Learn more about Maltese language
|Spoken in:||Malta, Canada, Australia, United States, United Kingdom|
|Total speakers:||371,900 |
|Language family:|| Afro-Asiatic|
South Central Semitic
|Official language of:||Malta, European Union|
|Regulated by:||Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali ta' l-Ilsien Malti ()|
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. See IPA chart for English for an English-based pronunciation key.|
Apart from its phonology, Maltese bears considerable similarity to urban varieties of Tunisian Arabic and other North African Arabic dialects, however in the course of history, the language has adopted numerous loanwords, phonetic and phonological features, and even some grammatical patterns, from Italian, Sicilian, and English.
Maltese became an official language of Malta in 1936, alongside English. Before that year, the official language of Malta was Italian. Today, there are an estimated 371,900 Maltese speakers, mostly residing in Malta, although a number of Maltese expatriates in Australia, the United States and Canada can still speak the language.
The oldest known document in Maltese is "Il Cantilena," a poem from the 15th century written by Pietro Caxaro. For centuries, Maltese was nearly exclusively a spoken language, with writing being done in Arabic, or later, Italian.
Maltese grammar is fundamentally derived from Arabic, with a very large influx of Romance vocabulary, especially Sicilian and Norman French. Maltese grammar generally shows two patterns, a Semitic pattern and a Romance pattern, usage being selected by word origin and tradition. An Anglo-Saxon pattern in the form of English words adapted to a Maltese structure is a recent linguistic phenomenon.
 Semitic grammatical structure
Adjectives follow nouns, there are no separately formed native adverbs, and word order is fairly flexible. As in Arabic and Hebrew, both nouns and adjectives of Semitic origin take the definite article (for example It-tifel il-kbir, lit. "The boy the elder=The elder boy"; cf. Arabic 'al-'arḍu l-muqaddasa, Hebrew ha'arets hakkedoša). This rule does not apply to nouns and adjectives of Romance origin.
Semitic plurals are complex; if they are regular, they are marked by -iet/-ijiet, eg. art, artijiet "lands (territorial possessions or property)" (cf. Arabic -at and Hebrew -ot) or -in (cf. Arabic -īn and Hebrew -im). If irregular, they fall in the pluralis fractus category, in which a word is pluralized by internal vowel changes: ktieb, kotba "books", raġel, irġiel "men". This is very well-developed in Arabic.
Verbs still show a triliteral Semitic pattern, in which a verb is conjugated with prefixes, suffixes, and infixes (for example ktibna, Arabic katabna, Hebrew katavnu "we wrote"). There are two tenses: present and perfect.
 Romance grammatical structure
The Romance pattern is generally simpler. Words of Romance origin are usually pluralized in two manners: addition of -i or -jiet (for example lingwa, lingwi "languages", from Italian lingua, lingue.
The Maltese verb system incorporates Romance verbs and adds Arabic suffixes and prefixes to them (for example iddeċidejna "we decided" < (i)ddeċieda 'Romance verb' + -ejna 'Arabic first person plural perfect marker'). Arabic only rarely does this, although several Arabic dialects like Tunisian do.
Maltese vocabulary is a hybrid based on a foundation of Arabic Semitic roots with a heavy borrowing of Sicilian, Italian, and English loanwords. In this respect it is similar to English (a Germanic language heavily influenced by French, particularly the Norman variety rather than the standard language.). It is estimated that, at present, the origin of Maltese words is 40% Semitic, 40% Romance (mostly Italian and Sicilian) and 20% English.
Żammit (2000, see references) found that 40% of a sample of 1,820 Quranic Arabic roots were found in Maltese (a lower percentage than found in Moroccan (58%) and Syrian Arabic (72%)). Usually, words expressing basic concepts and ideas are of Arabic origin, whereas more 'learned' words, having to do with new ideas, objects, government, law, education, art, literature, and general learning, are derived from Sicilian or English. (These learned Sicilian words are usually identical or very similar to their Standard Italian counterparts, with minor differences such as unstressed u and i instead of o and e).
Thus basic words like raġel man, mara woman, tifel boy, dar house, xemx sun, sajf summer, are of Arabic origin, while words like skola school, gvern government, repubblika republic, re king, natura nature, pulizija police, ċentru center, are derived from Sicilian.
The perverse result of this highly uneven distribution of loanwords throughout the language is that a speaker of the loanword-source language (in this case Romance language speakers) can understand, 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's formal academic writing, but not understand much simpler sentences.
Romance words usually reflect Sicilian and not Tuscan pronunciation. Thus final 'o' becomes 'u' in Maltese, after Sicilian (e.g. tiatru not teatro as in Tuscan). Also, final Italian 'e' becomes 'i': arti art, fidi faith, lokali local (cf. Italian arte, fede, locale). /ʃ/ (English 'sh') is written 'x' and this produces interesting spellings: ambaxxata /ambaʃːaːta/ is 'embassy', xena /ʃeːna/ is 'scene' (cf. Italian ambasciata, scena).
