The Maltese alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet with the addition of some letters with diacritic marks and digraphs. It is used to write the Maltese language, which evolved from the extinct Siculo-Arabic dialect, as a result of 800 years independent development. It contains 30 letters:
- Aa Bb Ċċ Dd Ee Ff Ġġ Gg Għgħ Hh Ħħ Ii Ieie Jj Kk
- Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Żż Zz
|Letter (ittra)||IPA||Words (kliem)||First Word (l-ewwel kelma)||Last Word (l-aħħar kelma)|
|A a||/ɐ/||abjad (white), aċċola (amberjack), aħjar (better), Amerka (America), azzarin (rifle), ankra (anchor)||abbaku (abacus)||azzjonist (shareholder)|
|B b||/b/||ballun (ball), berquq (apricot), bellus (velvet), burò (bureau), bżar (pepper)||bababa (say for nothing)||bżulija (diligence)|
|Ċ ċ||/t͡ʃ/||ċaċċiż (frame), ċarezza (clearness), ċikkulata (chocolate), ċitazzjoni (ticket), ċoff (bow), ċurkett (ring)||ċabattin (cobbler)||ċuwingam (chewing gum)|
|D d||/d/||daħka (laugh), damma (dice), dawl (light), debba (mare), Dumnikan (Dominican), dura (hut)||dan (this)||dwett (duet)|
|E e||/ɛ/||elf (one thousand), ekkleżjastikament (ecclesiastically), erbgħa (four (4) or Wednesday), erba' (fourth), Ewropew (European), eżilju (exile)||ebbanist (ebonist)||eżumazzjonijiet (exhumations)|
|F f||/f/||fallakka (plank), fehma (understanding), Franċiż (French), futbol (football), fwieħa (perfume)||fabbli (affable)||fwieħa (perfume)|
|Ġ ġ||/d͡ʒ/||ġabra (collection), ġenerazzjoni (generation), ġewnaħ (wing), Ġunju (June), ġwież (walnuts)||ġa (already)||ġwież (pulse)|
|G g||/ɡ/||gabarrè (tray), gejxa (geisha), grad (degree), Grieg (Greek), gżira (island)||gabardin (gabardine)||gżira (island)|
|Għ għ||/ˤː/||għada (tomorrow), għajn (eye), għamara (furniture), għemeż (he winked), Għid il-Kbir (Easter), għuda (wood)||għa (hoy!)||għuda (wood)|
|H h||--||hedded (he threatened), hena (happiness), hi (she), hu (he), huma (they)||ħaġra (stone)||ħżunija (wickedness)|
|Ħ ħ||/ħ/||ħabaq (basil), ħabsi (prisoner), ħajja (life), ħu (brother), ħażen (badness)||ħa (take)||ħuttafa (swallow)|
|I i||/ɪ/||iben (son), idroġenu (hydrogen), induratur (gilder), Ingilterra (England), iżraq (azure)||ibbies (grew hard)||iżżuffjetta (to deride)|
|Ie ie||/iɛ, iː/||iebes (hard), ieħor (another), ieqaf (stop)||iebes (hard)||ieqaf (stop)|
|J j||/j/||jaf (knows), jarda (yard), jasar (imprisonment), jew (or), jott (yacht), jum (day)||ja (oh!)||jupp (hah!)|
|K k||/k/||kabina (cabin), kaligrafija (calligraphy), Kalifornja (California), karru (wagon), kurżità (curiosity)||kaballetta (cabaletta)||Kżar (Czar)|
|L l||/l/||labirint (maze), lejl (night), lejla (evening), Lhudi (Hebrew), lvant (east)||la (nor)||lwiża (vervain three-leaved)|
|M m||/m/||Malti (Maltese), maternità (maternity), Mediterran (Mediterranean), mina (tunnel), mżegleg (smudged)||mama' (mother)||mżużi (nasty)|
|N n||/n/||nadif (clean), nerv (nerve), niċċa (niche), nuċċali (spectacles), nżul ix-xemx (sunset)||nabba (to foretell)||nżul (descending)|
|O o||/ɔ/||oċean (ocean), opra (opera), orizzont (horizon), ors (bear), ożonu (ozone)||oasi (oasis)||ożmjum (osmium)|
|P p||/p/||paċi (peace), paragrafu (paragraph), pazjent (patient), poeta (poet), pultruna (armchair)||paċi (peace)||pużata (cover)|
|Q q||/ʔ/||qabar (grave), qaddis (saint), qalb (heart), qoxra (shell), qażquż (piglet)||qabad (caught)||qżużijat (nastiness)|
|R r||/r/||raba' (land), raff (garret), replika (replica), riħa (smell), rvell (rebellion)||ra (he saw)||rżit (lean)|
|S s||/s/||saba' (finger), safi (clear), saqaf (ceiling), serrieq (saw), suttana (gown)||sa (until)||swiċċ (switch)|
|T t||/t/||tabakk (tobacco), tarġa (step), terrazzin (belvedere), Turkija (Turkey), twissija (advice), tuffieħa (apple)||ta (gave)||twittijat (levelling)|
|U u||/ʊ/||udjenza (audience), uffiċċju (office), uman (human), uviera (egg-cup), użin (weight)||ubbidjent (obedient)||użinijiet (weights)|
|V v||/v/||vaċċin (vaccine), vaska (pond), viċi (vice), vjaġġ (trip), vapur (ship)||vaċċin (vaccine)||vvumtat (vomited)|
|W w||/w/||warda (rose), werrej (index), wied (valley), wirt (inheritance), wweldjat (welded)||wadab (sling)||wweldjat (welded)|
|X x||/ʃ, ʒ/||xabla (sword), xandir (broadcasting), xehda (honeycomb), xoffa (lip), xxuttjat (kicked)||xaba' (he had enough of)||xxuttjat (kicked)|
|Ż ż||/z/||żagħżugħ (teenager), żogħżija (youth), żaqq (stomach), żifna (dance), żunżan (wasps), żżuffjetta (he mocked)||żabar (prune)||żżuffjetta (he mocked)|
|Z z||/t͡s, d͡z/||zalliera (salt-cellar), zalza (sauce), zalzett (sausage), zokk (trunk), zuntier (church-square)||zakak (white wagtail)||zzuppjat (crippled)|
Older versions of the alphabet
Before the standardisation of the Maltese alphabet, there were several ways of writing the sounds peculiar to Maltese, namely ċ, ġ, għ, ħ, w, x, and ż.
