Languages of Malta
|Languages of Malta|
|Official languages||Maltese (>95%)
English (88% as a second language)
|Main foreign languages||Italian (66%)
|Sign languages||Maltese Sign Language|
Having been governed by many different countries in the past, the Maltese population carry linguistic imprints from many places. According to the Eurobarometer poll, 98% of Maltese people can speak Maltese, 88% can speak English, 66% can speak Italian, and more than 17% speak French. This shows a recent increase in the fluency of languages, since in 1995, only 98% of the population spoke Maltese, 76% English, 36% Italian, and 10% French. Surprisingly, it also shows an increase in Italian fluency compared to when Italian was an official language of Malta.
French, German and Spanish are the other main languages studied at secondary school.
Maltese is the national language of the Maltese people, and one of the official languages of Malta and the European Union. It is a Semitic language derived from Siculo-Arabic; however a majority of vocabulary comes from Sicilian and Italian, as described by Maltese linguist May Butcher. 52% of Maltese words are of Romance origin, a result of significant influence from Italy (in particular Sicily) and, to a lesser extent, France. Malta holds the distinction of being the only country in Europe with a historically Semitic language. The Maltese language is written with a modified Latin Alphabet which includes the letters ż, ċ, ġ, ħ, and għ.
Various localities have accents and dialects divergent from standard Maltese. There has been a decline in the number of dialectal speakers, mostly because of exposure to standard Maltese in the media and the institutionalisation of education. The standard language also shows a more pronounced Italicization and Anglicization of the language.
Before independence in 1964, Malta was a British possession, and a result of this is that English is still an official language, with government business being carried out in both English and Maltese. Most Maltese learn English in school, this being obligatory in most cases. Secondary and tertiary education are given exclusively in English. Today, 88% of Malta's population speak English. Aside from Maltese, English is the only other official language of the country. Although standard English is official, the variety of English commonly spoken in Malta is heavily influenced by Italian, not only in vocabulary (most commonly by pronouncing English words of Franco-Latin origin in an Italian style) but extending to phonology, with the English being heavily accented; however, Received Pronunciation remains standard amongst Maltese individuals of a high socioeconomic bracket. Malta also shares with the Republic of Ireland the distinction of being both Anglophone and majority Catholic.
Italian and Sicilian
For many centuries and until 1934, Italian was the official language of Malta. Indeed it was considered the language of culture in Malta since the Italian Renaissance. In the XIX century Italian irredentists and Italian Maltese wanted to promote its use throughout Malta for plans to re-unify it to Italy (Malta was part of the Kingdom of Sicily up to 13th century). In the first decades of the XX century there was even a huge struggle (inside Malta's society and politics) because of the "language problem", that culminated in WWII: in 1933 the Constitution was withdrawn over the Government's budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools. Although only the rich could speak Italian (it was however understood by nearly all the population) and with Maltese being generally spoken by those less well off, Italian was regarded as the official language.
Today, 66% of the Maltese population can speak Italian, and 8% of the population "prefers" to use it in day to day conversation. Although Italian has since been replaced by English as the official language, it is still used and is spoken commonly in certain professional workplaces. The percentage of speakers today, 66%, is in fact much greater than when the language was actually official, in 1931, when only 14% spoke it.
A large number of Maltese learn Italian through Italian television, mainly Mediaset and RAI, as their broadcasts reach the Maltese Islands. In addition to this, many products, services, and businesses that reach Malta are Italian, with Malta being too small on its own to produce some things, therefore many people learn Italian that way.
In addition to the Italian language itself being spoken in Malta, nearly 60% of Maltese vocabulary is of Sicilian and Italian origin. This means that several words in Italian and Maltese are almost interchangeable, and a Maltese conversation typically includes much Italian vocabulary. Consequently, Italian influences everyday speech. Recently the maltese government has pinpointed the possibility of reinstating the Italian as an official language of Malta.
For several centuries, Malta was ruled by the Catholic order of the Knights of Malta, with members coming from different parts of Europe. The Catholic Church, the dominant religion in Malta used Latin in the liturgy until the Second Vatican Council. As a result, Latin was a prestige language and can be found in historic inscriptions and in the mottoes of several Maltese institutions.
Although many people are fluent in Italian, 86% of the population prefer to speak Maltese, and 12% English.
The Governmental Circular letter for the school year 2011-2012 shows the following language options should be available in schools:
Form I (around the age of 11)
This language is studied for the five years in Secondary School
Form III (around the age of 13)
This language is studied for the last three years in Secondary School
There are equal numbers of newspapers written in English and Maltese, with none being written in Italian.
The vast majority of people preferred English as their choice of reading, with English being preferred by 61.13% of the population for books and 70.89% for magazines. Only 35.75% of the Maltese population preferred to read books in Maltese, and 22.65% of them preferred it for magazines.
Regarding radio, Italian takes the place of English, with radio stations being predominantly in Maltese and Italian, with a few in English too.
82.41% of the population regularly listens to Maltese radio, 25.41% listens to Italian, and a smaller 14.69% listened to English radio.
The local television channels in Malta are broadcast mainly in Maltese and sometimes English. However, many people have access to foreign television channels from Italy, the UK, or other European countries, or from the USA, either via local cable or digital terrestrial services, or directly via satellite.
Online usage of Maltese language
Maltese is not a commonly used language on the internet, with the majority of "Maltese" websites being written in other languages. Out of a survey conducted on 13 Maltese websites, 12 of them were entirely in English, with one being bilingual, but not Maltese.
Possible scenarios for the future of the Maltese language are a subject of speculation among scholars. Dialectal variation of Maltese are in decline while towards a more standardized usage is one current trend. Another is a tendency to adopt influence from English and Italian. There is a perceived language shift towards English amongst the Maltese, with lexological and grammatical patterns in the Maltese language increasingly anglicized. However this absorption of linguistic influences saturates the history of the Maltese language, which remains spoken by almost 100% of the population.
- European Commission (June 2012). Special Eurobarometer 386: Europeans and Their Languages (PDF) (Report). Eurobarometer Special Surveys. Retrieved 12 February 2015. Lay summary (PDF) (27 March 2015).
- Country profile: Malta BBC News; [2008/01/10]; [2008/02/21]
- Ignasi Badia i Capdevila; A view of the linguistic situation in Malta; NovesSl; ; retrieved on [2008-02-24]
- "Le iniziative culturali italiane negli anni ’30 per Malta e per le comunità maltesi all’estero". Retrieved 10 September 2014.
- Country report for MINERVA Plus in 2005; Multilingual issues in Malta; Retrieved on [2008-02-24]
- Hull, Geoffrey. The Malta Language Question: A Case Study in Cultural Imperialism. Said International, Valletta, 1993.