Maltese - interesting facts


Maltese is the mother tongue of about 500,000 people (0.007% of the world's population). Maltese is the official language of Malta. In addition, Maltese immigrants in the USA, Tunisia, Australia and the United Kingdom also have Maltese as their native language.

Malti belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family, specifically to the subfamily of Semitic languages. This language is related to the Arabic language, and its beginnings are connected with the conquest of the island by the Arabs in 870 AD. With the takeover of Malta by the Normans and the subsequent annexation of the island to the Kingdom of Sicily, the Maltese language evolved in its own, separate direction: preserving the structure of the Semitic language, it took over vocabulary from other languages, mainly from Italian and English (Malta was a British colony for 200 years). For a long time, Maltese existed almost exclusively in spoken form. The Maltese spelling rules were only introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet.

Due to the relatively small number of native speakers, Maltese is not a dialectically diverse language. Malta is regulated and promoted by the National Council of the Maltese Language.

Maltese has been the official language of the European Union since 2004. However, for the first three years, its scope of application in this institution was partially limited. Due to the lack of translators, only the most important legal acts were translated.

Since 88% of Maltese speak English, a specific variant of the language called Maltenglish has developed in Malta. This is related to the often-used change of the language code – English words are woven into sentences that maintain a grammatical structure specific to Maltese.

Regardless of the phenomenon described above, many English loans are in the Maltese language. Examples include words such as: plejer (English gamer), friˈːs (English refrigerator) and mowbajl (English mobile phone).

The hybrid character of the Maltese language, which has the characteristics of Semitic and Indo-European languages, is well illustrated by two ways of creating a plural. Endings are added to many nouns (e.g. → omm ommijet; → mother). In other cases, there is a change inside the word (e.g. dar → djar; English dom dom → domy) – this way of creating plural forms is typical for the Arabic language.

The verbs in Maltese are derived from the Romance languages. They are varied using Maltese suffixes and prefixes.


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Alphabet and spelling

The Maltese alphabet is a unique blend of Semitic and Latin influences, reflecting the history and cultural fusion of the Maltese islands. It consists of 30 letters, derived from the standard Latin alphabet, but includes additional letters such as ċ, ġ, ħ, and ż, each having distinct pronunciation.

These extra letters represent sounds not found in English or other European languages. For instance, ħ represents a voiceless pharyngeal fricative, a sound that does not exist in English, and is silent when followed by h. The letter ż represents a voiced 'z' as in 'azure'.

Spelling in Maltese is largely phonetic; words are written as they are pronounced. This principle makes the language's spelling system fairly straightforward, but still poses a challenge for English speakers, who must learn to recognize and pronounce the unique sounds represented by the additional Maltese letters.

Furthermore, Maltese is the only Semitic language written in Latin script, enhancing its distinctiveness among world languages.

Relationship of Maltese with the history of Malta

The Maltese language is closely related to the rich history of the archipelago. Malta was ruled by various states and organizations such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Joannica, French and British. All these influences contributed to the formation of the Maltese language, making it particularly interesting for history and culture scholars.

Importance of Maltese for national identity

The Maltese language plays a key role in shaping Malta's national identity. For centuries, Malta was influenced by foreign powers that introduced their languages. However, Maltese has survived as a language of everyday use and has become a symbol of the independence and spirit of the Maltese people.

Maltese literature

Although relatively small compared to larger linguistic communities, Maltese literature is rich and diverse. The island's unique history, a crossroads of civilizations, is reflected in its literature, which dates back to medieval times. Much of the early literature is religious in nature, including the 15th-century "Cantilena," considered the first written text in Maltese. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the emergence of Maltese as a literary language, with authors like Dun Karm Psaila known as the national poet of Malta. Modern Maltese literature often explores identity, language, and Malta's position between European and North African cultures. Prominent contemporary authors include Immanuel Mifsud, a European Union Prize for Literature winner. Overall, Maltese literature provides a window into the unique Maltese culture and identity.

Maltese vs Arabic

Maltese is a unique language with strong ties with Arabic and Italian, owing to Malta's strategic location in the Mediterranean and its complex history of invasions and cultural exchanges. A member of the Semitic language family, Maltese is the only Semitic language officially recognized within the European Union and written in the Latin script.

Regarding similarities, due to historical ties, Maltese shares a considerable amount of vocabulary with Arabic, especially with the Tunisian and Sicilian Arabic dialects. Both languages also have similar syntax and morphology, including the use of root patterns to convey a variety of related meanings.

However, there are significant differences as well. Unlike Arabic, which has maintained a Classical form that greatly differs from its colloquial variants, Maltese doesn't have such a dichotomy. Maltese has incorporated a substantial amount of vocabulary from Romance languages, primarily Sicilian and Italian, and to a lesser extent English, making it distinct from other Arabic dialects. Furthermore, pronunciation and grammar in Maltese have diverged enough from Arabic to make the two mutually unintelligible.


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Your Essential Maltese




yes iva (i-va)
no le (le)
please jekk jogħġbok (jekk yogh-bok)
thank you grazzi (grat-si)
I'm sorry jiddispjaċini (id-dis-pja-chi-ni)
good morning bonġu (bon-dżu)
good evening il-lejl it-tajjeb (il-lejl it-tajjeb)
goodbye il-lejl it-tajjeb (il-lejl it-tajjeb)
good night ċaw (ćau)
hi saħħa (sa-hha)
how are you?  Kif int? (kif int)
well Grazzi, tajjeb (grat-si, taj-jeb)
My name is... Jisimni... (jisi-mni)
I don't understand Ma nifhimx (ma nif-himsh)



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