaper articles and so ranks far above French, which comes a poor second with just under one sixth (16%). The authorities award regular financial aid to these papers.

An analysis of the two papers Luxemburger Wort and Tageblatt shows the following figures (as a %) for the use of Letzeburgesh:

Front page 0.1%, leading articles 0.0%, foreign news 0.0%, home news 0.0%, arts 0.8%, sport 0.0%, local news 6.1%, entertainment guide 50.6%, vacancies 1.9%, adverts 9.5%, birth announcements 81.8%, marriage announcements 80.1% and death announcements 52.8%.


The only periodical written entirely in Letzeburgesh is Eis Sprooch, which is published by Actioun Letzebuergesch.


Until 211992, the only private station in Letzeburgesh was RTL 92.5. As a result of the Media Law of 271991 a large number of private regional and local stations have now been licensed. Only public stations receive public funding, while private stations are financed by advertising.

One year after the Media Law, four regional frequencies were awarded to various broadcasting companies. The Société de Radiodiffusion Luxembourgeoise transmits De Neie Radio, which is broadcast round the clock as a full radio programme entirely in Letzeburgesh. The Luxradio company operates the Letzeburgesh young people's and music station Eldoradio. Alter Echos run Ara, a radio station which transmits its music and arts programmes entirely in Letzeburgesh. The fourth frequency was awarded to a company which broadcasts for migrant workers in Luxembourg.


German, French and Belgian television stations can be picked up in Luxembourg as well as a few Dutch, Italian, English, Spanish and American channels. RTL Hei Elei (private TV station) broadcasts entirely in Letzeburgesh for about two hours a day and about four hours on Sundays. Television films are produced in Luxembourgian. Foreign films are not dubbed.

Programmes in Letzeburgesh can generally be readily understood by the majority of the Luxembourgian people.


Letzeburgesh cannot be input on standard personal or mainframe computer keyboards without modifications.

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3.5. The Arts

Nothing was written in Letzeburgesh until the early 19th century. The first book written entirely in Letzeburgesh, a small volume of poems entitled E Schréck op de Lëtzebuerger Parnassus by Anton Meyer, did not appear until 1829. During the rest of the nineteenth century, literature in Letzeburgesh was restricted to lyric poetry and comedy. This was followed by a considerable output of novels in the first half of the 20th century and then by a twenty-year period when there were no belles-lettres. This ended in the early 1970s, and the latest novels in Letzeburgesh are as follows: Guy Rewenig: Grouss Kavalkad (1988); Nico Helminger: Frascht (1990); Roger Manderscheid: Schako Klak (1988), De Papagei am Käschtebam (1991).

Non-fiction in Letzeburgesh began to appear in the 1980s. For example, two non-fiction books dealing with subjects other than local history, geography and natural history (an otherwise very popular subject in Letzeburgesh publications) were published in 1992: Marco Schank: Een Duerf-gëschter, haut...a muer. D'Entwécklung vun eisen Deerfer unhand vun enger Kuurzbeschreiwung.

Apart from the existing handbooks, Lëtzebuergesch an der Schoul for primary schools and Lëtzebuergesch Texter for secondary schools, the following school-books and textbooks appeared in Letzeburgesh in 1992: Pit Hoerold: Yupiii, mir léiere lëtzebuergesch schreiwen; National Education Ministry, Languages Centre: L wéi Lëtzebuergesch. Lëtzebuergesch fir all dag.

It has also been noted in recent years that there are young readers in Luxembourg who have not yet entirely mastered German and French and are therefore grateful for texts translated into Letzeburgesh. The following are examples of works of children's and young people's literature that have recently been translated: Renée Estgen-Mertens, Verziel mir eng Geschicht, 1991; Claud Uhres, Eng Bäckeschdose Märecher, 1992, Guy Rewenig, Kolobri-Kolibra, 1993. In 1991 alone, there were five translations of works for other categories of reader. In 1993, an Andersen fairy tale was translated into Luxembourgian.

Planzen, Déiren a Steng, mäin éischt Bestëmmungsbuch contains not only the German and French but also the Luxembourgian names of most of the plants, animals and rocks to be found in Luxembourg and is designed for primary school pupils.

In 1992, four books were published in Letzeburgesh under the heading of books of fairy tales, and games, painting, song and prayer books, two of which will be mentioned here: René Kartheiser, Marcel Weyland: Dicks op; Guy Rewenig: Zebra Tscherry. There are now various comic strips also in Letzeburgesh.

Works in Letzeburgesh are hardly ever translated into other languages, however. One exception is the publication of an anthology of Luxembourgian lyric poets in Moscow in 1988, entitled Poezija Ljuksemburga and containing, among other things, Russian translations of 71 Letzeburgesh poems. Since 1994 there have also been Chinese translations of Luxembourgian works.

