|Native speakers||(400,000 cited 1975)|
|Writing system||Latin (Maltese alphabet)
|Official language in|| Malta
|Regulated by||National Council for the Maltese Language
Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti
Maltese (Malti) is the national language of Malta, and a co-official language of the country alongside English, while also serving as an official language of the European Union, the only Semitic language so distinguished. Maltese is descended from Siculo-Arabic (the Arabic dialect that developed in Sicily, and later in Malta, between the end of the ninth century and the end of the thirteenth century). About half of the vocabulary is borrowed from standard Italian and Sicilian; English words make up between 6% and 20% of the Maltese vocabulary, according to different estimates (see below). It is the only Semitic language written in the Latin script in its standard form.
Malta was occupied by the Fatimids, who exerted 220 years of linguistic influence, from 870 to 1090 CE.
The oldest reference to Maltese comes from the Benedictine monks of Catania, who were unable to open a monastery in Malta, in 1364, because they could not understand the native language. In 1436, in the will of a certain Pawlu Peregrino, Maltese is first identified as lingua maltensi. The oldest known document in Maltese is "Il Cantilena" (Maltese: Xidew il-Qada) a poem from the 15th century written by Pietro Caxaro, and the first known Maltese dictionary was written by the French Knight François de Vion Thezan Court in 1640. It includes notes about Maltese grammar and a concluding section detailing, in Italian and Maltese, phrases to be used when giving orders to soldiers. Facsimiles of the work are currently published.
In his book Dell’Istoria della Sacra Religione et Illustrissima Militia di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano (English: The History of the Sacred Religion and Illustrious Militia of St John of Jerusalem), written between 1594 and 1602, Giacomo Bosio endorses the notion that Maltese descended from Carthaginian. Bosio writes that when the cornerstone of Valletta was placed, a group of Maltese elders said "Iegi zimen en fel wardia col sceber raba iesue uquie" (which in modern Maltese reads, "Jiġi żmien li fil-Wardija [l-Għolja Sciberras] kull xiber raba’ jiswa uqija," and in English, "There will come a time when every piece of land on Sciberras Hill will be worth its weight in gold"). This is the oldest example of printed Maltese.
Athanasius Kircher spent two years in Malta (1637–38) and made observations running counter to ideas of Punic ancestry accepted by his contemporaries. In his Mundus Subterraneus he says of the Maltese, "they speak the purest form of Arabic, corrupted by neither Italian nor any other language". Other theories include those in Johann Friedrich Breithaupt's Christliche Helden Insel Malta (English: Malta, Home of Christian Heroes), published in 1632, where he calls Maltese a mixed 'barbaric' language and John Dryden's description of the language as 'Berber' on his visit to the islands (the memoirs of those journeys appeared in 1776).
In 1584 Pasquale Vassallo, a Dominican friar, wrote a collection of songs in Italian and Maltese. In 1585 the poems were burned on the orders of the Inquisition, for allegedly 'obscene' content. The German traveler Hieronymus Megiser includes a list of Maltese words in his Thesaurus Polyglottus (published in 1603), and also in his more celebrated work Propugnaculum Europae, published in 1606. Megiser, who visited Malta from 1588 to 1589, proposed a Punic heritage for the language, a suggestion rebuffed in 1660 by Burchardus Niderstedt in his book Malta vetus et nova. In 1677, Domenico and Carlo Magri gave the etymologies for various Maltese words in their book Hierolexicon, a Latin version of the encyclopedia Notitia de vocaboli ecclesiastici first published in 1644.
Maltese became an official language of Malta in 1934, alongside English, when Italian was dropped from official use.
In 1975, there were an estimated 371,000 Maltese speakers, of whom 300,000 resided in Malta. Thousands of Maltese emigrants in Australia, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States still speak the language, and in 2007 it was reported that Maltese is still spoken by descendants of Maltese immigrants in Tunisia.
Maltese is a Semitic language descended from Siculo-Arabic, that in the course of its history has been influenced by Sicilian and Italian, to a lesser extent French, and more recently English. Today, the core vocabulary (including both the most commonly used vocabulary and function words) is Semitic, with large numbers of loan words. Due to the Sicilian influence on Siculo-Arabic, Maltese has many language contact features and is most commonly described as a language with a large number of loanwords.
The Maltese language has historically been classified in various ways, with some claiming that the ancient Punic language was the base of the language, instead of Siculo-Arabic, while others believed the language to be Berber, and under Fascist Italy, it was considered a dialect of Italian.
