The official languages of Malta are Maltese and English and both are fluently spoken by the majority of the Maltese population. The Maltese language–‘il-Malti’ - is recognised as one of the 24 official languages of the European Union. Interestingly, this Semitic language is only spoken by around half a million people in the whole world! The Maltese language is however distinct from Arabic and other Semitic languages since its morphology has been greatly influenced by Romance languages, mainly Italian and Sicilian. Although Semitic in its origins, the Maltese language is the only form of Arabic written in a Latin script. The first mention of the Maltese language goes back tothe 1400s. It was a ballad called“Il-Kantilena” written by Pietro Caxaro. For a very long time, the Maltese language was only a spoken language until its rules and grammar were established and written in the late 19th century.
In order to understand the origin and characteristics of the Maltese language, one must first take a look at the long colonial history of this small country. Malta has seen two centuries of Arab rule from 870 to 1091, which heavily influenced the Maltese language and gave it its Arabic origin. Muslims were expelled from the country in 1249 by emperor Frederick II and replaced by an Italian settlement. The remaining Arabs on the islandeither become slaves or were converted to Christianity and this is how the Arabic continued to influence the Maltese language. Malta was also influenced by the French and the British during their respective stays, and consequently the Maltese language continued to borrow more words and expressions from these languages, enriching itself in the process and forging its unique identity.
In 1924 the ‘Akkademja tal-Malti’, which was composed of Maltese writers, created the Maltese alphabet and in 1934 the Maltese languagewas officially recognised. That same year the Maltese language began to be taught in schools. In 2005, the ‘Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti’ was established to improve the written standards of the Maltese language.
Today, in view of the dynamism of the Maltese language and the heavily reliance on the English language, somemight not be very confident speaking or writing the Maltese language. Linguists are concerned about the future of the Maltese language since the grammatical, syntactic and phonetic rules as of the language are often ignored. Others argue that the written language should follow the spoken one and therefore we should be embracing this way of writing.
Some curiosities about the Maltese language
Just like all other languages, the Maltese language has its own idiomatic expressions that are quite hard to translate into other languages as you can see in the below examples. Anyone intent of translating any colloquial or informal text in the Maltese language should be well aware of the metaphorical meaning of these idioms!
1. Maltese: Affarijiet li jiġru
Literal translation: Things that run
Meaning: These things happen
2. Maltese: Ħoll xagħrek u ġib iż-żejt
Literal translation: Untie your hair and bring the oil
Meaning: Brace yourself!
3. Maltese: ħass ħażin
Literal translation: Bad lettuce
Meaning: Someone fainted
4. Maltese: Taqtax qalbek
Literal translation: Don’t cut your heart
Meaning: Don’t give up
5. Maltese: Niġi naqa u nqum minnek
Literal translation: I come, fall, and get up from you
Meaning: I couldn’t care less about you
6. Maltese: Dejjaqtni!
Literal translation: You narrowed me!
Meaning: You annoyed the bejesus out of me
7. Maltese: Qtugħ ta’ laħam
Literal translation: Cutting of meat
Meaning: Sore muscles
8. Maltese: Kollox ejja ħa mmorru
Literal translation: Everything come so we go
Meaning: Shoddy work
9. Maltese: Kemm int vojt, għid?
Literal translation: How empty are you, say?
Meaning: A stupid comment
10. Maltese: Bil-bajda mdawra
Literal translation: With the egg turned round
Meaning: Someone is in a bad mood
11. Maltese: Blajt kanna
Literal translation: I swallowed a pipe
Meaning: Something inconvenient happened
12 Maltese: Ħawwadni ħa nifhmek
. Literal translation: Mix me so I understand you
Meaning: A person confused the heck out of you while explaining a situation
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