Language, language communities, and language areas are fundamental to understanding the evolution of the Belgian State and the policies that govern its society. One important factor in this evolution is the striving for language rights for Dutch speakers since the inception of the Belgian State in 1830, when French was the only official language. These rights were gradually acquired throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. Note that this did not result in a bi- or multilingual state: different language areas and communities were codified into official policies (see also 4.1.8). In 1962, a language border was defined, dividing Belgium into Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking areas and one bi-lingual area (i.e. Brussels-Capital, where French and Dutch are the official languages).
With the exception of a number of municipalities with special language rights for French-speaking residents, Dutch is the official language in the Dutch-speaking area. People are free to use the language they wish, but there are restrictions that are governed by laws. These stipulate language usage in schools, in law suits, at the workplace, or by public authorities. Non-native speakers of Dutch are for example allowed to register at Dutch-speaking schools, but the compulsory language for most courses is Dutch. Another example: the mastery of Dutch is not an official prerequisite for cultural professionals to apply for funding from the Flemish government, but most application procedures are strictly in Dutch.
General statistics on language use in the whole of Belgium or Flanders are not available. Data on 2020 provided by Statbel show that 58% of the Belgian population lives in the Flemish Region (which excludes the bi-lingual Brussel-Capital Region). However, statistics on persons with a culturally diverse background (see 2.5.1) suggest that a range of languages other than Dutch is spoken by significant parts of the population of Flanders and Brussels. There is data from the Ministry of Education and Training on the home language of pupils in Dutch-speaking schools. These show that in 2018-2019 about 22% of pupils in nursery and primary education and 18% of those in secondary education speak another language than Dutch at home — in both cases an increase compared to previous years. With regard to the Brussels region, there is the periodic ‘Taalbarometer’-survey on language use and knowledge. Results have shown that over a 100 different languages are spoken here. The most recent edition (2018) revealed that the use of Dutch as home language has remained stable, but that general knowledge of Dutch is waning, which has caused concern among Flemish politicians.
Throughout its history, the Flemish government has signed multiple international cooperation agreements related to culture. These feature agreements with countries or regions where (a form of) Dutch is (or was) spoken, such as South Africa and especially the Netherlands. Section 1.4.1 discusses the international cooperation on culture between Flanders and the Netherlands and the organisations that play an active role in these relationships, such Taalunie, deBuren, and De Brakke Grond. Current minister of Culture Jan Jambon (2019-2024) — member of the Flemish-Nationalist party NV-A — wishes to deepen the cultural and linguistic relations with the Netherlands. The mentioned organisations are named as partners in achieving this goal. In this context, the minister also envisions more cooperation between the funds for literature and audiovisual production from Flanders and those from the Netherlands (see resp. 3.5.2 and 3.5.3).
The Flemish Sign Language is a language in its own right and has its own legal framework (see also 2.5.6 and 4.1.8).
 There are twelve municipalities with linguistic facilities or ‘faciliteitengemeenten’, six in the Flemish periphery around Brussels and six along the border with the French-speaking area.