Many Classical Arabic consonants underwent several mergers and modifications in Maltese:
|Classical Arabic||ت /t/||ث /θ/||ط /tˤ/||د /d/||ض /dˤ/||ذ /ð/||ظ /ðˤ/||س /s/||ص /sˤ/||ه /h/||ح /ħ/||خ /χ/||ع /ʕ/||غ /ɣ/||ق /q/|
Maltese has five short vowels, /ɐ ɛ ɪ ɔ ʊ/, written a e i o u; six long vowels, /ɐː ɛː iː ɪː ɔː ʊː/, written a, e, ie, i, o, u, and seven diphthongs: /ɐɪ ɛɪ/ represented by għi, and /ɐʊ ɛʊ ɪʊ ɔɪ ɔʊ/ written as għu.
Stress is generally on the penultimate syllable, unless some other syllable is heavy (has a long vowel or final consonant), or unless a stress-shifting suffix is added. (Suffixes marking gender, possession, and verbal plurals do not cause the stress to shift.)
When two syllables are equally heavy, the penultimate takes the stress, but otherwise the heavier syllable does. E.g. bajjad [ˈbɐj.jɐt] 'he painted' vs bajjad [bɐj.ˈjɐːt] 'a painter'.
|Letter||Name||Maltese example||IPA||Approximate English pronunciation|
|A a||a||anġlu (angel)||ɐ||similar to 'u' in nut in RP|
|B b||be||ballun (ball)||b||bar, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [p].|
|Ċ ċ||ċe||ċavetta (key)||t͡ʃ||church (note: undotted 'c' has been replaced by 'k', so when 'c' does appear, it is to be spoken the same way as 'ċ')|
|D d||de||dar (home)||d||day, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [t].|
|E e||e||envelopp (envelope)||ɛ||end|
|F f||effe||fjura (flower)||f||far|
|Ġ ġ||ġe||ġelat (ice cream)||d͡ʒ||gem, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [tʃ].|
|G g||ge||gallettina (biscuit)||ɡ||game, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [k].|
|GĦ għ||ajn||għasfur (bird)||ˤː, ħː||has the effect of lengthening and pharyngealizing associated vowels (għi and għu are [aˤj] and [oˤw]). When found at the end of a word or immediately before 'h' it has the sound of a double 'ħ' (see below).|
|H h||akka||hu (he)||not pronounced unless it is at the end of a word, in which case it has the sound of 'ħ'.|
|Ħ ħ||ħe||ħanut (shop)||ħ||no English equivalent; sounds similar to /h/ but is articulated with a lowered larynx.|
|I i||i||ikel (food)||ɪ||bit|
|IE ie||ie||ieqaf (stop)||iɛ, iː||no English equivalent; sounds similar to /i/, as in yield, but opened up slightly towards towards /ɛ/|
|J j||je||jum (day)||j||yard|
|K k||ke||kelb (dog)||k||kettle|
|L l||elle||libsa (dress)||l||line|
|M m||emme||mara (woman)||m||march|
|N n||enne||nanna (granny)||n||next|
|O o||o||ors (bear)||ɔ||like 'aw' in law, but shorter.|
|P p||pe||paġna (page, sheet)||p||part|
|Q q||qe||qattus (cat)||ʔ||glottal stop, found in the Cockney English pronunciation of "bottle" or the phrase "uh-oh" /ʔʌʔoʊ/.|
|R r||erre||re (king)||r||road|
|S s||esse||sliem (peace)||s||sand|
|T t||te||tieqa (window)||t||tired|
|U u||u||uviera (egg cup)||ʊ||put|
|V v||ve||vjola (violet)||v||vast, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [f].|
|W w||we||widna (ear)||w||west|
|X x||exxe||xadina (monkey)||ʃ / ʒ||shade, sometimes as measure; when doubled the sound is elongated, as in "Cash shin" vs. "Cash in".|
|Z z||ze||zalza (sauce)||t͡s / d͡z||pizza|
|Ż ż||że||żraben (shoes)||z||maze, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [s].|
Final vowels with grave accents (à, è, ì, ò, ù) are also found in some Maltese words of Italian origin, such as libertà ("freedom"), sigurtà (old Italian: sicurtà, "security"), or soċjetà (Italian: "società; "society").
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, which is named Tagħrif fuq il-Kitba Maltija, that is, Knowledge on Writing in Maltese. The first edition of this book was printed in 1924 by the Maltese government's printing press. The rules were further expanded in the 1984 book, iż-Żieda mat-Tagħrif, which focused mainly on the increasing influence of Romance and English words. In 1992 the Academy issued the Aġġornament tat-Tagħrif fuq il-Kitba Maltija, which updated the previous works. All these works were included in a revised and expanded guidebook published in 1996.
