Maltese / Arabic dialects - mutual intelligibility

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  • alahay

    Senior Member
    US
    Phoenicia
    If you speak any Arabic dialect (or even the Modern Standard Arabic) and Italian you can get away with a decent understanding of the Maltese Language. I'm taking for granted that you speak english already - I mean who doesn't?
     

    suzie_pales

    Member
    arabic-palestine
    helloo...i used to live in malta..and its really related to arbic language cuz in its history arabs used to live in malta be4 maltese!!
     

    suzie_pales

    Member
    arabic-palestine
    hi MB...
    maltese language doesn't include arabic letters but some words u can say about it arabic antique...the letters are similar to eng. ,,they cant sound some arabic letters as ''kh'' they pronounce it as ''h''
     

    suzie_pales

    Member
    arabic-palestine
    here r some words for examle: no......''le'' in arabic la
    how r u?.....''kif int?'' in arabic the same
    fine........ ''tajba'' they prononce it as tayba so the same in arabic
    can i?............''nista'' in arabic ''astatee3''
    you want to speak?.....''trid tetkellem?'' in arabic tureed an tatkalam...........
    of course no all off the words but im saying that theres a great words same to arabic and also they use alot of italian words cuz malta is situated near italy !!
     

    haddad

    New Member
    MSA Arabic, Levantine Arabic. Country: Lebanon
    The Phoenican who came from the arabian peninsula 3500 years ago occupy Malta and the Phoenican language shared similar grammar and words with Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic.

    Many Years later the "Arabs" ( Caanites included) invaded Malta and further adding the Semetic elemants and modern Arabic.

    Maltese is a semetic language with Arabic foundation and about 20% Italian.

    The closest its being understood well is Tunisian.

    Maltese and north african, sicialians,, levatines arabs and some arabians shared same genes.

    So there.
     

    Manuel_M

    Senior Member
    Maltese
    I came across this thread a little late in the day, but I can hopefully shed some light on the nature of Maltese.

    As many posters implied Maltese was once a dialect of Arabic, although it has now evolved into a language in its own right. Modern scholarship discounts the Phoenician origin of Maltese - there is hardly a single word in the language which is traceable to Phoenician. It is now held that present-day Maltese originated from Siculo-Arabic, brought over from Sicily around the year 1050 by an Arab colonial force which repopulated Malta, after it had been vacated by its population almost 200 years previously, following a massive Arab attack on the Byzantine-ruled island. Siculo-Arabic was closely related to Maghreb Arabic.

    As time went by, Arab influence waned and European elements began to make their way into the language, reflecting political developments. Sicilian vocabularly, often adapted to fit Arabic structures, infiltrated at an ever-increasing pace, as contacts with a now Christianised Sicily grew. Sicily and Malta shared a common political fate, and were often colonized by the same powers. Sicilian and Latin became the languages of administration, and influenced the spoken local language as well. This trend towards Romanticisation of the language intensified when the Knights of St. John took over the island in 1530, and started using their lingua franca - Italian (Tuscan) - as the language of administration.

    Even the 2 –year occupation by the French (1798 1800) left its linguistic mark (Bonġugood morning and bonswagood evening) on us. The British period, which lasted 160 years saw the assimilation og thousands of English words into the language (anything from futbol to strajk).

    Contemporary Maltese is thus considered to be basically Arabic , but with about 40% of it vocabulary of Romance (Italian/Sicilian) origin and 20% English.

    If people would like more information they can always pm me.
     

    mansio

    Senior Member
    France/Alsace
    Thank you Manuel, good information. I thought there was a remnant of Phoenician in the language but you showed me it isn't the case.
     

    COF

    Member
    English - English
    Maltese takes a lot of English and Italian lonewords, but if you can speak Arabic, and know English, you'd be able to understand Maltese very well and would learn it very quickly.
     

    suma

    Senior Member
    USA
    English, USA
    for non-Arabs I'd say that your dialect Arabic better be pretty good to attempt to understand Maltese.
    Since the Maltese people are entirely Christian, they have had no attachement to the Arabic of the Quran or classical Arabic.

    So what, in all likelihood began as the "Maltese dialect" over time diverted so much that it became almost incomprehensible with Arabic and so it became a separate language.

    Note that even in among Christian Lebanese, the fact that they lived along side their Muslim neighbors hence the connection to classical Arabic was preserved to a larger extent and so the dialect is kept from diverting too much.
     

    haddad

    New Member
    MSA Arabic, Levantine Arabic. Country: Lebanon
    I agree with COF and Suma and manuel.

    Let me add Arabic are styled on root words. If You studied Modern Standard Arabic and Speak North African ( Tunisian/Libyan) Arabic and speak and understand English you can understand Maltese and even speak it but you have to be aware of heavy Italian words. But then again the Tunisian and Libyan dialect speakers can speak and understand Maltese better than to an old lady in North Yemen!

