Society

The Self-Identification of the Other: How Flanders came to be the Name of the Region Today

Today, Flanders refers to the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. But what about the provinces of East and West Flanders? Why is it that the region took on the name of a County that existed on the western end of the country? To any historian, the name ‘Flemish Brabant’ sounds like an oxymoron, because Brabant was itself a Duchy, a centre of economic prowess and the seat of power of the Duchy of Burgundy. On the same note, for a Limburger or an Antwerper to call himself ‘Flemish’ sounds positively bizarre. Why can they not just call themselves ‘northern Belgians’?

In the search for an answer to this situation, this article will examine the historic and political context in which Flanders was defined over the last two thousand years. At the same time, the article will inadvertently try to untangle the vital differences in the perspectives of the Dutch and French language communities and their societies, which are often clouded in the highly-politicised discourse of the media and politicians here. Read more

The Art of Saying ‘No’: ‘Naying’ Among the British, the Belgians and the Chinese

Having lived in Belgium for more than a decade, I have come to notice the *Northern Belgians’ penchant for anything British: British TV, British comedians, British humour, British soaps… I guess it comes from the steady diet of BBC television and the often undubbed telecast of BBC programmes on Belgian channels, the country being such a small market itself. Read more

The Search for a Standard National Language: The Case of Flanders

There has been a lot of talk about the Dutch language in Flanders in the past month. It happened when Dutch linguist Marc van Oostendorp made a sensational claim that, looking at the “growing differences” between the Dutch spoken in Flanders and that spoken in the Netherlands, the Flemish will speak a sort of language that strongly resembles West Flemish within the next two hundred years. The remark sparked an uproar from both sides of the Scheldt river, and interestingly, also from the West Flemish themselves.

What is poignant about van Oostendorp’s remark is his premise that there are “growing differences” between the standard Dutch languages spoken by the Dutch and the Flemish. Unlike what most foreigners presume, the differences between the two Dutches are not merely a matter of accents. There are, according to many Flemish, many particularities in the Belgian version. Read more

Multiculturalism in European nation-states: an oxymoron?

Immigration is a big issue in Europe these days. Europeans have to fight between the post-Nazi guilt about racial discrimination and the practical social issues of racial integration.

Discourse is divided between the so-called extreme right groups which call for the expulsion of foreigners and the opposite which calls for the free influx of refugees and immigrants who seek a better life.

This article does not attempt to justify any of these positions, nor to find a middle ground for any current dispute. It is merely an attempt to look at whether the idea of multiculturalism is possible within the socio-cultural and political context of many European countries. Read more

Why some Chinese have English names?

Why do some Chinese have English names?

China is fast becoming the place in the world to do business, and the only place now in the world where growth figures are still in the positive. Old superpowers such as western Europe can only mire in their EU bureaucracy while the euro sinks further in value.

When you switch on the television, there are always at least one report on China every single day.

I happened to be doing just that the other day when the Chinese man being interviewed was presented as “Jason Li”.

Now, Jason’s English was relatively good for a Chinese person. You could make out what he was trying to say if you knew Mandarin yourself. But otherwise any effort to comprehend his English was futile.

Why on earth does he call himself Jason? Read more