The Maltese Language

The cover story for English Matter’s July/August issue (EM47) was dedicated to the tiny island of Malta.

English is one of two national languages on the island. The other is a language few people even know exists, despite the fact that it is an officially recognised language of the European Union.

Maltese is a semitic tongue, meaning it is a kind of Arabic dialect which proliferated on the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean sea. Over the centuries, it has picked up a lot of foreign vocabulary, mainly Italian, French (the Maltese word for good morning is Bonġu, which sounds similar to the French Bonjour) and English.

The language therefore sounds very much like modern Arabic, and native speakers of either of the two languages would be able to communicate with some difficulty.

Maltese is the only Semitic language written in Latin script. The alphabet contains 30 letters and is one of three in the world which contains the letter “Ż”, the others being Polish and Kashubian.

Although a 2004 study said that 86% of the Maltese would rather speak in Maltese, and 12% English, the level of Maltese among the younger generation is widely considered to be in decline.

For a taste of what Maltese language sounds like, watch this video clip of a news item on the local TV channel about ricotta ice-cream!

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