    Any ways if you love Arabic language and studying MSA and at least one dialect ( Egytian, Levantine or Dareeja) you can still pick up Maltese faster than anyone else.

    A good way for to pick up or experience Maltese for arabic speakers are to visit Gozo , Valetta or anywhere in Malta and experience is wonderful culture and people. They are still quite similar to Christians Arabs in Syria, Lebanon,Jordan and Palestine in my views. I have been there and converse with Maltese in my own Fusion Arabic ;)

    For more facts contact Manuel
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    To add to te excelent description of Manuel.
    Maltese is like colloquial Arabic not like fusHa. All colloquial variants have loan words Maltese having more than other varieties.Tunisians can understand Maltese well as it is almost the same also people from Tunis get Italian tv.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Day to day speech is like spoken Arabic but most learned words are from European languages To me Maltese sounds very much like Arabic.
     

    Ayazid

    Senior Member
    Hello!

    How difficult it is for an Arabic speaking person to understand spoken or written Maltese (give that he/she know its orthographic rules)? And vice-versa, how difficult it is for a Maltese person to understand Arabic (in any form)?
     

    djara

    Senior Member
    Tunisia Arabic
    When I visited Malta, I was able to read the newspapers and converse with the older generation of Maltese people, mainly using my native Tunisian Arabic darija. Like most Tunisians of my generation I understand some Italian, which obviously helps. I must say that some time is needed to adapt to the "music" of the language and the different pronunciation of some letters.
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    For all practical purposes Maltese is a dialect of Arabic. It is closest to Tunisian Arabic. Malta has attended Arabic league meetings as an observer and identifies with Arabic when it is beneficial and does not when it is not.
     

    COF

    Member
    English - English
    I have wanted to learn Maltese for a while, but considering it's relative insignificance as a language, a few people have told me that it would be more worth my while studying Arabic to start with, and then perfecting Maltese later, as one would with any dialect of Arabic. Although officially, Maltese is not a dialect of Arabic, many people claim that Maltese is as Arabic as Morrocan or Tunisian is.

    Would speaking MSA in Malta get you anywhere? If you were to address someone in MSA, would they understand roughly what you were saying through their Maltese, or would they be hearing nothing but a foreign language to their ears?

    Would studying MSA in any way help me in learning Maltese, or would it be pointless if my primary intention is speaking Maltese?

    Also, if MSA is too distant from Maltese, would I have any more luck focusing on the colloquial dialects of North Africa? As far as I'm aware, a resonably comprehensive course is available in Moroccan Arabic, and there is certainly a lot of Egyptian Arabic material, although, Egyptian is more Middle Eastern than North African I believe.

    Thanks
     

    Qittat Ulthar

    Senior Member
    Dutch (Netherlands)
    Maltese is about a third Arabic, a third Italian and a third English and French. Arabic would certainly help you in understanding Maltese, but I don't think it would get you far. I have never been to Malta so have never tried to get myself understood with Arabic, but looking at the language in papers etc. it seems quite different.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    Mutually intelligible with North African dialects (especially Tunisian)? Yes, at least to a degree. But with MSA? I doubt it. But then again, people rarely learn MSA in isolation, so if you learn MSA and simultaneously get exposed to dialects like Egyptian, then you could reach a point where it would help you understand Maltese (at least in writing).
     

    Talib

    Senior Member
    English
    Maltese? I would say my knowledge of English would come more in handy there, really, although I do notice a few Arabic words in it. It's not very much like MSA though, I can tell you.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Maltese? I would say my knowledge of English would come more in handy there, really, although I do notice a few Arabic words in it. It's not very much like MSA though, I can tell you.
    A few:D? Maltese can be spoken in such a way that almost its entire vocabulary is Arabic. Anyway, there are numerous threads on this topic; I'll add some links in a bit.
     

    Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    I have a friend who is Tunisian but also lived for some time in Italy and speaks Italian quite fluently, and he says he understands Maltese almost perfectly.

    So perhaps learn Tunisian and Italian... or alternatively, just learn Maltese :)

    I'm sure there's some resources available for it.

    Talib,

    I would say my knowledge of English would come more in handy there
    I understand quite a few words from Maltese, and none of them are English. It is very much like Arabic, obviously it's been altered quite a lot, and since it's had no contact/standardisation with Fus7a, it's very colloquial.
     

