IL-LINGWA MALTIJA (The Maltese Language, la lingua Maltese)
A translation of the text in Italian, German, Spanish, French and Portuguese is available on request.
The Maltese, (including me), speak an ancient interesting language. The language goes back since the beginning of the Maltese history, including the Punic Times. St. Luke, the evangelist refers to Maltese as Barbarians, (they do not speak Latin or Greek) (see Acts of the Apostles, Chap28). This shows that during Roman times the Maltese spoke a Punic dialect, which derived from the Phoenicians. v In the end of the 9 century AD the Arabs conquered a large part of the Mediterranean, including Malta, and the changed the structure of Maltese-Punic Language. Until the end of the rule of the Arabs the language was purely Semitic. In 1091 when Count Roger came to Malta words of Romantic origins mainly Sicilian, where being used in Malta. Later on the Italian words where being used. This made a change in the Maltese language. Today the Maltese language has a Semitic structure with Romantic influences. You can also find Anglo-Saxon words, and Modern English. Some words also derive from French and Spanish (the latter rarely used.).
Some important Maltese words:-
Good Morning - IL-Ghodwa it-Tajba Good Night - Il-Lejl it-Tajjeb. Good Day - Il-Gurnata it-Tajba Good Luck - Nixtieqlek il-Fortuna. Fork - Furketta Knife - Sikkina Spoon - Imgharfa Tea spoon - Kuccarina the British - Brittanici meat - laham Laden - kuccarun dish - dixx oscillating fan - river - xmara sea - bahar rain - xita
Maltese is a Semitic language spoken by about 350,000 people on the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo.
The Maltese language developed from the Arabic spoken by the Arabs who invaded and occupied Malta in 870 AD. Malta was occupied by French-speaking Normans in 1090. Between 1530 and 1798 Malta served as the base for the Knights Hospitaller of St John, who spoke Italian and Latin. Malta became a British colony in 1800 and the British tried to replace Italian with English as the local language.
After Malta become independent in 1964 both English and Maltese were given official status and Maltese became the national language of Malta. Today Maltese is used in most sectors of public life, including parliament, the church, the press and other media, and in general conversation. English is generally the preferred medium of instruction in schools, especially at the higher levels of the educational system.
The first known literary text in Maltese, II Cantilena, appeared during the 15th century. The first Maltese language was a catechism by F. Wizzino, and was published in 1752.
I want... irrid...
Give me... tini...
I want to buy... irrid nixtri
Days of the Week
Light Blue celesti
Modes of Transport
Fruit and Vegetables
People at Work
Months of the Year
English Maltese Pronounced as..
Bongu bonn joo
Bonswa bonn swa
Sahha sa ha
My name is...
Jisimni... yiss imm nee
Grazzi gratt see
Jekk joghgbok yekk yog bock
Skuzani skoo zann ee
Where is... ?
Fejn... ? feynn
Biljett bill yet
I would like...
Ghandi bzonn... undie bzonn
Where should I get off for...?
Fejn ninzel ghall... ? fayne ninn zell al
Is this bus for... ?
Din il karozza tmur... ? dean ill car otsa tmoor
Where are the toilets?
Fejnuma it tojlets? fayne ooma it toilets
I'm looking for...
Ged infittex at inn fit tesh
Iva ee va
Beer Birra beer ra
A country's language is symbolic of it's people and their history. Over the centuries, Maltese has been shaped by a number of influentual countries.
Stepping into a new country is always exhilarating, especially when you are faced with the challenge of communication. Upon your arrival in Malta you will not only be captured by the warm welcome you will receive but also the ease of communicating as English is so widely spoken because Maltese people are bi-lingual, English as well as Maltese are national languages.
The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans all contributed to the development of Maltese which is why it is a language all of its own.
However it was the invasion of the Arabs that had the most profound effect, hence it is a Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet with a twist of Italian and French and a few English words thrown in. Malta is now listed as an official EU language.
You will be able to get your first Maltese lesson by hearing a few common phrases in Maltese below.(Please ensure that your speakers are on!) It is a difficult language to pick up so with a little help from these useful phrases you will be able to gain a better understanding of the pronunciation and meaning.
Your First Maltese Lesson
Click on the links below to hear the Maltese Pronounciation.
Your First Maltese Lesson
Click on the links below to hear the Maltese Pronounciation.