ċ was formerly written as c (in front of e and i, in Italian fashion). Vella used ç for ċ. ç was used in other books during the 19th century. Rather than using a c with a cedilla (ç), Panzavecchia used a c with ogonek (c̨). A Short Grammar of the Maltese Language used ch for ċ, in English fashion. It was not until 1866 that ċ came to be used.
ġ and g were formerly confused. When they were differentiated, g was written as gk, g, gh and (by Vassalli) as a mirrored Arabic/Syriac gimel resembling a sideways V. On the other hand, ġ was more commonly written as g or j in English fashion. Vella used a g with two dots, but in 1843 reduced it to one dot, instituting today’s ġ.
Until the middle of the 19th century, two għ sounds were differentiated in Maltese. These were variously represented as gh, ġh, gh´, gh˙ and with two letters not represented in Unicode (they resembled an upside down U). Panzavecchia used a specially designed font with a curly gh. A Short Grammar of the Maltese Language used a with a superscript Arabic ayn to represent għ. għ itself was first used in Nuova guida alla conversazione italiana, inglese e maltese.
The letter ħ had the most variations before being standardised in 1866. It was variously written as ch, and as a h with various diacritics or curly modifications. Some of these symbols were used for [ħ] and some for [x]. None of these are present in Unicode. ħ was first used in 1900, although the capital Ħ was used earlier (in 1845) where its lower case counterpart was a dotted h.
w was written as w, u or as a modified u (not present in Unicode).
x was traditionally written as sc or x. Vassalli invented a special character similar to Ɯ, just wider, and Panzavecchia used a sc ligature to represent x.
ż and z were formerly confused. When they were differentiated, z was written as ts, z, ʒ or even ż. On the other hand, ż was written as ż, ds, ts, ʒ and z.
Prior to 1900, k was written as k, as well as c, ch and q (in words derived from Italian and Latin).
Vassalli’s 1796 work contained several new letters to represent the sounds of the Maltese language, which included the invention of several ad-hoc letters as well as the importation of Cyrillic ge, che, sha, and ze. His alphabet is set out in full with modern-day equivalents where known:
A, a = a
B, b = b
T, t = t
D, d = d
E, e = e
F, f = f
[a clockwise-turned V, or a Syriac/Arabic gimel open to the right] = g
[Ч], ɥ = ċ
H, h = h
[like an upside down ȣ]
[like a ɸ,Φ without the ascenders/descenders]
Y, y = j
[vertically mirrored Г] = ġ
[a clockwise-turned U] = ħ
I, i = i
J, j = j
K, k = k
[I with a small c superimposed on it]
L, l = l
M, m = m
N, n = n
O, o = o
P, p = p
R, r = r
S, s = s
Ɯ, ɯ = x
V, v = v
U, u = u
W, w = w
Z, z = z
Ʒ, ʒ = ż
Æ, æ = final e
To these, 5 grave accented vowels are also used: Àà; Èè; Ìì; Òò; Ùù
- A Short Grammar of the Maltese Language, Malta, 1845
- Nuova guida alla conversazione italiana, inglese e maltese, Presso Paolo Calleja, Malta, 1866
- G. N. L., Nuova guida alla conversazione italiana, inglese e maltese, Presso Paolo Calleja, Malta, 1866
- Vicenzo Busuttil, Diziunariu mill inglis ghall malti, 2 parts, N. C. Cortis & Sons, Malta, 1900
- Fortunato Panzavecchia, Grammatica della lingua maltese, M. Weiss, Malta, 1845
- Michael Antonius Vassalli, Ktŷb yl klŷm Mâlti ’mfysser byl-Latǐn u byt-Taljân sive Liber dictionum melitensium, Antonio Fulgoni, Rome, 1796
- Michele Antonio Vassalli, Grammatica della lingua maltese, 2 ed., Malta, 1827
- Francis Vella, Maltese Grammar for the Use of the English, Glaucus Masi, Leghorn, 1831
- Francis Vella, Dizionario portatil della lingue maltese, italiana inglese, Livorno, 1843
- Borg and Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997 (1997). Maltese. Routledge. p. xiii. ISBN 0-415-02243-6.
In fact, Maltese displays some areal traits typical of Maghrebine Arabic, although over the past 800 years of independent evolution it has drifted apart from Tunisian Arabic
- Brincat, 2005. Maltese - an unusual formula.
Originally Maltese was an Arabic dialect but it was immediately exposed to Latinisation because the Normans conquered the islands in 1090, while Christianisation, which was complete by 1250, cut off the dialect from contact with Classical Arabic. Consequently Maltese developed on its own, slowly but steadily absorbing new words from Sicilian and Italian according to the needs of the developing community.
- So who are the ‘real’ Maltese.
The kind of Arabic used in the Maltese language is most likely derived from the language spoken by those that repopulated the island from Sicily in the early second millennium; it is known as Siculo-Arab. The Maltese are mostly descendants of these people.