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The Tinder Linguist: Luxembourgish

Luxembourg is a tiny country in Western Europe where multilingualism is built into the education system.

When children start in pre-school, they are first taught in Luxembourgish, the national language. Soon, from the age of 6, they are taught to read and write in German; French is introduced a year later. At primary school, all subjects are taught in German. In the first years of secondary school, German continues to be the language of instruction, but mathematics and sciences are taught in French. The final years of secondary school are taught either in French for schools in the classical system or in German for schools in the technical system. English is also a mandatory subject in secondary schools.

The result is that most people educated in Luxembourg speak Luxembourgish, German, French, and English.

Many Luxembourgers are quadrilingual (profile from Luxembourg City).

Luxembourgish is a West Germanic language which belongs to the Moselle Franconian dialect of German. It is difficult for most speakers of German to understand spoken Luxembourgish (there is tremendous variation in what are called dialects of German), but other speakers of the Moselle Franconian dialect across the border in Germany find it easier to understand, at least if they are not thrown off by the prevalence of French loanwords in Luxembourgish.

Luxembourgish was standardized only in the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps the most distinctive letter in written Luxembourgish is ë, used to represent the schwa vowel [ə] in stressed syllables as in Lëtzebuerg [ˈləʦəbuə̯ɕ], the native name for Luxembourg—this vowel is never stressed in German.

Because of this late standardization and the fact that school is taught mostly in German and French, many Luxembourgers view Luxembourgish as primarily a spoken language and have difficulties reading it. However, the rise of texting and social media may be making written Luxembourgish more common in the younger generation.

Another important factor in the linguistic landscape of Luxembourg is that foreign-born persons and guest workers make up around 47% of its population. Very few of them are likely to learn Luxembourgish. As a result, only around 52% of the inhabitants spoke Luxembourgish in 2012.

What languages will we encounter in the Tinderscape of Luxembourg? I started in Luxembourg City, the capital, where foreigners represent 70% of the population. Predictably, many of the profiles were clearly from foreigners (including a lot of Italians), and the vast majority of the bios were in English.

The flags seem to indicate that this user is from Belgium and speaks Dutch, Luxembourgish, German, and English (Luxembourg City, English).

I must have gone through about a hundred profiles before I found the first bio not written in English. It was in French.

“Looking for a calm, serious, and very affectionate person for a long way together” (Luxembourg City, French)

Wondering if I would never find a bio in Luxembourgish, I decided to check out a different location. I chose Dudelange in the South. There, the first two bios I saw were in English, but the third (from an 18-year-old) was in Luxembourgish:

“My only talent is to take 35 shots in one evening and only have to run to the toilet twice. Cheers to that nut” (Dudelange, Luxembourgish)

I soon found a couple of bios in French as well. I next moved to Ettelbruck in the north, where I soon found another bio in Luxembourgish, this time from a 39-year-old:

“What I appreciate in people is honesty, a good sense of humour, calmness, uncomplicatedness…” (Ettelbruck, Luxembourgish)

Finally, returning to Luxembourg City I found this interesting bio from a 35-year-old:

“Do you speak Luxembourgish or German Are you sporty, intelligent, honest, and humble and minimum 1.80m tall then swipe right” (Luxembourg City, Luxembourgish)

She has written the bio entirely in Luxembourgish even if it is also presumably intended for German speakers who don’t speak Luxembourgish. Such speakers will have little difficulty making out the meaning from the similarity of the languages and the context.

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