Maltese (Maltese: Malti) is the national language of Malta, and a co-official language of the country alongside English, while the language also serves 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 the rest of Southern Italy), but with a large percentage of borrowed vocabulary from Italian (particularly Sicilian) and English. It is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet in its standard form.
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 Francois 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. Facsimilies of the work are currently published.
A discredited hypothesis is that it was not Siculo-Arabic, but instead the ancient Punic language that formed the original base of the language. This hypothesis was first put forward in 1565 by Gian Battista Tebaldi, a visitor to the island who described the Maltese language as Phoenician. In 1572 the Italian poet and historian Tommaso Porcacchi, is his book L’isole più famose del mondo (English:The Most Famous Islands in the World):, claimed the language descended from Carthaginian. Hieronymus Megiser, a German traveller, wrote a list of Maltese words in his Thesaurus Polyglottus (published in 1603) and also in the celebrated Propugnaculum Europae (published in 1606). Megiser also described Maltese as a Punic descendent.
Athanasius Kircher spent two years in Malta (1637-38) and developed theories running counter to those 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 (Malta, Home of Christian Heros), 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 memoires of those journeys appeared in 1776).
In his book Dell’Istoria della Sacra Religione et Illustrissima Militia di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano (The History of the Sacred Religion and Illustrious Militia of St John of Jerusalem), written between 1594 and 1602, Giacomo Bosio endorses the hypothesis 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.
Maltese has five short vowels, , written a e i o u; six long vowels, , written a, e, ie, i, o, u, of which all but ie /ɪː/ require an orthographic għ or h to show they're long; and seven diphthongs, , written aj or għi, aw or għu, ej or għi, ew, iw, oj, and ow or għu.
Below is the Maltese alphabet, with IPA symbols and approximate English pronunciation:
|Letter||Name||Maltese example||IPA||Approximate English pronunciation|
|A a||a||anġlu (angel)||a||similar to 'a' in father|
|B b||be||ballun (ball)||b||bar, but at the end of a word it is devoiced to [p].|
|Ċ ċ||ċe||ċavetta (key)||tʃ||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)||dʒ||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 like /h/ to English speakers.|
|I i||i||ikel (food)||i||seat|
|IE ie||ie||ieqaf (stop)||iɛ, iː||yet, feet|
|J j||je||nazzjonali (national)||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)||o||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".|
|R r||erre||re (king)||r||road|
|S s||esse||salib (cross)||s||sand|
|T t||te||tieqa (window)||t||tired|
|U u||u||uviera (egg-cup)||u||food|
|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)||shade, sometimes as measure; when doubled the sound is elongated, as in "Cash shin" vs. "Cash in."|
|Z z||ze||zalza (sauce)||pizza; when doubled may change to gods|
|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.
Nowadays, 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 anymore. However, these orthography rules are still valid and official.
It was not until 1934 that Maltese was recognised as an official language. Uniquely, no other European country lacked a standardised written form of its language until the nineteenth century, when 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.
|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.|
The historical source of modern Maltese vocabulary is 52% Italian/Sicilian, 32% Siculo-Arabic, and 6% English, with some of the remainder being French. In this respect it is similar to English (a Germanic language heavily influenced by Norman French). The result of this highly uneven distribution of loanwords throughout the language is that a speaker of the loanword-source language (in this case Romance or English language speakers) can find a number of familiar words in, for instance, the main page of the Maltese Wikipedia or comprehend the subject of a newspaper article, but cannot understand even such basic Maltese sentences such as Ir-raġel qiegħed fid-dar (The man is in the house). This situation resembles that of a monolingual English speaker, who will often be able to guess the content of something in French if it is formal academic writing, but not understand much simpler sentences.
The Maltese language has merged many of the original Arabic consonants together, 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 to the five that are common in most other European languages (). Some unstressed short vowels have been elided. The common Arabic greeting as salāmu 'alaykum would look like sliem għalikhom in Maltese.
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. English loanwords are generally transliterated, although standard English pronunciation is virtually always retained. Below are a few examples:
The Maltese article becomes l- before or after a vowel.
Maltese il- is coincidentally identical in pronunciation to the one of the Italian masculine articles, il, which is also l’ before (though not after) a vowel. Because of this, many nouns borrowed from Standard Italian did not need to change their article when used in Maltese. (However, most Romance vocabulary in Maltese was taken from Sicilian, and as the Sicilian articles are u and a before a consonant, those did need to change.)
The use of the Maltese language on the internet is not altogether common and the number of websites written in Maltese are few. Out of a survey conducted on 13 Maltese websites, 12 of them were English only, and the remainder was bilingual with neither language being Maltese.
When adopting new English vocabulary into the language, it is common to "Italianize" it. For instance, the words "evaluation", "industrial action" and "chemical armaments" are turned into "evalwazzjoni", "azzjoni industrjali", and "armamenti kemikali".