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The origin and characteristics of the Maltese Language

November 10, 2019

 

To be able to talk about the Maltese language, its origin and characteristics, one must begin with the history of the country. In fact, History has left many traces in the Maltese language. It is a unique one, rare to hear if you don't come to the island.

 

But where does the Maltese language come from?

 

Maltese is part of the family of semitic language, a group spoken since Antiquity in the Middle East and Northern Africa. It originates from the Sicilian Arabic. It is the legacy of the successive invasions, which happened on the island.

 

First of all, the archipelago of Malta has seen two centuries of Arab presence from 870 to 1091 after the troops of the Emir of Ifriqiya conquered it. This period particularly influenced the Maltese language; so this is where comes its Arabic origin. A variety of Arabic which would look like old Tunisian dialects. But the story of the Maltese does not stop here. Contributions from other languages have shaped it.

 

During that period, Malta was an important commercial crossroads (for example silk road) as well as a strategic place which became the place of rivalries among Muslims and Christians.

 

In 1249, the emperor Frederick II expelled Muslims, allowing the settlement of Italians who remained and assimilated easily. This period has also had an important impact in the Maltese Language. However, many Arabs converted to Christianity or they were made slaves, so they remained on the Island. That is why, despite the presence of Italian-speaking, Arabic continued to influence the Maltese.

 

Then the country was influenced by the French and of course, by the British during their respective stay. Even if the presence of the British is much more recent, the English influence can be perceived in the Maltese. For example, the word "attenda" which comes from the word "attendere" that means in Italian"wait", took the English sense of "attend". All these religious inputs, both from the Arab-Muslim world and the Christian one have thus provided to the Maltese Language several linguistic contributions from other languages, such as Sicilian, Italian, French and then English.

 

The Maltese is therefore a unique language, which is built from many external influences.

 

 

What is the place of the Maltese on the Island and in the World?

 

Since 1934, Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English. On the independence Day celebrated on September. 21 1964, Maltese is officially recognised as the national language. A national language is characterized by the fact that it is the spoken vehicle used by the majority of the population of a country, and this generally reflects the identity of a country. Malta was proclaimed a Republic on 13 December 1974. In Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta.

 

But before becoming the national language, the Maltese has come a long way. In fact, for many centuries, it was primarily a spoken language, but unwritten. No grammatical rules were established. Except a ballad dating from the 18th century, attributed to Pietru Caxaro, and considered the first written trace of Maltese language, there are limited written traces of Maltese. It is only at the end of the 18th century that some intellectuals wanted to make Maltese a written and literary language and not just a spoken one. However at this time, the language of instruction and spoken by the upper classes was the Italian. So they look unfavourably at the creation of a written Maltese, in order to maintain their social advantages.

 

Despite the reluctance of some people, in 1924 the "Akkademja tal-Malti", an association of Maltese writers, created a Maltese alphabet. It became official in 1934, when the Maltese is declared official language. The same year it is taught in schools. After years of colonization, a real desire from the Maltese to have a national identity could be observed, thus their wish to promote and diffuse the language. A move that can be observed in many ex colonies.

 

The Maltese is the only semitic language with latin characters.


Today, the Maltese is one of the 24 official languages of the EU.

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