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Malta and Languages

Every country has its linguistic quirks, and even though there are less than a million souls living on the Maltese Islands, my country is certainly not an exception! Even though the population is relatively small, Malta is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the entire European Union.

Maltese children develop their bilingual skills in both Maltese and English from a very early age (Photo credit: Maltainsideout)

I strongly suggest everyone to have a look at the European Commission Eurobarometer 2006 survey on “Europeans and their languages”, which gives a very in-depth review of where we stand next to other EU countries

Malta is a bilingual country where both Maltese and English are official languages, and the population has a 97% fluency in Maltese and 88% fluency in English – the latter being the second highest fluency for all EU countries! Furthermore, 66% of Maltese are fluent in Italian, and a further 17% are fluent in French.

The most commonly spoken foreign languages in Malta (EC, 2006; Photo credit: Aaker)

Apart from this fact, the Eurobarometer survey also indicated that 98% of Maltese citizens (highest in all of the EU) feel that they have enough choices when in come to the selection of languages in schools. In fact, students can sit for the following languages as part of their SEC examinations (GCSE level):

Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Maltese, Russian and Spanish

What is a Maltism?

This brings me to the infamous Maltism. The majority of Maltese people speak both English and Maltese fluently, often using these languages interchangeably in everyday conversations. There is also a form of ‘social divide’ attributed to what type of language you speak, with primarily English speakers being labelled as ‘Tal-Pepe’ (preppy or posh), and primarily Maltese speakers being labelled as ‘Hamalli’ (chavs). I find these labels quite dull and dated, especially since we should be celebrating our linguistic capabilities when compared to our European peers.

While I have no quarrels with how a person chooses to express themselves, I do enjoy seeing how an English speaking Maltese person attempts to translate certain Maltese sayings into English form…

THIS is where a Maltism is born – when you get a Maltese expression or saying and attempt to translate it into English, often with a disastrous and hilarious outcome.

So for those wondering, the definition of a Maltism is a ‘grammatically incorrect translation of a Maltese expression into English, applicable for the singular contextual use amongst Maltese people’

I have to confess that I am also guilty of using such Maltisms, which are quite funny when used in Malta since they contain a certain context…but I have since discovered that you sound like an utter idiot when you attempt to use them in the UK or other English speaking countries!

And so, I have decided to share some of these Maltisms for the amusement of my fellow readers. I also hope that any foreigners who have ended up in a conversation with a group of English speaking Maltese people would also benefit from these!

Click Here for a list of recent Maltisms!

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  5. Martin Wardener

    Glad to see someone that truly understands the meaning of the word “maltism” – a term that I myself coined back in 2008, with the following Facebook post:

    —–

    Maltisms – a short encyclopedia of Maltenglish idioms
    November 5, 2008 at 10:02 am

    “Let’s pass from here” – Let’s go this way
    “I’m falling backwards” – I’m falling behind
    “Even me” – Me too; same here
    “I have a birthday party tonight” * – I am going to a birthday party tonight
    “I don’t want to stay carrying your bag all day” – I don’t want to keep carrying your bag all day
    “I had been there yesteday” – I was there yesterday
    “It was nice to know you last week” – It was nice meeting you last week
    “I like it, this” – I like this
    “There is my wallet in my trousers over there” – My wallet is in my trousers over there
    “I much prefer this one” – I really prefer this one
    “You came good in this picture” ** – This is a good picture of you
    “Alright?” – How are you?
    “Tell me” – How may I help you?
    “I like it, but” – I like it (though)
    “For sure” – I agree; indeed
    “You don’t find them to buy” – It’s not easy to find them in stores
    “Come sit near me” – Come sit next to me

    To be updated..

    Also, in the phonetics department, remember to pronounce words ending in “le” as “el”, e.g. “apple” as “appel”, “people” as peopel” etc. While you’re at it, pronounce “th” in the beginning of words as “t”, e.g. “thought” as “tought”, “three” as “tree” etc. And in general, when applying stress to composite words like “dishwasher”, you’d want to move the stress from the first part to the second part, e.g. pronounce “DISHwasher” as “dishWASHER” or “TOILET paper” as “toilet PAPER” etc.

    * I kept saying “oh – well, happy birthday, then!” to that a few times in the beginning (I wasn’t proficient enough to say “hepi berday” back then)..

    —–

    This post garnered enough comments with further suggestions from friends to prompt me to move it all into a facebook group. For a long time it had no more than 3-400 members (and little activity, since most of the supply of true maltisms had been exhausted), until one day a day a couple of years ago.. it exploded to 12,000+ members over the course of a week. With that came a lot of impurity. The true meaning of the word, as I intended it (yes, the word did not exist before that time), was lost on many and the group was filled with all sort of linguistic quirks related to Malta (which I then dubbed maltistics, in an attempt to have a distinct label in order to separate it from maltisms). Now the group has gradually morphed into a textual version of “onlyinmalta.com” and largely forgotten about its roots.

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