The Journey in the Maltese National Language

The Journey in the Maltese National Language

Tatiana Osoblivaia


Language and Culture


The Maltese language, with its unique characteristics and intriguing linguistic evolution, holds a special place within the Mediterranean linguistic landscape. Originating from a blend of diverse influences, Maltese has developed into a distinct Semitic language with fascinating historical ties. In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the origin and rich history of the Maltese, shedding light on its unique features and the cultural heritage it embodies.


Maltese Language - Exploring Origins and Historical Evolution of the National Language of Malta

  • Semitic Roots and Language Contact of the Maltese Language - Maltese traces its roots back to the Semitic family of languages, specifically to the Afro-Asiatic language group. It evolved from the vernacular spoken by the Phoenicians, who settled on the Maltese islands around the 8th century BCE. Throughout history, the Maltese language has experienced interactions with various languages, resulting in a unique linguistic blend.
  • Roman and Arab Influences - Throughout history, Malta experienced the influences of different civilizations. The Roman Empire's rule in Malta from 218 BCE to 395 CE brought Latin and other Romance languages, leaving an indelible imprint on the linguistic landscape. Subsequently, the Arab conquest of Malta in 870 CE introduced the Arabic language, vocabulary, and grammatical structures, further enriching the linguistic tapestry of Maltese.
  • Arabic Influence and Development - Arabic, particularly the Maghrebi dialect, has had a profound impact on the development of the Maltese language. With the Arab conquest of Malta in the 9th century CE, Arabic words and grammatical structures gradually infiltrated the native language. This linguistic influence forms the foundation of the Maltese vocabulary and provides a distinct Semitic character to the language.
  • Romance Language Influence - In addition to its Semitic roots, the Maltese language exhibits strong influences from Romance languages, particularly Italian and Sicilian. Due to Malta's proximity to Italy and its historical ties with Sicily, the Maltese vocabulary absorbed numerous words, idioms, and grammatical structures from these Romance languages. This influence contributes to the unique linguistic hybridity of Maltese.
  • The Medieval Period and Language Development of Maltese - During the medieval period, the Maltese language underwent significant transformations. Malta's strategic position in the Mediterranean attracted various rulers, including the Normans, Angevins, and Aragonese. These interactions contributed to the evolution of the Maltese language, incorporating linguistic elements from Romance languages, predominantly Sicilian and Italian.
  • Written Tradition and Standardization of the Maltese Language - The written tradition of the Maltese language emerged during the period of Arab rule, with the transcription of legal and administrative documents into Arabic script. Later, under Norman and Angevin's rule, Latin-based script was introduced for writing Maltese. However, it was only in the early 20th century that Maltese began to be widely recognized as a distinct language and efforts were made to standardize its grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
  • Modern Development and Official Language Status - In 1934, the Maltese language was officially recognized as the national language of Malta, alongside English. It gained further prominence with Malta's independence in 1964, becoming the sole official language of the country in 1934. Today, Maltese holds a significant place in Maltese society, serving as a symbol of national identity and cultural heritage.


Maltese Linguistic Features and Uniqueness 

The Maltese language, with its distinct characteristics and remarkable linguistic heritage, stands out as a fascinating linguistic marvel within the Semitic language family. Originating from the crossroads of civilizations in Malta, the Maltese language boasts a unique blend of Semitic, Romance, and English influences. Let’s delve into the linguistic features and unparalleled uniqueness of the Maltese language, uncovering its phonetics, grammar, vocabulary, and cultural significance.


  • Semitic Structure and Arabic Influence on Maltese

The Maltese language retains a Semitic grammatical structure, resembling its distant relatives in the Semitic language family. Nouns are modified by internal vowel changes, known as internal vowel patterns, to indicate grammatical relationships. This Semitic aspect is attributed to the strong Arabic influence, with Arabic-derived vocabulary forming a significant portion of the Maltese lexicon.


  • Hybrid Vocabulary of the Maltese Language 

One of the most distinctive features of the Maltese language is its hybrid vocabulary, combining Semitic, Romance, and English words. The core vocabulary is primarily derived from Arabic, reflecting its historical and cultural influence. However, due to Malta's historical connections with Sicily and Italy, a substantial number of words from Italian, Sicilian, and Latin have found their way into the Maltese lexicon. Moreover, English loanwords have become increasingly prevalent, particularly in modern and technical domains.


  • Phonetics and Pronunciation of Maltese 

The phonetics of the Maltese contribute to its unique sound patterns. It features a range of distinct consonant sounds, including emphatic consonants that are articulated with a stronger emphasis. Vowel sounds are comparatively simple, with a five-vowel system. Stress in Maltese is typically placed on the second-to-last syllable of a word, providing a predictable rhythm and cadence to spoken Maltese.


  • Complex Verb Structure of Maltese

Verbs in Maltese exhibit a complex system of conjugation, indicating various aspects, moods, and tenses. The verb system consists of regular and irregular verbs, each following specific patterns. Verbs are conjugated according to person, number, gender, and tense, allowing for the precise expression of actions and events.


  • Diglossia of the Maltese Language

Standard and Vernacular Varieties: Maltese exhibits diglossia, wherein the standard variety of the language coexists with vernacular dialects. The standard variety, known as Modern Standard Maltese (MSM), is used in formal settings, education, literature, and media. Vernacular dialects, such as the Ħejja and Xlokk dialects, are spoken regionally and contribute to the linguistic diversity of the Maltese language.


Cultural Significance of the National Language of Malta

The Maltese language plays a vital role in shaping the cultural identity and national pride of the Maltese people. It serves as a symbol of Malta's unique heritage, acting as a means of preserving and promoting the country's rich linguistic and cultural traditions. The language fosters a sense of belonging and unity among the Maltese population, strengthening social cohesion and cultural expression.

The linguistic features and unparalleled uniqueness of the Maltese language make it a captivating subject of study and appreciation. With its Semitic structure, Arabic influence, hybrid vocabulary, distinctive phonetics, complex verb system, and diglossic nature, Maltese reflects the diverse historical and cultural influences that have shaped Malta. 

As the national language of Malta, Maltese embodies the spirit and identity of its people, acting as a linguistic testament to the island's rich historical legacy. The ongoing evolution of the Maltese language continues to shape its unique features, ensuring its place as a distinctive and cherished language within the global linguistic mosaic.



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