Luxembourg is a country of many different cultures, and its national language is no different.

Moien and welcome back to Language Basics!

If you think about it, most languages are a great big hotchpotch of different cultural and historical influences. A language's vocabulary is a great example of this: Over the years, decades, and centuries, a language acquires vocabulary from all sorts of places.

When learning Luxembourgish, it can be useful – or at the very least interesting – to know where the different words come from. In this article, we will take a look at some of the languages from which Luxembourgish has borrowed varying amounts of its vocab.

Dutch

While Luxembourgish is often compared to Dutch, particularly by people who have only recently come into contact with the language or were only briefly exposed to it, it actually shares only a very small amount of vocabulary with the language of the Netherlands.

Mind you, we are talking about words that only exist in Dutch and Luxembourgish – not in German.

If we reduce the category in this way, only a handful of similarities remain. One of the more prominent examples is the following:

 

de Geck -> the madman, lunatic, fool (Dutch: gek)

de Geck maachen -> to make fun of (Dutch: gek doen)

 

German

While it is true that Luxembourgish has become its own language over the years, particularly thanks to an institutionalisation and standardisation of the language, there is no denying its Germanic origins. Besides the grammar, a large majority of Luxembourgish words come from German. However, most have been adapted to the Luxembourgish way of speaking and writing:

den Hues -> the rabbit (German: der Hase)

d'Buermaschinn -> the drill (German: die Bohrmaschine)

d'Miel -> the flour (German: das Mehl)

lafen -> to run (German: laufen)

de Moien -> the morning (German: der Morgen)

d'Kaz -> the cat (German: die Katze)

Some words are written exactly the same as in German, but their pronunciation can be different from German:

Politik -> politics

Kuss -> kiss

Kabel -> cable

schneiden -> to cut, carve, trim, prune

 

French 

One of the main differences between Luxembourgish and other Moselle Franconian dialects is the high number of French loan words. As we have seen over the past lessons, even some of the most commonly used words such as Merci or Pardon are French in origin. French words are used in a number of different ways in Luxembourgish.

Firstly, there are French words that are used "as is" in Luxembourg, i.e., the word is pronounced and written in the same way as it is in French (more or less for the pronunciation, which can sometimes sound a bit more "German" compared to standard French). Examples of this include Camion ("lorry"), Lavabo ("sink"), Frigo / Frigidaire ("fridge"), and Gare ("(railway) station").

Other French words have become slightly more integrated into the Luxembourgish language and have adopted a "Luxembourgish" spelling and pronunciation. There are many examples of this, but here is a brief selection:

Fotell -> sofa (from French: fauteuil)

Suen -> money (from French: sous)

fëmmen -> to smoke (from French: fumer)

Tirrang -> drawer (from French: tiroir)

Schantjen -> construction site (from French: chantier)

There are also some words that are formed by combining a French word with a German word:

Haaptplat -> main course (haapt = German haupt + French plat)

Fussballsterrain -> football pitch (Fussball = German Fußball + French terrain)

Bréifboîte -> letterbox (Bréif = German Brief + French boîte)

Finally, there are also Luxembourgish words that are made up of two French words. This construction is actually a great illustration of the place of Luxembourgish between its big siblings French and German: two French words are combined in accordance with German grammar rules.

Vëloscourse -> cycle race

Coursevëlo -> racing bike

Comitésmember -> member of a committee

English

Unsurprisingly, most English loan words in Luxembourgish can be found in the areas of the internet, technology, and business. Most of them are written and pronounced the same (again, more or less in the case of pronunciation). They include words like Computer, E-mail, Link (to a webpage), Meeting, App, but also verbs such as downloaden, uploaden, or liken.

But watch out for that one word that always causes confusion among English speakers when they hear it for the first time: The Luxembourgish (and also the German) word for a mobile phone is Handy. Is it because they are so handy to use? In any case, this phenomenon of giving an English word a meaning that it does not have in English can be quite confusing – French does this too and actually quite a lot more than Luxembourgish. So, if you're planning to learn French as well, you are warned…

Yenish

Now, this one is a slice of something special. Some of the most interesting vocabulary in Luxembourgish comes from Yenish (Jéinesch in Luxembourgish, but also known as Lakersprooch or Lakerschmus).

Yenish is a variety of German spoken by the Yenish people. The Yenish are a travelling group who live mostly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, parts of France, and also Luxembourg. The Yenish "language" is more akin to a jargon and contains a substantial number of unique specialised words while notably lacking its own grammar.

In Luxembourg, the Yenish lived mostly in Weimerskirch and Pfaffenthal (Luxembourg City), but also in Esch-sur-Alzette, around Ettelbruck, and in Fond de Heiderscheid. From the early to mid-20th century, they were known as Lompekréimer ("ragmen"), going door-to-door to swap porcelain and other small household items against rags and old iron.

Several Yenish words and even some expressions have made their way into Luxembourgish over time. They include words like Kittchen ("prison", more commonly known as Prisong in Luxembourgish), Klont (a pejorative word for a woman), Moss (another word for a woman, similar to English expressions like chick, e.g., eng schaarf Moss -> "a hot chick"), zoppen ("to steal"). A still quite popular Yenish expression that is still used and loved is kuff d'Schmull (basically "shut up").