The Maltese Language

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Since 2007 Maltese has been include the twenty-three official languages of the European Union although only spoken by some 500,000.

Although Maltese is an official language of the European Union, the Council set up a transitional period of three years from May 1, 2004, during which the institutions were not obliged to draft all acts in Maltese. All new acts of the institutions were required to be adopted and published in Maltese from April 30, 2007.

Maltese (Maltese: Malti)

Maltese is the national language of Malta, and a co-official language alongside English, the only Semitic language so distinguished as an European Language.

Origins of the Language

Maltese is descended from Siculo – Arabic (the Arabic dialect that developed in Malta and Sicily between the ninth and the fourteenth centuries). About half of the vocabulary is has been influenced by Sicilian and Italian, to a lesser extent French. English words make up as much as 20% of the Maltese vocabulary. It is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet. For an example of the Maltese alphabet see: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/maltese.htm

Today, the core vocabulary is Semitic, with large numbers of loan words, due to the Sicilian influence on Siculo-Arabic.

The Maltese language has historically been classified in various ways, with some claiming that the ancient Punic language was the base of the language, instead of Siculo-Arabic, and even under Fascist Italy, it was considered a dialect of Italian. Many visitors to the Islands also think that the language is a mixture of Italian and English.

“Manglish”

All Maltese speak both Maltese and English and it is quite often that these two languages are mixed within a sentence. This is referred to locally as “Manglish”

Due to the influence of English there are some English words which have replaced acceptable Maltese words in every day language. Many Maltese also speak Italian so many common Italian words have also been adopted in everyday speech.

Written Maltese

Since Maltese evolved after the Norman conquest ended the Arab rule of the islands, a standard, written form of the language was not developed for a long time after the Arabs’ expulsion in the eleventh century. Under the rule of the Knights of Malta , both French and Italian were used for official documents and correspondence. During the British Colonial period the use of English was encouraged through education, with Italian regarded as the next most important language.

It was only in 1934 that Maltese was recognised as an official language. In the nineteenth century, philologists and academics made a concerted effort to transcribe spoken Maltese in a comprehensive written form.