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Visiting the Clerve River at Clervaux, Luxembourg: convergence and linguistic refraction

Updated on December 4, 2013
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
The Clerve at Clervaux
The Clerve at Clervaux | Source
Map location of Clervaux, Luxembourg
Map location of Clervaux, Luxembourg | Source

6 official spellings for the river within a few hundred metres

The main picture which I have supplied, above, is of the Clerve River at Clervaux, in the northern Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This small town is very photogenic, given the somewhat dramatic, surrounding wooded topography and the presence of various historic buildings. The Clerve River thus forms part of the backdrop of not a few photographic scenes of the town which are captured.

Being the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, everything here is trilingual (but see, below also) and thus one would expect that just as the town of Clervaux has three names — French, German and Létzebuergesch (1) respectively — so, also the river which flows through (but note the preposition, please!) it has three forms of its name, also.

In French, the town's name is Clervaux.

In German the town's name is Clerf.

In Létzebuergesch its name is Klierf. (There is also a local Létzebuergesch, regional variant: Cliärref.)

Similarly, the river which flows through the town is known in French as the Clerve.

In German, the river is the Klerf.

In Létzebuergesch the river is known as the Klierf.

But please note that I used the preposition 'through': these are the names that the river carries when it flows through the town of Clervaux; because, until a few hundred metres north of Clervaux, the river is known as the Wiltz.

At least, Wiltz is the accepted French form of its name; this is the German form of the name, also.

In Létzebuergesch, the river's name is Wolz.

All these variations are officially present within the space of a few hundred metres. (No wonder North Americans sometimes find parts of Europe quite impenetrable! For a whole host of reasons, Luxembourg has long enjoyed close and warm relations with the United States; those Americans who manage to visit this small country will find it amazingly varied.)

The Clerve/Wiltz River is in the Rhine (2) basin, successively via the Sûre (3) and Moselle (4) rivers.

However, not all the water courses of Luxembourg fit so easily into this trilingual pattern. For example, the Maragole, in the south west of the country, has the same, invariant spelling in French, German and Létzebuergesch; interestingly, also, unlike most of the other water courses in the Grand Duchy, it is situated in the Meuse (5) basin.

Clervaux is the name of both a town and a canton of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, situated in the region of Oesling: the French and German spelling; the Létzebuergesch spelling is Éislek.

October 25, 2012


(1) Létzebuergesch is designated the national language of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

(2) Regarding the Rhine River, the French spelling is Rhin, the German spelling is Rhein and (not to be outdone) the Létzebuergesch spelling is: Rhäin — not that there is Létzebuergesch-speaking territory anywhere near the Rhine, but since the waters of many of the Grand Duchy's rivers eventually flow into the Rhine, a specifically Létzebuergesch form of this river has arisen also.

(3) The Sûre is the French spelling of this river; Sauer is the spelling for both German and Létzebuergesch; there is also a Walloon spelling: Saure.

(4) The Moselle is the French spelling of the river; the German spelling is Mosel; the Létzebuergesch spelling is Musel.

(5) The Meuse is the French and Létzebuergesch spelling of the river's name; the German spelling is Maas, there is also a Walloon spelling: Mouze. (Interestingly, during the Battle of the Bulge which was fought in part on the territory of the Grand Duchy, an advance party of German troops actually reached the Meuse.)

Also worth seeing

In Clervaux itself, there is some striking church architecture, an imposing castle, and associations with the Battle of the Bulge.

Esch-sur-Sûre (distance: 35 kilometres) has a ruined castle on a rock overlooking the meandering Sûre River.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. The Luxembourg railroad company CFL maintains a regular service to Clervaux from Luxembourg City. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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