In 1855, Dicks wrote the first comedy in Letzeburgesh entitled De Scholdschäën. From 1950 onwards, several notable theatre groups such as the Théâtre Ouvert du Luxembourg were formed. At the international drama festival in Wiltz, one play is staged in Letzeburgesh each year. Generally speaking, amateur drama groups mainly operate in all three languages. No Letzeburgesh translations of world drama are performed, however. The growth of amateur groups has made it possible for numerous performances to be staged in Letzeburgesh, particularly by young people. The latest play to be produced in Letzeburgesh was E Stéck Streisel in 1991. Plays in Letzeburgesh are also performed in the very traditional folk theatre.

Until the early 1980s, film production in Letzeburgesh was restricted to documentaries. The first feature film in Letzeburgesh, entitled Waat huet e gesoet, came out in 1981. In 1990, the film Schacko Klak, based on the Roger Manderscheid novel of the same name, was produced for the cinema. In 1992, Pol Cruchten made the film Hochzäitsnuecht and Paul Scheuer the film Dammentour. No films have been produced in Letzeburgesh outside Luxembourg. In 1991, on the other hand, the first film dubbed in Letzeburgesh, the Danish children's and family film Hoppla Mamma-mia by Erik Clausen, was released in cinemas in Luxembourg.

"Poetry Days" are an important part of the arts scene in Luxembourg (writers from Luxembourg and elsewhere), but these are not restricted to Letzeburgesh.

In music, the rock group Cool Feet and the traditional folk music group Dullemagik should be mentioned, and both have made at least one recording in the past five years. Letzeburgesh also features in the recent output of radio plays, children's songs, Christmas carols, fairy tales, children's stories and teaching programmes.

According to the majority of EUROMOSAIC Group sources, the arts generally are not given much support by central government.

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3.6. The business world

A knowledge of Letzeburgesh is an advantage for most jobs. Jobs specifically for Letzeburgesh speakers are offered in all sectors where there is direct contact with the customer.

Both roadside, radio and television advertising is largely in Letzeburgesh. Almost all products are labelled in French, German and English, and relevant information is provided in these languages.

A very recent development is the use of official company names in Letzeburgesh for new businesses, e.g. Wollbuttek, Bicherbuttek, Plakkebuttek, De Schnékert, Bicherbuttek & Reesbüro.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

According to unofficial estimates, some 70% of Letzeburgesh speakers currently marry other Letzeburgesh speakers.

There are no fundamental gender-based differences in the use of Letzeburgesh and nor are boys and girls treated differently by their parents from the point of view of language.

The use of Letzeburgesh has no particular social connotations. The situation is different, however, for the dialects mentioned above. The Ösling dialects are thought to be spoken "by peasants", partly as a result of the impoverished rural structure of the area. Luxembourgian authors often use this dialect to achieve a comic effect in public, for example. The dialects of the heavily industrialised south are considered "broad, coarse and ugly", on the other hand. Finally, the lingua franca enjoys the highest esteem, having likewise been used by the national poet Dicks (Edmond de la Fontaine, 1823-1891) and Michael Lentz (1820-1893).

Some 30% of Letzeburgesh speakers, over 95% of whom are Catholics, are regular churchgoers. All the clergy can speak the language, and almost all services are held in Letzeburgesh. At ceremonies such as weddings or funerals, the family is free to choose the language. There are partial Letzeburgesh translations of the Old and New Testaments; the prayer book is in three languages.

Speakers are optimistic about the future of the Letzeburgesh language as a means of communication. The presence of the language in society is increasing daily. Younger people in particular are increasingly aware of the distinctive characteristics of Letzeburgesh and are also using the language to an increasing extent. Letzeburgesh speakers believe that their knowledge of the language will be very useful in future, while speakers of other languages consider it fairly useful. Social advancement, however, can be achieved only through French and German.

According to our sources, young people have just as good a command of the language as their parents' generation.

It is estimated that 30% of non-speakers are learning the language and making active use of it. An even larger proportion have a passive knowledge of the language.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

There have been and still are transnational contacts on an individual basis.

The Luxembourg government makes only little use of the bilateral and multilateral agreements with other countries designed to promote Letzeburgesh abroad.

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4. Conclusion

The recognition of Letzeburgesh as a national language represents an important step towards ensuring the continuing existence of the language. Apart from being enshrined in the law, the strong presence of Letzeburgesh in primary education plays a major part in its chances of survival, which may generally be considered to be good. These are also underlined by a lively cultural output in Letzeburgesh and the use of the language in areas of the economy.

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