Malta Dialect and Literature

By | December 26, 2021

The dialect of Malta is an Arabic dialect that can be classified among the North African North African dialects. It has phonetic, morphological and syntactic peculiarities that can be explained by the particular evolution it has had and with the environment in which it has been handed down.

Phonetically its characteristics with respect to other Arabic dialects are: the existence of sounds č, p, v ; sound ‘(hamza) of q ; lack or almost no sound h changed mostly in ‘, ‛, ; lack or almost no distinction between the sounds and kh fused in and the sounds ‛and gh fused in‛; frequent disappearance of the sound at the end of a syllable; disappearance of bombastic sounds, deaf mutation in the final consonants sound like td, isǵ ; tendency to harmonize consonants in the meeting of deaf and voiced ones and assimilation; Sound i, ī for long ā (analogy with ‘ im ā lah ēā Tunisian) and the (article the -) to to. There are various phonetic between the village and the village (to be noted l ‘ ōā in the center to the larger island); in Gozo there is a pronunciation closer to the common one of the Arabic dialects. Morphologically, Maltese has the characteristics dependent on its particular phonetics, it has the prefix n in common with many Maghreb dialectsfor the 1st person singular of the imperfect and the lack of distinct feminine forms in the 2nd person singular and in the 2nd and 3rd plural of the verb. Characteristic of Maltese is the particle-conjunction sa (from s ā ‘ir ?) For the future of verbs, also used as a preposition with nouns in the sense of “up to”. For Malta 2018, please check

The syntax of the Maltese dialect was influenced by Italian; notable are the lack, often, of the recall pronoun (ṣ ilah) in the relative sentences, the lack of the article in front of the adjective of a given noun (eg kitba maltija “the Maltese script”), the use of the pronoun in direct and indirect case before the verb, eg. lilu gibulu “brought him”.

As for the lexicon, a distinction must be made between the town and the peasantry, educated and uneducated people, as there is theoretically no limit to the use of non-Arabic words, mostly Italian, often Sicilian. Sometimes, when speaking of people of the city, the words are almost all Italian, although the morphology and, more or less, the syntax remain Arabic. The proportion of Italian words also depends on the topic of the speech; in literary, juridical and technical matters it can reach ninety percent, lacking an Arab-Maltese cultural background. It should also be considered that very often the phrases of Maltese, although grammatically Arabic, do not conform at all to the spirit of the Arabic language, but are rather translations or “casts” of Italian sentences; ex. m ānarash iss ī lah, translation of the Italian” I can’t wait (for…) “and‛ andu ragiun biesh ib īeh ” he has reasons to sell “, phrases that will never be heard from an Arab genuine.

The Maltese dialect can therefore be defined as an “Arabic dialect greatly influenced in phonetics and syntax by the Italian language with a lexicon variously filled with Italian words according to the variety of topics, places and the degree of culture of the people who speak”. The thesis of the Punic-Carthaginian or Canaanite origin of the Malta dialect held by Maltese and foreign amateurs is excluded from modern science. How the Arabs imposed their language on Malta is clearly explained by what has been said above in the history of the 9th-13th centuries, when Malta was inhabited by an Arab majority, isolated among non-Arabic-speaking people; the population slowly flowed over the centuries was forced to learn the predominant language. The problem of the language that was spoken before the Arabs in Malta remains unsolved at the present state of our knowledge; the “barbaric” speech with which the residents turned to San Paolo and San Luca (Acts of the Apostles, XXVIII, 1) in 58 d. C. had to be a “non-Greek” speech, which is not possible for us to specify. Of course the Punic must have been understood in the ports of Malta in the centuries prior to the Roman conquest and also during the early days of Roman rule, but it was forgotten through the millennial Roman and Byzantine rule.

Regarding the use of Maltese and the importance it has had and currently has, it should be noted that it is the familiar and common speech both in the countryside and in the cities; in Italianized Maltese are the prayers and songs of the peasants and fishermen. Italian has always been the official language of the government and the church, schools and courts; English has been progressively imposed over the past fifty years as a language of instruction and of government; Maltese was read from time to time in the first elementary schools, but only as a means of teaching the alphabet. The use of writing Maltese is recent; written documents are very rare for the seventeenth century, rare for the century. XVIII and limited to sermons and essays by Maltese grammarians, such as those of Agius de Soldanis and Michelangelo Vassalli; in the sec. Moghdija taz-Zmien “Il passaterapo”, which continued between 1899 and 1915 with a total of 150 volumes original or translated from Italian (including the Promessi Sposi). There was always a lot of uncertainty about the alphabet.Around 1835 various attempts were made, at the suggestion and help of Protestant missionaries and English officials, to write Maltese in the Arabic alphabet and in 1839 a Reading Book for schools was printed in Latin characters and strangely mixed Arabs. Finally in 1843 the Maltese Philological Academy proposed a type of alphabet completely based on the Latin alphabet, taking into account the Italian pronunciation of the letters and adapting three of them with diacritics (g with a dot above for ǵ, h cut for , z with a dot above for soft z). It should be noted that the Academy, in proposing that alphabet, declared that it did not want to differentiate it too much from the Italian alphabet, since the Italian language was indispensable to the Maltese. This alphabet is still used in most of the newspapers and books that are printed in Malta. The attempt to impose a rigorous “phonetic alphabet” proposed by the Xirka Xemïa “Semitic Society” in 1880 and imposed on schools in 1882 (at the height of the linguistic struggle described above) did not follow. A new alphabet was developed in 1924 by the Maltese Society of Writers (Ghaqda tal kittieba talmalti) and explained in a small volume of his entitled Taghrif fuq ilkitba maltija (use of ć for č, of w for the corresponding semivowel, distinction of sounds q and k). A quarterly periodical ilMalti, an organ of the aforementioned Society, has been printed in this alphabet since 1925.

It is worth noting here that Maltese written “literature” is actually to be considered as “Italian literature in the Maltese language”. Even when it is not a question of translations of Italian works, the style of both prose and poetry is Italian; the metric is totally Italian; the syntax, as mentioned, is variously influenced by Italian and the abundance of Italian words is such that an elementary knowledge of the Arabic-Maltese grammar allows at times to do without the special lexicon. Political newspapers in the Maltese vernacular are the most filled with Italian words.

For some years there has been a movement for the purification of the dialect (the proponents of malti safi), in part solicited by Maltese writers for naive desire to raise the family vernacular to literary dignity, in part encouraged by agents of British imperialism who would benefit from raising the Maltese and purify it to undermine the Italian and weaken the Italo-Maltese cultural ties.

It is not without significance that the thesis of the Phoenician origin of the Maltese dialect is supported by Strickland, who also made it the subject of his lecture at the University of Malta in 1920.

Malta Dialect and Literature