The National Council for the Maltese Language (KNM) is the main regulator of the Maltese language (see Maltese Language Act, below) and not the Akkademja tal-Malti. However, these orthography rules are still valid and official.
Since Maltese evolved after the Normans ended the Arab rule of the islands, a standard, written form of the language was not developed for a long time after the Arabs' expulsion in the eleventh century. Under the rule of the Order of the Knights of Malta, both French and Italian were used for official documents and correspondence. During the British colonial period the use of English was encouraged through education, with Italian regarded as the next most important language.
In 1934, Maltese was recognised as an official language. In the nineteenth century, philologists and academics such as Mikiel Anton Vassalli made a concerted effort to transcribe spoken Maltese in a comprehensive written form. Many examples of written Maltese exist from before this period, always in the Latin alphabet.
From the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe:
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
L-Unjoni hija mibnija fuq il-valuri ta' rispett għad-dinjità tal-bniedem, ta' libertà, ta' demokrazija, ta' ugwaljanza, ta' l-istat tad-dritt u tar-rispett għad-drittijiet tal-bniedem, inklużi d-drittijiet ta' persuni li jagħmlu parti minn minoranzi. Dawn il-valuri huma komuni għall-Istati Membri f'soċjetà karatterizzata mill-pluraliżmu, in-non-diskriminazzjoni, it-tolleranza, il-ġustizzja, is-solidarjetà u l-ugwaljanza bejn in-nisa u l-irġiel.
Although the original vocabulary of the language was Siculo-Arabic, it has incorporated a large number of borrowings from Romance sources of influence (Sicilian, Italian, and French), and more recently Germanic ones (from 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. In this way, it is similar to English, which is a Germanic language that had large influence from French—although less so than Maltese. As a result of this, Romance language-speakers may easily be able to comprehend more complex 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 simple sentence such as "Ir-raġel qiegħed fid-dar" (The man is in the house), which would be easily understood by any Arabic speaker.
An analysis of the etymology of the 41,000 words in Aquilina's Maltese-English Dictionary shows that words of Romance origin make up 52% of the Maltese vocabulary, although other sources claim from as low as 40%, to as high as 55%. These vocabularies tend to deal with more complicated concepts. They are mostly derived from Sicilian and thus exhibit Sicilian phonetic characteristics, such as /u/ in place of /o/, and /i/ in place of /e/ (e.g. tiatru not teatro and fidi not fede). Also, as with Old Sicilian, /ʃ/ (English 'sh') is written 'x' and this produces spellings such as: ambaxxata /ambaʃːaːta/ ('embassy'), xena /ʃeːna/ ('scene' cf. Italian ambasciata, scena).
A tendency in modern Maltese is to adopt further influences from English and Italian. Complex Latinate English words adopted into Maltese are often given Italianate or Sicilianate forms, even if the resulting words do not appear in either of those languages. For instance, the words "evaluation", "industrial action", and "chemical armaments" become "evalwazzjoni", "azzjoni industrjali", and "armamenti kimiċi" in Maltese, while the Italian terms are valutazione, vertenza sindacale, and armi chimiche respectively. English words of Germanic origin are generally preserved relatively unchanged.
|qassata||cassata||savoury pastry pie|
Żammit (2000) found that 40% of a sample of 1,820 Quranic Arabic roots were found in Maltese, a lower percentage than found in Moroccan (58%) and Lebanese Arabic (72%). An analysis of the etymology of the 41,000 words in Aquilina's Maltese-English Dictionary shows that 32% of the Maltese vocabulary is of Arabic origin, although another source claims 40%. Usually, words expressing basic concepts and ideas, such as raġel (man), mara (woman), tifel (boy), dar (house), xemx (sun), sajf (summer), are of Arabic origin. Moreover, belles lettres in Maltese tend to aim mainly at diction belonging to this group.
The Maltese language has merged many of the original Arabic consonants, in particular the emphatic consonants, with others that are common in European languages. Thus, original Arabic /d/, /ð/, and /dˤ/ all merged into Maltese /d/. The vowels, however, separated from the three in Arabic (/a i u/) to five, as is more typical of other European languages (/a ɛ i o u/). Some unstressed short vowels have been elided. The common Arabic greeting as salāmu 'alaykum is cognate with is-sliem għalikom in Maltese (lit. the peace for you, peace be with you), as are similar greetings in other Semitic languages (e.g. shalom ʿalekhem in Hebrew).
|Moroccan||English||Modern Standard Arabic|
It is estimated that English loanwords, which are becoming more commonplace, make up 20% of the Maltese vocabulary, although other sources claim amounts as low as 6%. This percentage discrepancy is due to the fact that a number of new English loanwords are sometimes not officially considered part of the Maltese vocabulary; hence, they are not included in certain dictionaries. Also, English loanwards of Latinate origin are very often italianised, as discussed above. English loanwords are generally transliterated, although standard English pronunciation is virtually always retained. Below are a few examples:
Note "fridge", which is a slang term derived from "refrigerator", a Latinate word which might be expected to be rendered as rifriġeratori (Italian uses a different word: frigorifero).
