Language Identification: ISO 639-3mlt
Other Names: Malti
Local name: Malti
Region: Middle of Mediterranean
Ethnic Population: Maltese
Maltese users: 520,000 (2012)
Language family: Semitic and Afroasiatic; Semitic; West Semitic; Central Semitic; North Arabian; Old Arabic; Classical Arabic; Maghrebi Arabic; Siculo-Arabic; Maltese.
Early forms: Afro-Asiatic
Language Status: In 1936 Maltese and English were declared the two official languages of Malta. Maltese is an official EU language since 2004
Dialects: six varieties, besides Standard Maltese: Gozo, Port Maltese, Rural Central Maltese, Rural East Maltese, Rural West Maltese, and Zurrieq
Typology: SVO language (subject – verb – object).
Writing system: Latin (Maltese alphabet)
DESCRIPTION OF MALTESE LANGUAGE
Maltese is the National language of Malta and is spoken by the people of the Maltese Islands. It comes from the Semitic language family. Maltese together with English are the official languages of Malta since 1936. The Maltese language became an official language of the EU in 2004. Maltese descends from the Siculo-Arabic and is a latinized version of the historical Arabic. Gradually Maltese started to evolve away from the classical Arabic and moved towards latinisation of the language. In this way Maltese is exceptional in that it contains historical Arabic but it does not have a diglossic relationship with the modern Arabic. Hence as a language, it is also classified separately from the variety of languages that constitute modern Arabic. Since the Maltese language was deeply influenced by Italian and Sicilian its morphology distinguishes it from Arabic and other Semitic languages.
Around one third of the Maltese vocabulary is made out of Arabic. This is especially true with words that denote ideas or functions. About half of the vocabulary is adopted from standard Italian and Sicilian moreover about 20% of the vocabulary are English words. Maltese is written in the Latin script and it is the only standardised Semitic language written exclusively in the Latin script.
The origins of the Maltese language is due to the arrival of settlers from neighbouring Sicily in the 11th Century. At this time, Siculo-Arabic was spoken, furthermore, genetic studies also show that Maltese people share common ancestry with Sicilians and Calabrians, but not genetic assimilations from North Africa and the Levant. In contrast to Sicily, where Siculo-Arabic became extinct and replaced by Sicilian, the vernacular in Malta continued to develop alongside Italian, eventually replacing it as official language in 1934 alongside English.
The Maltese language is the only survivor of arabic dialects used in Spain and Sicily in the middle ages. It is also the only Semitic language that uses latin script to be written. Spoken Maltese sounds like arabic with a tinge of English. The written form on the other hand looks like Italian with a tinge of strange symbols. Even though the original vocabulary is derived from the siculo arabo, Maltese has also adopted words from the romance influence – namely Sicilian, italian and French, and the Germanic – English.
The historical source of modern Maltese vocabulary is 52% Italian/Sicilian, 32% Siculo-Arabic, and 6% English, with some of the remainder being French. Today, most function words are Semitic, so that it is similar to English, and which in turn had the influence of the norman French. As a result of this, Romance language-speakers may easily be able to comprehend conceptual ideas expressed in Maltese, such as “Ġeografikament, l-Ewropa hi parti tas-superkontinent ta’ l-Ewrasja” (Geographically, Europe is part of the Supercontinent of Eurasia), while not understanding a single word of a functional sentence such as “Ir-raġel qiegħed fid-dar” (The man is in the house), which would be easily understood by any Arabic speaker.
There are around 522,000 Maltese speakers, with 371,000 residing in Malta making this close to 90% of Maltese population. This points towards about 150,000 speakers in the Maltese diaspora. Most Maltese are bilingual, the majority of speakers (345,000) regularly use English, and about 66,800 regularly use French.
The largest diaspora community of Maltese speakers is in Australia with 36,000 speakers, a number that has been reducing and is expected to decline further. In the 18th century a Maltese linguistic community originated in Tunisia. This is very minimal making up to less than a 100.
The official status of Maltese
Maltese is the national language of Malta. In 1936 Maltese and English were declared the two official languages of Malta. Official EU language since 2004
Besides Standard Maltese there are six varieties : Gozo, Port Maltese, Rural Central Maltese, Rural East Maltese, Rural West Maltese, and Zurrieq
The urban varieties of Maltese are closer to standard Maltese than the rural varieties, which have some characteristics that distinguish them from Standard Maltese. They demonstrate archaic features and also have a tendancy of using more Semitic roots and broken plurals than Standard Maltese. In general, rural Maltese is less distant from its Siculo-Arabic ancestor than Standard Maltese.
Spoken and literary varieties
Linguistically the Maltese Islands have always been plurilingual. The Maltese language is an example of a blend from different sources. There is an Arabic base on which there are superimposed a variety of adoptions from other languages, English and the Romance languages to make a whole new language in its own right. Maltese is as rich in dialectal diversity, as it is in the literary and cultural aspect.
Even though the Maltese language may be seen as a language that is less studied, it can be said that it is nonetheless a strong language that will not easily be threatened. The Maltese language can be considered to be the most dominant language of the islands, yet, this notwithstanding, the Constitution of Malta gives equivalent status to the English language, hence putting English on an equal level as the Maltese where it comes to official language of the country. Maltese is however the national language of the people of Malta.
