The Evolution of our Maltese Language

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The Maltese language evolved as an Arabic dialect and is an official language of the European Union. Malta is the EU’s smallest state made up of 450,000 native speakers. It was granted official status in 2004, after joining the EU. During the Middle Ages, the Maltese language was one of the few Arabic Dialects spoken in Spain and Sicily. It was also the only Semitic language written in the Latin script.

Today, spoken Maltese sounds a little like Arabic but with a few English phrases included in the dialogue here and there. The Italian and French influences are also noticeable. The language has evolved throughout the centuries, due to a series of conquerors, from as early as the ninth century until 1964, when the country became independent. While the Arabs ruled the island around 1050, Malta saw one of the main linguistic transformations. The Sicilians and the Knights of Malta later followed, declaring Sicilian, Latin and Italian the country’s official language. While this language thrived, the arabic language still persisted. During the 1800s Malta became a British colony and English gradually overrode all other languages.

So as you can understand, the language developed from those nationalities that ruled the island combined with its simplified Arabic structures. The British named Maltese a national language in 1934 and English, to this day, remains one of the country’s two official languages. The Maltese language is still affected by foreign elements and it was until 1959 that television was only available in Italian. According to a poll in 2012, about 90% of the island’s population speaks English and 36% speak Italian. More than half of the subjects are taught in English at schools, and shop signs and menus are available in English and Italian; while newspapers in English and Maltese.

Therefore as you can see, identity and language interweave and the use of bilingualism has become custom to our island’s use of language. However it has also caused concern amongst some for fear of abandoning the sole use of the Maltese language and others find such a concern as irrelevant. Professor Joseph Brincat, a linguistics lecturer at the University of Malta, adds by saying that it is still too early to know whether the Maltese language will survive. The evolution of the island’s language will be determined by those who speak it.

Source: The Economist

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