Maltese (Malti)

Today I received some new translations for the Maltese phrases page, and what struck me when adding the phrases was the mixed nature of Maltese vocabulary – about half the words come from Italian and Sicilian, a quarter from English and the rest from Arabic.

The Italian/Sicilian borrowings I spotted include:
- Bonġornu = Good morning (Buonjorno)
- Bonswa = Good evening/night (Buena sera) – sounds more like the French bonsoir.
- Ċaw = Goodbye (Ciao)
- Awguri = Good luck (Auguri – best wishes in Italian)
- Skużi = Excuse me (Mi scusi)
- Grazzi = Thank you (Grazie)

Borrowings from English include:
- Hello
- Heppi berdej = Happy Birthday

Sometimes it’s difficult to spot such words at first due to the different spelling conventions of Maltese, but once you get used to them, they become more obvious. So if you know Italian or another Romance language it is possible to make some sense of Maltese.

You can hear the sounds of the Maltese alphabet and learn more some more words and phrases in Maltese on YouTube, and there are some online lessons here and here.

Do any of you speak Maltese or have you studied it?

This entry was posted in English, Italian, Language, Words and phrases.

7 Responses to Maltese (Malti)

  1. TJ says:

    Struck me too for its Arabic content. Makes me wanna learn it further. I think the Arabic variety in use for Maltese is the variety of the western Arabic branch (i.e. closer to Tunisian, Algerian, Moroccan). One thing also is that in Maltese I remember there is a distinctive word for “of” (ta’) which originally is not founded in Arabic originally, but later on, specially in modern dialects, such words had been added (and most probably from other languages) … like in the Arabic variety in use here, we use “mál” to mean “of” and probably it is from Farsi, since I see it used there as well more or less in the same meaning.
    They say Maltese is the only Semitic language that is written in Latin alphabet.

  2. bulbul says:

    Maltese ‘ta’ is actually nothing but a variety of Neo-Arabic ‘mtaʕ’ or ‘ntaʕ’ after the loss of ʕ and some assimilation. Interestingly enough, the particle underwent the same development in Juba Arabic. ‘mal’ is not Persian, it’s an Arabic word meaning ‘property’ which has been borrowed into Farsi.

    Knowledge of Romance languages helps with Maltese, but not more. The core vocabulary and most of the morphology are Semitic. ‘heppi berdej’ works, but I use something like ‘xewqat sbieħ’ which is closer to ‘best wishes’ than ‘good luck’. And there are many more Romance items on the phrases pages, starting with ‘grazzi’.

  3. TJ says:

    “Mál” is indeed “money” or “fortune” in classical Arabic. But in modern use it is not used in that context.
    We use it as “of” most of the time (and other Arabic dialects don’t use “mál” meaning “of” but other words). In Farsi, whether “mál” is borrowed from the word “money” from Arabic, or whether it is indeed already a Farsi word, the usage is like how we use it in the Gulf states, in the meaning of “of”. Also can be used as a possession article instead of the classical “Lí” (meaning mine) now we would say “málí” (mine).

  4. bulbul says:

    ‘mal’ = ‘property’ > ‘mal’ = genitive particle. A pretty straightforward etymology.
    As far as I know, Farsi does not use a genitive particle on the scale of ‘mal’ / ‘ntaʕ’ / ‘dyal’, it has ezafet instead. Can you give an example of this structure in Farsi?

  5. TJ says:

    Well, though myself not a speaker of Farsi, but an Iranian friend provided me with this simple usage of “mal” as I’ve mentioned above:

    این کیف مال من است (this bag is mine)

    این کیف مال احمد است (this bag is Ahmad’s)

    Hope this will do. We use it now in the gulf area more or less in the same sense as it is in Farsi.

  6. bulbul says:

    Thank you, TJ. It would appear that مال is only used in a predicative context or for emphasis and in other syntactic structures, either the suffixed possessive pronoun or ezafet would be used – how would you say ‘My bag is big’? I’d guess كيف من / كيفم بزرگ است. More importantly, ‘mal’ still has to be connected to the noun by means of an ezafet, i.e. ‘mal-e man’, ‘mal-e Ahmad’ and thus it’s not a genitive particle per se. Or perhaps it’s not fully grammaticalized yet and we just need to wait a few years.

  7. TJ says:

    I really don’t know much about Farsi, but I know we use “mál” without “-e” addition.

    I was in Hajj for 2 weeks and got back home on Wednesday. When in Saudi Arabia we used to pray on clay pieces (as Shiites) and on one of these clay pieces it was written, apparently in Farsi, تربه مال كربلا (Torba mál Karbala)… i.e. Soil of Karbala.