Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Maltese Language: An Arabic Descendant

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Hello everyone. Welcome to the LangFocus channel and my name is Paul

Today, I'm going to talk about the Maltese language.

Maltese is a unique and interesting language because it is a Semitic language with a twist.

It is the only Semitic language that is an official language of the European Union.

It is spoken by around 520 thousand people,

mostly on the island nation of Malta which is an island in the Mediterranean Sea,

not far from Sicily and not far from Tunisia and Libya in North Africa.

Some people claim that Maltese is a descendant of the ancient Phoenician language,

but actually there's no linguistic evidence for this.

Maltese is a descendant of a dialect of Arabic, called Siculo-Arabic or Sicilian Arabic.

But it has diverged quite a lot from Arabic over the last 1000 years or so, and has now become its own language.

The syntax and grammar of Maltese remains Arabic and about a third of the vocabulary is still Arabic.

And that includes most of the grammatical function words as well as a lot of the most basic vocabulary.

About half of the vocabulary is from Italian or Sicilian

and the remaining vocabulary is mostly from English and French.

It's still considered a Semitic language because of its Arabic origin and because of its structure. But...

if you take into account all of the foreign loan words, especially the romance loanwords,

then it's essentially a hybrid language.

Kind of like a Semitic-Romance hybrid.

So how did this interesting mix of influences come together to create Maltese?

Well, it's because of its history, of course.

The Fatimid Caliphate which covered much of North Africa conquered Sicily at the end of the 9th century

and brought their Maghrebi or North African dialect of Arabic with them.

Then, in 1049 CE, Arabic-speaking Muslim settlers from Sicily arrived in Malta,

which is only about 200 kilometers away, and began to establish communities there.

In the year 1091 CE, the Normans, who were Christians from Normandy and present-day France,

had defeated the Arabs and taken hold of Sicily and then began taking hold of Malta too.

Under Norman rule, more settlers from Sicily began arriving in Malta and bringing their language with them.

Even though the Normans were Christian, the population of Sicily was still a mixture of Christians and Muslims

who spoke Arabic alongside the Sicilian language.

After the decline of Norman rule, the new regime in Sicily expelled all of the Muslims from Sicily and from Malta as well.

This was a very significant event, because it essentially cut off the Siculo-Arabic dialect from the Muslim Arabic-speaking world.

And it also cut it off from the classical Arabic language.

In other Arabic-speaking lands, the Quran remained a conservative force that prevented the dialects from changing too much overtime.

But, in Malta, that conservative force was no longer connected to the dialect.

So the dialect was free to drift off in its own direction and become a new language.

Sicuro-Arabic died out in Sicily but it continued to be used and evolve in Malta.

Malta remained part of the kingdom of Sicily for several hundred years

which brought lots of sicilian vocabulary into the language.

The island was then controlled by a string of rulers who influenced the developing Maltese language.

One of the most significant regimes to rule Malta was the Knights Hospitaller of St. John,

a powerful order of knights that assisted and protected Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

They were given the island of Malta in 1530 as an outpost to help prevent an Ottoman invasion of Rome from the South.

They made Italian the official language of the island and it remained the official language until 1934.

This resulted in a large amount of Italian vocabulary entering the language.

There was also a period of two years when Malta was under French rule.

And just from those two years, quite a bit of French vocabulary entered the language too.

And the island was a British protectorate from 1802 to 1956.

And, of course, that led to the adoption of lots of English words into Maltese.

So Maltese is essentially an Arabic dialect that has become Latinized and to some extent Anglicized.

So how similar is it to Arabic today?

Well, if you know Arabic and you try to read some Maltese, you will quickly realize that it's basically Arabic in structure,

but you will also see a lot of foreign vocabulary, mostly Romance vocabulary.

It is most similar to the Maghreb dialect of Arabic, meaning the dialects of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia,

especially the Tunisian dialect.

A lot of Tunisians claim that they can quite easily understand Maltese.

That could be because Tunisian Arabic itself has quite a few Italian loan words.

And I also understand that a lot of Tunisians can understand Standard Italian.

So, if they speak Tunisian Arabic and Italian, then they can quite easily understand Maltese.

Lots of people say that if you know an Arabic dialect quite well and if you also know Italian,

then reading Maltese won't be much of a problem

and, with some adjustment, you can also learn to understand it fairly easily.

That doesn't mean you could speak proper Maltese but maybe you could use your Arabic and your Italian

and sort of pack a conversation in a new pidgin language.

So let's look at a couple example sentences of Maltese.

So the sentence here is an example of one that's mostly Arabic.

By the way, I've never learned to speak Maltese, so forgive my pronunciation.

Now, I understood this sentence almost perfectly and it's basically all Arabic.

The first word "...", that's "Japan".

"...", that's "has"

"...", that's "the tenth"

"...", that's "the biggest"

"...", that's not Arabic. That's... That looks like an Italian loan word to me.

"...", so that's "in the world"

"...", that means with "more than"

And then, there's the Arabic number (126)

And then, there's "miljun", which is "million" in Arabic too.

And then, "persuna" which is not Arabic, but I guess that's from Italian or Sicilian.

But sometimes, you see sentences with a lot more loan words, particularly Italian.

Here's another sentence.

So this sentence means: "Migration reform must include the principle of solidarity."

This one has a lot of loan words.

"Riforma", that's not an Arabic word. That's a loan word.

"Fil-migrazzjoni" : "Fil", that part is Arabic but "migrazzjoni", that is a loan word.

"ghandha", that part is interesting because this is an Arabic word that means "has"

but, in this case, it's being used to mean "has to" or "must".

And it's not used that way in Arabic.

So the function of this word has become somewhat adapted in the Maltese language.

The next word "tinkludi', that's "include" but that the "t" links back to the previous vowel, that's an element of Arabic syntax.

The next word "...", so that's obviously "principle" but that's not an Arabic word, that's a loan word.

Again that's the Arabic definite article and the "t" is linking back to the previous vowel and "solidarieta", that's "solidarity" and that's not an Arabic word either.

So you can see a lot of sentences like this in Maltese, often.

If you know Arabic, you'll recognize the structure but then, a lot of the words are not Arabic.

For me personally, I know that, with my past study of Arabic and with my fluency in English and my recent basic knowledge of Italian,

I can take a stab at reading Maltese and I can understand the fair bit of it... But not all of it!

When I hear spoken Maltese, I don't really understand it but I can pick out some individual Arabic and Italian and English words

But I imagine that, as my Italian improves, I'll be able to understand a bit more of it.

And if I decided to review my Arabic in depth and started to learn a Maghrebi dialect, then I think I would be able to understand a lot more Maltese as well.

Maltese is not a very widely spoken language, so not that many people learn it and there aren't that many materials out there for learners.

But, for someone who's learning Arabic or learning Italian, then it might be fun to dabble in some Maltese and see what you can make of it.

Thank you for watching the LangFocus channel.

If you have any comments about the Maltese language, then, of course, leave them in the comments down below.

If you're an Arabic speaker and you've had a chance to listen to Maltese a little bit, let us know what you think.

Can you understand it? Does it sound like a kind of Arabic?

And same goes for Italian-speakers:

If you listen to Maltese, can you catch parts of what they're saying?

Let us know in the comments down below.

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Thank you for watching, and have a nice day!

The Description of The Maltese Language: An Arabic Descendant