Good day Bongu
Please Jekk Joghgbok
Thank you Grazzi
That one Dak
How much? Kemm?
I don't understand Ma nifhimx
Do you speak English? Titkellem bl-Ingliz?
What's your name? X'jismek
My name is James Jien jisimni James
Malta is a beautiful island Malta hija gzira sabiha
As far back as 1481 the inhabitants of Malta, calculated at the time at not more than 20,000, claimed for themselves a language different from
that of their Sicilian administrators.
The University of Mdina, the island's capital at the time, resisted the imposition of a priest from Sicily on the grounds that he was young and he did not know the vernacular.
Over two hundred years following the expulsion of the Muslims from Malta by the King of Sicily, the Maltese did not seem to have been in a position to understand the language of Maghrebi Arabs who, after leaving the island, practically uninhabited after the razzia of 870 A.D. when they overcame the Byzantine garrison defending the island, colonized Malta in 1048;in all probability they came from Sicily. Muslim rule theoretically came to an end in 1091 but their stay was extended well into the 13th centur y by benign Norman, Hohenstaufen and Anjevin rulers who successively wore the Sicilian crown.
Count Roger the Norman conquered the island and annexed it to his Sicilian domain in 1091. He subjected the Muslims in Malta to pay him an annual tribute but let them continue running the affairs of the island. Norman rule was, however, consolidated in 1 127 by Count Roger II.
It is possible the first language spoken by the Maltese was Punic. Malta had formed part of the Carthaginian empire and changed hands a number of times during the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.) before becoming Roman "civitas foederata" in 218 B.C.
It has been argued that this linguistic affinity could have provided the right platform for Arabic to replace or superimpose itself on a related Semitic tongue and get established as the language of the inhabitants of Malta. But it has to be said that Pu nic inscriptions in Malta stop in the 1st century A.D.
Archaeological evidence points to a Roman and, later, Greco-Byzantine presence during the next six centuries. Sicily, with which the inhabitants of Malta were certainly in contact, at this time was open to these same influences but most of the island was converted to the Muslim faith in the 8th century A.D. and subsequently adopted the Arabic language. The same probably happened in Malta (1).
What is practically certain is that the Maltese were cut off from the mainstream of spoken Arabic and so, within the space of a few decades after 1048, a process must have began by which the Arabic dialect would gradually become an independent branch of Semitic.
This phenomenon of independent growth or development was further helped by the expulsion of Muslims from Malta about the mid-13th century and by the increasingly closer ties with Sicilian overlords, and their retinue, whose language the inhabitants had t o start absorbing in order to be able to communi-cate with them at least on matters of an administrative nature.
Thus began a bilingual trend that has, ever since, always been present in the Maltese linguistic milieu.
Linguistic contacts with the overlord, or with a "superior culture", brought about the acceptance, but with phonetic adaptation, of foreign vocabulary and phraseology. The roots of one's own language to create neologisms as the need arose were neither ex plored nor exploited; the trend still remains unabated.
In the course of this process the Maltese, while retaining the basic Arabic forms for the conjugation of verbs of Semitic origin or of loan-verbs which, by phonetic analogy, could fit into this pattern, created an additional verbal form to accept and int egrate verbs formed from the Sicilian or Italian vocables. And since verbs might be considered as forming the vertebra of the language, it could well be argued that this development must have taken place very early in the formative stage of an independent Maltese language.
This verbal form is, to some extent, analogical to the Vth Form of verbs of Semitic origin, but is more likely to have originated from Sicilian in that it reduplicates the opening consonant of a word, this being a distinctive feature of Sicilian.
The phenomenon might be a further indication of the independent tract that Maltese took both from its parent Arabic or Semitic and from Sicilian which must certainly have exerted growing and continuous influence due to the administrative dependence of Ma lta on the Sicilian capital Palermo in civil and religious matters (2) and to the constant family (3) and commercial relations between the two countries.
It is here pertinent to point out that the overall linguistic structure of Maltese has always remained kindred to North African and also Middle East Arabic; nonetheless the language has always been written in a Latin script.
At the same time it can also be surmised that, for a number of decades, there was considerable similarity between the evolving Maltese and Sicilian Arabic.
To some extent the language developed slowly, the island being rather cut off from the Siculo-Italian mainland, even if it formed part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and, when ceded to the Knights of St John in 1530, retained this constitutional stat us and relations with Sicily were quite continual.