 English loan words
It is estimated that English loan words, which are becoming more commonplace, make up 20% of the Maltese vocabulary. They are generally transliterated, although standard English pronunciation is virtually always retained. Below are just a few examples:
 Semitic form vs Romance form
Maltese can be spoken using either the Semitic or the Romance forms. A case in point is the sentence The temple is situated opposite the square of the village:
- Romance form: It-tempju sitwat oppost il-pjazza tal-villaġġ.
- (Italian: Il tempio è situato opposto la piazza del villaggio.)
- Semitic form: Il-maqdes jinsab biswit il-misrah tar-raħal.
Both sentences are in Maltese and have the same exact meaning. Generally though, no one form is ever spoken exclusively, and sentences are usually made up of words from both influences.
It is interesting to note that Church-related language during church services, mass and liturgies is heavily semitic, and many words are not used in every-day common speech amongst the native Maltese-speaking population.
On the other hand, partisan politics, especially those of the Nationalist Party are heavily dosed with Romance words. Intellectual speech also adopts a large number of Romance words, which is becoming the norm, a trend which is making the Maltese language more Europeanized, as opposed to poetry and literature which tend to utilize a lot of Semitic words which are not usually used in everyday speech.
|Letter||IPA||Approximate English pronunciation|
|A||a||similar to 'a' in father|
|B||b||bar, but at the end of a word it is pronounced as [p].|
|Ċ||ʧ||church (note: dotless C has been replaced by K.)|
|D||d||day, but at the end of a word it is pronounced as [t].|
|Ġ||ʤ||jump, but at the end of a word it is pronounced as [tʃ].|
|G||ɡ||game, but at the end of a word it is pronounced as [k].|
|GĦ||ˤ:, ħ:||has the effect of lengthening and pharyngealizing associated vowels. When found at the end of a word or immediately before 'h' it has the sound of a double 'ħ' (see below).|
|H||not pronounced unless it is at the end of a word, in which case it has the sound of 'ħ'.|
|Ħ||ħ||no English equivalent; sounds like a whispered "ah" with the tongue pressed as far back as possible.|
|IE||iɛ, iː||yet, feet|
|O||o||like 'aw' in law, but shorter.|
|Q||ʔ||glottal stop, found in the Cockney English pronunciation of "bottle" or the phrase "(ʔ)uh-(ʔ)oh".|
|V||v||vast, but at the end of a word it is pronounced as [f].|
|X||ʃ / ʒ||shade, sometimes as measure; when doubled the sound is elongated, as in "Cash shin" vs. "Cash in."|
|Ż||z||maze, but at the end of a word it is pronounced as [s].|
|Z||ʦ / ʣ||pizza; when doubled may change to gods|
Final vowels with grave accents (à, è, ì, ò, ù) are also found in Maltese in words of Italian origin, such as libertà freedom, sigurtà security, or soċjetà society.
 External links
Technology and Maltese
Literature and Linguistics
- The Technical Committee for Literature within the National Council for the Maltese Language
- Maltese Language in Broadcasting
- Maltese verbal morphology (PDF)
- Zammit, Martin (2000). “Arabic and Maltese Cognate Roots”, Manwel Mifsud: Proceedings of the Third International Conference of Aida, 241-245. ISBN 99932-0-044-1.
|Modern Semitic languages|
| Amharic | Arabic | Chaha | Harari | Hebrew | Inor | Maltese ||
Neo-Aramaic | Silt'e | Soddo | South Arabian | Syriac | Tigre | Tigrinya
|Image:European flag.svg||Official languages of the European Union||Image:European flag.svg|
| Czech | Danish | Dutch | English | Estonian | Finnish | French|
German | Greek | Hungarian | Italian | Latvian | Lithuanian | Maltese
Polish | Portuguese | Slovak | Slovenian | Spanish | Swedish
|from 1/1/07 also: Bulgarian | Irish | Romanian|
|Source: Official EU website|
am:ማልትኛ ar:لغة مالطية an:Idioma maltés ast:Maltés zh-min-nan:Malta-gí br:Malteg bg:Малтийски език ca:Maltès cs:Maltština cy:Malteg da:Maltesisk (sprog) de:Maltesische Sprache et:Malta keel el:Μαλτεζική γλώσσα es:Idioma maltés eo:Malta lingvo eu:Maltera fr:Maltais ga:Máltais gl:Lingua maltesa ko:몰타어 hr:Malteški jezik id:Bahasa Malta it:Lingua maltese he:מלטית li:Maltees hu:Máltai nyelv mt:Lingwa Maltija ms:Bahasa Malta nl:Maltees ja:マルタ語 no:Maltesisk språk nn:Maltesisk språk oc:Maltés pl:Język maltański pt:Língua maltesa ro:Limba malteză ru:Мальтийский язык scn:Lingua maltisa sk:Maltčina sr:Малтешки језик sh:Malteški jezik fi:Maltan kieli sv:Maltesiska tr:Maltaca wa:Maltès zh:马耳他语