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Ancient Belgian language

Ancient Belgian is a hypothetical extinct Indo-European language, spoken in Belgica (northern Gaul) in late prehistory. It is often identified with the hypothetical Nordwestblock.[1] While it remains a matter of controversy, the linguist Maurits Gysseling, who attributed the term to SJ De Laet, hypothesised a Belgian that was distinct from the later Celtic and Germanic languages.[2] According to the theory, which was further elaborated by Hans Kuhn and others, traces of Belgian can be found in certain toponyms such as South-East-Flemish Bevere, Eine, Mater and Melden.

Ancient Belgian
Native toThe Low Countries
Language codes
ISO 639-3


The borders of the Belgian Sprachraum are made up by the Canche and the Authie in the south-west, the Weser and the Aller in the east, and the Ardennes and the German Mittelgebirge in the south-east. It has been hypothetically associated with the Nordwestblock, more specifically with the Hilversum culture.

The use of the name Belgian for the language is to some extent supported by Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico. He mentions that the Belgae and the Galli spoke different languages. It is furthermore supported by toponyms in present-day Belgium, which, according to Kuhn, point at the existence of an Indo-European language, distinct from Celtic and Germanic languages.[3]

Proponents of the Belgian language hypothesis also suggest that it was influenced by Germanic languages during a first, early Germanicisation in the 3rd century BC, as distinct from the Frankish colonization in the 5th to the 8th centuries AD. For example, the Germanic sound shifts (p → f, t → th, k → h, ŏ → ă) have affected toponyms that supposedly have a Belgian-language origin.

Characteristics of Belgian are said to include the retention of p after the sound shifts, a trait that it shared with the Lusitanian language. Names of bodies of water ending in -ara, as in the name for the Dender; -ănā or -ŏnā, as in Matrŏnā (Marne Tiver and also the current Mater) and settlement names ending in -iŏm are supposedly typically Belgian as well.

According to Gysseling, traces of Belgian are still visible. The diminutive suffix -ika, the feminizing suffixes -agjōn and -astrjō and the collective suffix -itja have been incorporated in Dutch, sometimes very productively. In toponymy, apa, poel, broek, gaver, drecht, laar and ham are retained as Belgian loanwords.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Rolf Hachmann, Georg Kossack and Hans Kuhn. Völker zwischen Germanen und Kelten, 1986, p. 183-212.
  3. ^ Rolf Hachmann, Georg Kossack and Hans Kuhn. Völker zwischen Germanen und Kelten, 1986, p183-212.


  • M. Gysseling, "Enkele Belgische leenwoorden in de toponymie", in Naamkunde 7 (1975), pp. 1–6. (in Dutch)
  • J. Molemans, "Profiel van de Kempische toponymie", in Naamkunde 9 (1977), pp. 1–50. (in Dutch)