Nevertheless, languages eveolve their vocabulary according to need, and the needs of the Maltese were too few to necessitate too large a widening of the lexical base, which remained Maghrebi Arabic.
The broadening probably started some years, or decades, following the advent of the Knights all of whom were of European origin. Their administration strengthened the position of Italian as the language of culture as it had been in the Middle Ages when c ivic and notarial acts were written in a miscellany of base Latin cum Sicilian cum Italian.
The Semitic element of the language must have retained its predomi-nance in the villages where the people eked out a living from agriculture. But in Valletta, built by the Knights to be the new capital of the island, and in the now- developing towns within the harbour area, constant contact with Sicilian and Italian mariners and traders slowly but gradually expanded the Siculo-Italian element to such an extent that over 20 percent of the entries in a 4-volume manuscript dictionary co mpiled in 1755 by Agius de Soldanis are of Sicilian or Italian origin.
Up to this time Maltese had only developed orally and this situation can be said to have remained constant till the end of the 19th century. The few extant texts of written Maltese up to the end of the 18th century consist only of sporadic literary exerc ises (4).
In 1895 Mikiel Anton Vassalli, acknowledged as the Father of the Maltese Language, made a case for the teaching of Maltese in schools but found little or no response. His dream only started becoming a reality in the early years of the 20th century follow ing a few tentative efforts from the mid-19th century onwards. It was only in 1924 that the Maltese alphabet was standardised, and another ten years had to pass before the language was officially recognised as the language of the Maltese people.
In the meantime the Romance element of Maltese was given a strong impetus by increasing contacts, this time with the Italian mainland. The Italian Risorgimento brought to the island a great number of cultured monarchical and republican exiles and also a spate of literature in Italian. The vocabulary was therefore expanded to satisfy new needs, and these being of Romance provenance the new vocables were also of Romance origin, a phenomenon which is repeating itself currently when, with new needs being mai nly presented to the Maltese through the medium of English, there is a definite influx of words of Anglo-Saxon origin.
Within the linguistic framework, and with only an infinitesimal percentage of the population who cared to learn how to read and write (which they did in Italian), it is no wonder that Maltese literature was very late in developing.
The first serious attempts at writing in Maltese were made by Vassalli who called for schooling in Maltese as a means to have a literature in the vernacular. These were only followed by a few authors some 50 years later. In the early years of the 20th ce ntury a group of writers promoted Maltese literature as a means of disseminating popular education. In 1921 the Society of Maltese Authors was born and this gave added impetus to the movement for the use and recognition of the language as a valid literary medium.
The early Maltese writers sought their inspiration from Italian romanticism, contacts with English literature being rather infrequent in spite of the British presence on the island since 1802.
The turning point came after the achievement of independence in 1964. A group of young writers formed the Movement for the Promotion of Literature in 1968 and grafted into the mainstream of Maltese literature the culture of English, Continental, American and Russian literary figures.
Nevertheless theirs was an evolution rather than a revolution. The romantic substratum could still be felt. So also the religious one, a natural factor in a small island where religion has always played a dominant role.
The Maltese alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet with the addition of some letters with diacritic marks. It is used to write the Maltese language.
It contains 30 letters:
The Maltese Language
The official languages of Malta are Maltese and English. Maltese (Malti) is a unique language with many words borrowed from the languages of the various countries that once occupied Malta. The Maltese language is the only Semetic tongue officially written in the Latin alphabet. It is a modern Arabic vernacular closely related to the western Arabic dialects. In its phonetics, morphology, syntax and vocabulary it shows the strong influence of an earlier, later and continuing Sicilian (Latin) from of speech. There are 30 letters in the Maltese alphabet. The letter "y" is not part of the Maltese alphabet but the alphabet includes five special letters:
a pronounced as o in come
b pronounced be as in bell
c hard c as in cat
c pronounced ch as in cherry *
d pronounced de as in devil
e pronounced e as in fell
f pronounced f as in fall
g hard g as in gun
g pronounced j as in jam *
gh unsounded aspirated glottic
h silent except at end of words when it is aspirated
h aspirated h with a guttural sound like gh in "Ugh!" **
i pronounced i as in till
j pronounced ye as in yellow
k pronounced ke as in kettle
l pronounced l as in late
m pronounced m as in male
n pronounced n as in nose
o pronounced o as in pot
p pronounced pe as in pen
q compared to the cockney sound of the final letter in the English word "that"
r pronounced r as in rain
s pronounced se as in set
t pronounced te as in tell
u pronounced u as in pull
v pronounced ve as in vessel
w pronounced we as in well
x pronounced sh as in shepherd
z pronounced ze as in zebra
z pronounced ts as in nuts *
* these letters are written with a period on top of the letter.
