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The development of the Maltese language in a country far removed from Malta continued, in an environment that maintained a sense of origin and culture. It is essential to look to the history of this development in order to appreciate the Maltese dialect spoken in Australia.
History of Maltese emigrants to Australia
As a sailor nation, the Maltese began to travel many centuries ago. Many Maltese found work in the navy of the Order of St. John. Pre-dating this, the Maltese people were known as good sailors in the Mediterranean region. However, modern forms of transportation and sudden economic changes prompted mass emigration from Malta.
In 1882 Australia welcomed the first official group of immigrants from Malta, 8 immigrants sent there as part of an experiment conducted by the Maltese Imperial Government. 40 years after that first emigration to Australia, emigration began on a larger scale. Between 1911 and 1939 6,000 Maltese people emigrated to Australia and in the ten years between 1940 and 1949 numbers rose to 8,000. In the twenty years after 1949 Australia welcomed over 61,000 emigrants. 1956 saw 10,300 emigrants from Malta enter Australia. Later numbers of emigrants decreased until, in the early 1970s, the Australian authorities closed the doors for all European emigrants.
Origins of a new Maltese dialect
The first trace of a change in the Maltese language in Australia was evidenced in 1929 with the publication of Charles Parnis's books, the first Maltese journalist in Australia. These writings included various expressions and vocabulary not included in standard Maltese. This documentation of an Australian-Maltese dialect in journals suggest that its origins go back before 1929.
After these first publications in Maltese by Charles Parnis and some other writers who wrote from 1929 to 1935, there was a pause in work published by Australian-Maltese authors, due to the Second World War. Publication of Australian-Maltese works resumed (in the Maltese language) after 1949, in Melbourne.
Some Maltralian Characteristics
The Maltese language in Australia developed a different style from the Standard Maltese, in part due to the Australian social environment.
Maltralian divergences from standard Maltese include:
- The word blaġa (bludger), a masculine and feminine noun, with the verb ibblaġġja, neither of which occur in Standard Maltese.
- Maltese words developed a new format like iddmanda (to demand) from the Maltese word tiddomanda.
- Words like kejn/kejna rather than kannamieli or blinka (blinker) but not the Standard indikejter (indicator).
- Standard Maltese uses appoġġa for help, but Maltralian uses rifed.
- Standard Maltese uses bank for bank, but Maltralian uses mislef.
- There is a lack of Italian influence in the Maltralian dialect, unlike Standard Maltese, for example ċaw (bye) is not used but saħħa is, awguri is not used but nifraħlek or nixtieqlek ir-risq are. However, these Semitic expressions are still present in Standard Maltese.
- For futbol (football) in Maltralian use soker, not traditionally used in Standard Maltese.
- The plural of dar (home) in Maltese is djar (homes) but in Maltralian the plural of dar is djars, darsijiet or djarsijiet. For buttuna (button) the Standard plural buttuni in not used, in favour of btaten. Tifla (girl) does not take the Standard plural bniet but tifliet.
- The word 'cheap' in Maltese is irħis (cheap) and irħas (cheaper), but in Maltralian iċep and iċjep are used.