Maltese is a Central Semitic language spoken by about 420,000 people
on the Mediterranean islands of Malta, Gozo (Għawdex) and Comino (Kemmuna). The Maltese language
developed from the Siculo-Arabic or Sicilian
Arabic, a form of Arabic that developed in Sicily and Malta between
the 9th and 14th centuries. Siculo-Arabic was extinct in Sicily by
about 1300, but continued to be spoken in Malta and evolved into
Maltese. The first reference to Malta having a distinct language
dates from 1364, and the language is first referred to as lingua
maltensi in the will of a certain Pawlu Peregrino from 1436.
Maltese at a glance
Native name: Malti [maltɪ]
Linguistic affliation: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central Semitic, Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic, Siculo-Arabic
Number of speakers: c. 420,000
Spoken in: Malta
First written: 15th century AD
Writing system: Latin script
Status: co-official language of Malta (along with English); official language of the EU
There is also a theory that Maltese developed from Carthaginian or
Punic, the language of Carthage, which was a form of Phoenician. This
theory was endorsed by Giacomo Bosio in his book, Dell'Istoria
della Sacra Religione et Illustrissima Militia di San Giovanni
Gierosolimitano (The History of the Sacred Religion and Illustrious
Militia of St John of Jerusalem), written between 1594 and 1602.
As Carthaginian and Arabic are both Semitic languages that developed
from the same roots, it is difficult to be sure whether Maltese
words arrived via Carthaginian or Arabic.
The first known literary text in Maltese, II Cantilena,
appeared during the 15th century, the first Maltese dicitonary was
published in 1649.
As well as the Arabs who began taking over Malta in 870 AD, Malta was
occupied by Norman-speaking Normans from 1090, and between 1530 and 1798
by the Knights Hospitaller of St John who spoke French, Spanish, Italian,
Portuguese, Latin and German. In 1800 Malta became a British colony and
the British tried to replace Italian with English as the local language.
As a result, about half of the vocabulary of Maltese comes from Sicilian
and Italian, and a fifth comes from English. Maltese also contains quite a
bit of vocabulary from Norman and French.
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.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)