** this letter is written with a horizontal line running through the stem of the letter.
A sampling of the Maltese language follows:
Yes/Iva (as in diva)
No/Le (as in lethargy)
Thank you very much/Grazzi hafna (grats-tsii haff-na)
Good-bye or cheers/Sahha (sah-ha)
Merry Christmas/Il-Milied it-tajjeb
Happy New Year/Is-Sena t-tajba
Please/ Jekk joghgbok (yek-yooj-bok)
Good night/Il-lejl it-tajjeb (ill-layl it-ta-yep)
tajjeb hafna! (tie yep hoff na) - Very good!
x'ismeck? (shish meck) - What is your name?
Taf titkellem bl-Ingliz? (taf tit-cal-em bil-ingliz) Do you speak English?
le (lay) - no
missier (miss-seer) - father
ziju (titz-ee-you) - uncle
omm (oem - as in poem) - mother
zija (titz-ee-ya) - aunt
zarbun (zar-boon) - shoe
chair (sij-jew) - chair
How are you?
Can you please help me?
Do you speak English?
Happy new year
Have a nice flight
Is everything okay?
I am fine (OK/ All Right)
I am from Malta
Nice to meet you
No thank you
Thank you very much
What do you do?
What's your name?
Where are you from?
Where are you going?
Tista' tgħinni jekk jogħġbok?
Ir-riżq it-tajjeb (or) Xewqat Tajba
Bonġu (or) L-għodwa t-tajba
Bonswa (or) Il-lejl it-tajjeb
Ċaw (or) Saħħa
Għeluq sninek it-tajjeb
Kollox sew? (or) Kollox owkej?
Jien orrajt (or) Jien owkej
Jien minn Malta
Ħu ħsieb (or) Saħħa
Minn fejn int?
The Maltese language is considered as a Semitic language because it has an Arabic base. Throughout the years, due to various factors many words of Italian and Sicilian origin were integrated into the language together with other Anglo-Saxon words during the last 200 years. This makes Maltese a very interesting language. Its development is linked closely to the rulers of the islands throughout the centuries and also to its geographic position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
Although Maltese is predominantly Arabic, it is written in Latin letters which is very peculiar for a Semitic Language. This may be because it seems that Maltese was written many years after the Arab rulers were ousted from Malta. The oldest example of Maltese written language is a poem written by a Notary about 550 years ago (about 1400 AD), about 400 years after the end of Arab rule.
Why is Maltese a Semitic language?
Because it has the characteristics of Semitic Languages, namely
rich in consonants
- poor in vowels
- a set of consonants referred to as ‘the root’ is present in all the words related together i.e. that have a same ‘basic idea’
- the adjective is found after the noun
- the article may be found even before the adjective
- the preposition ‘of’ is not used but instead another form is used called ‘construct state’
Maltese is mainly an Arabic language also because it has an Arabic base regarding the syntax of the sentences, the sounds of the words, the build up of words. Furthermore many of the words present in the language are of Arabic origin.
The Maltese Language has retained many of the above characteristics except for the last one which, although still present to some extent, the Maltese tend to use more and more the preposition ‘of’ and less the ‘construct state’.
History of Maltese
The origin of Maltese dates back to the Arab rulers who took over the island in the period 870 - 1091 AD. Prior to this, it is believed that the language used by the natives was a mixture between Latin, Greek and Punic languages, which originated from the commercial connections with the Phoenicians, many of whom settled here between 800 - 218 BC, and the Romans who ruled the island between 218 BC and 870 AD. Punic writings have been found and also some names of local villages have a Greek origin.
The Arab rulers threw out most of the natives and it seems that for many years the islands were almost uninhabited except for some Arab families who settled here. At the end of the Arab rule the population of the island was very small. The new natives’ language was a Northern African dialect of Arabic. Even some present day Maltese words of Arabic origin are similar to words presently used in Northern African dialects