Voice Over Sydney: The Maltese language is a source of fascination to both visitors and linguists. The Maltese speak a unique language, Malti, the only Semitic language written in Latin characters.
Through the ages, many foreign words, particularly English and Italian, have become part of the language. English, which is also an official language, is widely and fluently spoken and is the language of international business.
What is surprising is that the islanders managed to retain a unique language in face of so many others brought by various powers over the centuries. Maltese was largely only a spoken language until the latter half of the 19th century when its grammatical rules were defined and written down.
Voice Over Sydney: Early Maltese
The earliest written evidence of Maltese is a ballad by Pietro Caxaro, (d.1485). The Knights attempted to script it as well. The survival of the language is perhaps testament to the resilience of the Maltese to remain a distinct people and culture. Malti is thought to derive from the language of the ancient Phoenicians who arrived in Malta in 750 B.C.
The influence of the Arabs who made the Islands home from the 9th to 13th centuries is clear in the Maltese language whose roots are closely akin to Arabic. Place names and numbers are the most obvious examples of Arabic influence on the language.
Voice over Sydney: For non-native speakers trying to learn Malti, the most awkward sound is similar to the Arabic q – an almost silent, but difficult to master, glottal stop. If you are interested in learning Maltese, several language schools on the islands run courses in Maltese for non-native speakers.
The Maltese language has the distinction of being simultaneously one of the oldest languages (ninth century) still alive and one of the newer languages (1929) formalized by an alphabet, a spelling and a grammar.