Dum Pendebat Filius

A sniff in the kortevar, that what you cry for, yeled? A prert up the cull, a prang on the dumpendebat?


Yesterday I mentioned the Maltese language. If you’re interested, here is some more information about Maltese, and a sample (thanks to Versteegh’s The Arabic Language (2001), a very handy and readable reference work).

The Ethnologue reports that there were some 300,000 speakers of Maltese in 1975. The Wikipedia entry says there are 400,000. Maltese is considered a language, rather than a dialect of Arabic; however, the SIL classification is Afro-Asiatic -> Semitic -> Central -> South -> Arabic, listing it alongside 33 other versions of Arabic (including Tajiki Spoken Arabic, Najdi Spoken Arabic, and Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic) and a Mauritanian language called Hassaniyya.

Maltese grammar is similar to that of other Semitic languages (triradicalism, verbal system with prefixes and suffixes, broken plurals), but its lexicon features a lot of Italian loanwords. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Maltese vocabulary is a hybrid of Arabic Semitic roots and Sicilian (rather than Tuscan Italian) words. In this respect it is similar to English (Germanic-Romance mix) and Persian (Indo-Iranian/Arabic mix).

Usually words expressing basic concepts and ideas are of Arabic origin, whereas more ‘learned’ words, having to do with new ideas, objects, government, law, education, art, literature, and general learning, are derived from Sicilian. Thus words like raġel man, mara woman, tifel child, dar house, xemx sun, sajf summer, are of Arabic origin. While words like skola school, gvern government, repubblika republic, re king, natura nature, pulizija police, ċentru center, teatru theater, differenza difference, are derived from Sicilian. It is estimated that 60% of the vocabulary is Semitic, the rest being Romance.

Romance words usually reflect Sicilian and not Tuscan pronunciation. Thus final ‘o’ becomes ‘u’ in Maltese, after Sicilian (e.g. teatru not teatro as in Tuscan). Also, final Italian ‘e’ becomes ‘i’: arti art, fidi faith, lokali local (cf. Italian arte, fede, locale). This effect is also found in Brazilian Portuguese. /ʃ/ (English ’sh’) is written ‘x’ and this produces interesting spellings: ambaxxata /ambaʃːaːta/ is ‘embassy’, xena /ʃeːna/ is ’scene’ (cf. Italian ambasciata, scena).

English loan words are commonplace, including strajk strike, daljali dial, along with union (as in trade union), leave and bonus, which are not transliterated.

According to Versteegh,

Despite efforts in the 1970s and 1980s by the Maltese government to emphasize the Arabic character of Maltese and introduce Arabic in the schools as a compulsory subject, most Maltese do not like to be reminded of the Arabic provenance of their language. They do not wish to be associated with the Arab world, and prefer to call their language a Semitic language. Older theories about the Punic origin of the language are no longer taken seriously, but at the University of Valletta the departments of Arabic and Maltese continue to be strictly separated.

Maltese is written with the Roman alphabet (the only Semitic language to do so), with a few diacritical marks. Here’s a sample of written Maltese:

1.  Is-sitwazzjoni tan-nuqqas ta' ilma qegħda dejjem tiggrava.
1.  The situation of the deficit of water is becoming graver
      all the time.

2.  Issa qegħdin jintlaqtu wkoll postijiet li rari kienu jkunu
     ffaċċjati bi problema ta' nuqqas ta' ilma.
2.  Now they are confronted with it in all places that were rarely
      faced with the problem of a deficit of water.

3.  Qed tikber ukoll il-pressjoni fuq it-Taqsima tal-Bowsers
      tad-Dipartiment ta' l-Ilma.
3.  The problem is becoming greater on the Bowsers Section of the
      Department of Water.

4.  Minkejja li għandhom erba' linji tat-telefon, tlieta minnhom
      diretti, aktar iva milli le ssibhom 'engaged' --
      iċċempel meta ċċempel.
4.  Although they have four telephone lines, three of them direct,
      more often than not you find them 'engaged' --
      it rings when you ring.

There are even two Chick tracts available in Maltese: “Din Kienet Ħajtek!” (”This Was Your Life!”) and “Storja Ta’ Mħabba” (”A Love Story”).

Filed under: Language by dumpendebat at 2005/10/17 - 19:38

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