Details about the Maltese language - Origin - History - Translation

Maltese Language

Image with Maltese Language written on it.

Fascinating Origin Story

Unlike other Semitic languages with roots tracing back to a common ancestor, Maltese language is the only one that doesn’t. Its journey started around the 9th century AD, when Arabic-speaking settlers from Sicily arrived in Malta. This dialect of Arabic, Siculo-Arabic, became the foundation upon which Maltese was built. Over the centuries, the islands witnessed a series of cultural influences that left a permanent mark on the language.

The Norman conquest of Malta in 1090 AD led to the influence of the Romance languages, particularly from Sicilian and Italian. These enriched Maltese vocabulary, with numerous words finding their way into everyday speech. Common words for greetings like “hello” (bonjour) and “good morning” (bonġu) reflect this influence.

The Knights Hospitaller, who ruled Malta from the 16th to the 18th centuries, further enriched the linguistic tapestry. French, Spanish, and Italian influences continued to shape the language’s grammar and pronunciation. For instance, the Maltese word for “family” (familja) is derived from Italian.

Finally, British rule from the early 19th century onwards added another layer – a significant number of English loanwords. Words like “meeting” (meeting) and “computer” (kompjuter) seamlessly blend into everyday conversation, reflecting the islands’ colonial past.

A Global Reach

Maltese has an estimated 530,000 speakers around the world. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority, roughly 450,000, reside in Malta itself, where it is one of the national languages. However, the Maltese diaspora has carried the language far and wide. Australia houses the largest community outside of Malta, with around 36,000 speakers. This legacy stems from a wave of Maltese emigration in the 20th century.

Smaller pockets of Maltese speakers can be found in places like the United Kingdom, Canada, Tunisia, and the United States, each reflecting the island’s historical connections and emigration patterns. Interestingly, the Maltese spoken in these communities may sometimes have subtle variations due to local influences. Despite this, the core of the language remains strong, a testament to the enduring cultural identity it represents.

Sounds and Structure

The unique history of Maltese has resulted in a language with a truly captivating sound. The emphatic consonants, like those found in Arabic, come together with flowing vowel sounds reminiscent of Romance languages. These emphatic consonants, pronounced with a stronger puff of air than their English counterparts, add a distinct texture to the language. It would be like pronouncing the “t” in “stop” with a bit more force.

In contrast, the vowels borrow their brightness and openness from languages like Italian and Sicilian. For instance, Maltese vowels like “a” are generally pronounced with a clearer, more open sound than the “a” in “cat.” The exact pronunciation can vary slightly depending on the word.

Influences on Grammar

Grammatically, Maltese exhibits a fascinating mix. While its core grammatical structure leans towards Arabic, influences from Romance languages are evident in verb conjugations and sentence order. This intricate interplay adds to the language’s complexity and charm.

For example, the Maltese sentence “Qrajt ktieb” (pronounced qrajt ktee-ep) translates to “I read a book,” showcasing the Arabic verb structure (“qrajt” – read) combined with a definite article (“il-” transformed to “i” before a consonant) influenced by Romance languages.

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