The Maltese people are bilingual in more than one way – this is because of what is known as code-switching. The latter phenomenon many times elicits worries that the national language might diminish in use and popularity. Yet, in reality this code-switching gives an supplematary dimension to the use of language, which should not be considered as being negative or harmful. Notable is the result produced on the spoken English of the people of Malta, when these use English side-by-side with the Maltese language. This also gave rise to complex linguistic behaviour of the people of Malta where they have become not only bilingual with Maltese and English as languages, but also with a bilingualism emanating from the use of standard Maltese in conjunction with various forms of Maltese dialects. In addition to this, it may also be said that in the spoken form one would also find a version of Maltese-English that has resulted from the knowledge of two languages which at times become amalgamated into one.
Maltese in the written form of the language was not developed for a long time after the Arabs’ expulsion in the 13th century. With the rule of the Knights of St John, Italian and French were both utilized for official documents. Following this period, the British rule brought with it an influence of the language whereby it was encouraged that English should make part of the education of the people of Malta, and that Italian should be regarded as the next-most important language. It was in the 18th century that Maltese academics sought to standardize written Maltese. One can find examples of the written language even before this time, where it can be seen that the written form was always in the Latin alphabet albeit its Arabic basis.
The earliest work in the Maltese language is the Il Cantilena.
The official rules governing the structure of the Maltese language are found in the official guidebook issued by the Akkademja tal-Malti, (the Academy of the Maltese language) that have issued an official guidebook entitled Tagħrif fuq il-Kitba Maltija (Knowledge on Writing in Maltese). This guidebook first printed in 1924 provides for the official rules of the structure of the Maltese language. In 1984. These rules were revised and more rules were added to include more Romance and English words. Updates of the foregoing works were made in publications from 1992 and 1996. Today, the main regulator of the Maltese language is the National Council for Maltese language (Kunsill Nazzjonali Malti).
The Maltese alphabet
Vowels and vowel diacritics
The Maltese alphabet has
five short vowels: /ɐ ɛ ɪ ɔ ʊ/, written a e i o u;
six long vowels: /ɐː ɛː ɪː iː ɔː ʊː/, written a, e, ie, i, o, u
seven diphthongs: /ɐɪ ɐʊ ɛɪ ɛʊ ɪʊ ɔɪ ɔʊ/, written aj or għi, aw or għu, ej or għi, ew, iw, oj, and ow or għu.
In Maltese the consonants are divided into two groups, called the sun letters or solar letters (form Arabic حروف شمسية ḥurūf shamsiyyah) and moon letters or lunar letters (حروف قمرية ḥurūf qamariyyah), based on whether they are similar to the letter of a preceding definite article. This is an important general rule used in Arabic grammar.
The two types of Maltese consonants are:
Konsonanti xemxin (sun consonants): ċ d n r s t x ż z
Konsonanti qamrin (moon Consonants): b f ġ g għ h ħ j k l m p q v w
The sun (konsonanti xemxin) and moon (konsonanti qamrin) letters are as follows:
|/t͡ʃ/||/d/||/n/||/r/||/s/||/t/||/ʃ/, /ʒ/||/z/||/t͡s/, /d͡z/|
The modern system of Maltese orthography was introduced in 1924.
|Letter||Name||IPA (Alphabet Name(s))||IPA (orthographically representing)|
|A a||a||a:||ɐ, a:, æ:|
|E e||e||e:||e:, ɛ, ø:, ə|
|GĦ għ||ajn||ajn, æ:n||(ˤ)ː, ħː|
|Ħ ħ||ħe||ħe:, he:, xe:||ħ|
|I i||i||i:||i̞:, i:, ɪ|
|IE ie||ie||i:ᵊ, ɛ:||ɛ:, iːᵊ|
|J j||je||jə, jæ, jɛ||j|
|K k||ke||kə, kæ, kɛ||k|
|O o||o||o:||o, ɔ, ɒ|
|P p||pe||pe:, pə||p|
|Q q||qe||ʔø, ʔ(ʷ)ɛ, ʔ(ʷ)æ, ʔ(ʷ)ə||ʔ|
|R r||erre||ɛɹ(:)ᵊ, æɹ(:)ᵊ, ɚ(:)ᵊ or ɛr(:)ᵊ, ær(:)ᵊ, ər(:)ᵊ||r, ɹ|
|U u||u||u:, ʉ||u, ʉ, ʊ|
|V v||ve||vø:, ve:, və||v|
|W w||ve doppja /u doppja/we||vedɒp(:)jɐ, u:dɒp(:)jɐ, wø:||w|
|X x||xe||ʃə, ʃø:||ʃ / ʒ|
|Z z||ze||t͡sə, t͡sø:, t͡se:t(ɐ)||t͡s / d͡z|
|Ż ż||że/żeta||zə, zø:, ze:t(ɐ)||z|
In morphological typology, Maltese is an inflected language that combines bending with internal chips of Arabic to terminations of synthetic languages, Sicilian and Italian. In syntactic typology, Maltes is an SVO language
Maltese grammar is fundamentally derived from Siculo-Arabic, although romance and English noun pluralisation patterns are also used on borrowed words.
Adjectives follow nouns and there are no separately formed native adverbs and word order is fairly flexible. Both nouns and adjectives of semitic origin take the definite article. This rule does not apply to adjectives of Romance origin. Nouns are pluralised and also have a dual marker.
Verbs show a Semitic pattern conjugated with prefixes, suffixes, and infixes
There are two tenses: present and perfect. The Maltese verb system incorporates Romance verbs and adds Maltese suffixes and prefixes to them
- Vella, Alexandra. (2013). Languages and language varieties in Malta. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 16. 532-552. 10.1080/13670050.2012.716812.