Adjectives and adverbs
Adjectives follow nouns. There are no separately formed native adverbs, and word order is fairly flexible. Both nouns and adjectives of Semitic origin take the definite article (for example, It-tifel il-kbir, lit. "The boy the elder"="The elder boy"). This rule does not apply to adjectives of Romance origin.
Nouns are pluralized and also have a dual marker. Semitic plurals are complex; if they are regular, they are marked by -iet/-ijiet, e.g., art, artijiet "lands (territorial possessions or property)" (cf. Arabic -at and Hebrew -ot/-oth) or -in (cf. Arabic -īn and Hebrew -im). If irregular, they fall in the pluralis fractus category, in which a word is pluralized by internal vowel changes: ktieb, kotba "books", raġel, irġiel "man", "men".
Words of Romance origin are usually pluralized in two manners: addition of -i or -jiet. For example, lingwa, lingwi "languages", from Sicilian lingua, lingui.
Words of English origin are pluralized by adding either an "-s" or "-jiet", for example, friġġ, friġis from the word fridge. Some words can be pluralized with either of the suffixes to denote the plural. A few words borrowed from English can amalgamate both suffixes, like brikksa from the English brick, which can adopt either collective form brikks or the plural form brikksiet.
The Maltese article becomes l- before or after a vowel.
- l-omm (the mother)
- rajna l-Papa (we saw the Pope)
- il-missier (the father)
- Ċ iċ-ċikkulata (the chocolate)
- D id-dar (the house)
- N in-nar (the fire)
- R ir-razzett (the farm)
- S is-serrieq (the saw)
- T it-tifel (the boy)
- X ix-xemx (the sun)
- Ż iż-żarbun (the shoe)
- Z iz-zalzett (the sausage)
Maltese il- is coincidentally identical in pronunciation to the one of the Italian masculine articles, il, which is also l’ before, but not after, a vowel. Consequently, many nouns borrowed from Standard Italian did not change their original article when used in Maltese. Romance vocabulary taken from Sicilian did change where the Sicilian articles u and a, before a consonant, are used.
Verbs show a triliteral Semitic pattern, in which a verb is conjugated with prefixes, suffixes, and infixes (for example ktibna, Arabic katabna, Hebrew kathabhnu (Modern Hebrew: katavnu) "we wrote"). There are two tenses: present and perfect. The Maltese verb system incorporates Romance verbs and adds Maltese suffixes and prefixes to them (for example, iddeċidejna "we decided" < (i)ddeċieda "decide", a Romance verb + -ejna, a Maltese first person plural perfect marker).
Urban varieties of Maltese are closer to Standard Maltese than rural varieties, which have some characteristics that distinguish them from Standard Maltese. They tend to show some archaic features such as the realization of kh and gh and the imala of Arabic ā into ē (or ī especially in Gozo)-considered archaic because they are reminiscent of 15th century transcriptions of this sound. Another archaic feature is the realization of Standard Maltese ā as ō in rural dialects. There is also a tendency to diphthongize simple vowels, e.g., ū becomes eo or eu. Rural dialects also tend to employ more Semitic roots and broken plurals than Standard Maltese. In general, rural Maltese is less distant from its Siculo-Arabic ancestor than Standard Maltese.
With Malta being a multilingual country, the usage of Maltese in the mass media is shared with other European languages, namely English and Italian. The majority of television stations broadcast from Malta are in English or Maltese, although broadcasts from Italy in Italian are also received on the islands. Similarly, there are more Maltese-language radio programs than English ones broadcast from Malta, but again, as with television, Italian broadcasts are also picked up. Maltese generally receives equal usage in newspaper periodicals to English.
The use of the Maltese language on the Internet is not altogether common, and the number of websites written in Maltese are few. In a survey of Maltese cultural websites conducted in 2004 on behalf of the Maltese Government, 12 of 13 were in English only, while the remaining one was multilingual but did not include Maltese.
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- All forms are written phonetically, as in the source
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|Maltese language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
- Global Recordings Network contains some downloadable audio samples of Maltese (Bible readings)