    A.F.Ferri

    Member
    English - British
    Maltese is a Semetic language, meaning it is historically derived from the same linguistic group as Arabic. Its closest historical relation is with Sicilian Arabic: a language that existed during 10th century when Sicily, and Malta, were under Islamic, Arab, rule. Large parts of the modern Maltese vocabulary are derived from Italian and English. The former as Malta has largely been within the Italian cultural sphere and the latter because Malta was, from 1814 to 1964, a British territory. Maltese wouldn't be considered Arabic though the two are closely related.
     

    barkley04

    Senior Member
    arabic tunisia
    As far as the maltese language is concerned, i found it very close to the tunisian language; both languages have got a lot in common like prepositions, articles ............. and even at the sentence level, maltese people use the same ellipses we use in the tunisian language to avoid repetition.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Maltese is a Semetic language, meaning it is historically derived from the same linguistic group as Arabic.
    Maltese is historically derived from Arabic is a more accurate way to say this. Maltese was originally a dialect of Sicilian Arabic. The connections that have been attempted between it and ancient Punic are akin to those proponents of Lebanese Arabic being truly Aramaic or Phoenician. These claims are not supported by more than circumstantial evidence. So yes it is Semitic, but to say "it is historically derived from the same linguistic group as Arabic" makes it sound like it is a cousin of Arabic and not a daughter.

    Maltese wouldn't be considered Arabic though the two are closely related.
    Maltese is more or less within the range of variation exhibited by Arabic dialects, so it in theory could be considered a dialect of Arabic. However, due to sociocultural reasons, it is considered a language in its own right. It is the only dialect of Arabic to have been standardized and attained separate language status.

    As far as the maltese language is concerned, i found it very close to the tunisian language; both languages have got a lot in common like prepositions, articles ............. and even at the sentence level, maltese people use the same ellipses we use in the tunisian language to avoid repetition.
    Yes, Tunisian Arabic is alleged to be the closest living dialect of Arabic to the Maltese language. That said there are innovations in Maltese. In pronunciation they have lost the sounds ع, غ, ه, ص,ض,ط,ظ and now pronounce ق as ء, although this feature is shared by dialects in the Levant and Egypt. Actually, I believe that the pronunciation of ق as ء is a new feature (i.e., the last hundred years or so), and historical descriptions of Maltese speech from previous centuries still have it pronounced as ق.

    Since the title of this thread has been change to "Similarities Between Maltese and Arabic", I suppose it's a good place to note some, well, similarities.

    1. إمالة: Maltese exhibits al-ʔimāla to an extreme degree, where ــا is pronounce [īə] a bit like the English "ea" in "fear". Imāla is blocked in certain situations by the presence of ع or ح (għ or ħ in their orthography) or what were historicaly ط ص ض ظ: giddieb كذّاب but tallab طلّاب (meaning "beggar").

    2. الإضافة exists however there is a preference for a structure with ta' which functions like تبع،متاع،بتاع in Arabic dialects: mart l-avukat the lawyer's wife vs. il-mara ta' l-avukat.

    3. اسم التصغير: fqayyar فقيّر from fqīr فقير. Fqayyar functions a bit like مسكين. Like Egyptian Arabic, there are some words that are actually تصغير but are more common than the regular forms (I'm thinking of Egyptian قريّب): For example, dgħayyef (ضعيّف) is the word for "thin/weak" rather than the "normal" form ضعيف dgħīf.

    4. اسم التفضيل Interestingly, they have made a word for "better" (أحسن) from the root خير as أخير pronounced أحْــيَــر aħjar. Words of European origin do not get اسم تفضيل but are made into the comparative or superlative by using aktar or iżyed (aktar edukat: more educated).
    5. Most of the Arabic جموع التكسير forms can be found in Maltese, and they also have many European words fit to broken plural patterns. bint/bniet بنت/بنات, dar/djar دار/ديار but also serp/sriep (snake(s)).

    6. Negation is made by m(a)...š ما .....ش common to many Arabic dialects. The personal pronouns are also negated this way.

    7. The relative pronoun الذي/التي/الذين is illi or just li, which is nearly universal in Arabic dialects.

    8. European verbs are usually fit to the pattern فعلل where the last consonant is usual ى: huwa kanta/ikanta (he sang/sings), huwa pinġa/ipinġi (he painted/paints). There is an interesting interplay between Semitic and Romance grammar here. If the original verb was of infinitives of type -are in Italian, the form is fagħla, (j)ifagħla فعلى/يفعلى. If the original verb was of infinitives of type -ire/ere in Italian, the form is fagħla, (j)ifagħli فعلى يفعلي.

    9. Like North African dialects, the first person in verbs has the prefix n-, and the plural has n-....-u/w. For example: nikteb I write, niktbu We write, نكتب/نكتبو.

    10. Future tense: The particle sa is used to indicate near future: meta sa jiġi Malta ħuk When shall your brother come to Malta? I've only known Fus7a to have this sa- particle. The other particles like ħa or għad are known in Arabic dialects. There is also the particle ser which is a shortened form of sejjer ساير.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    As Clevermizo has said, saying that Maltese is "related to" Arabic understates the case. Maltese is descended from Arabic. It is a dialect of Arabic that later developed into an independent language.
     

    barkley04

    Senior Member
    arabic tunisia
    Il Malti is really quite close to the tunisian arabic. That's a fact.
    I listened to a maltese radio today and managed to understand some words and that was the first time ever that i could listen to Malti.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Clevermizo, you don't happen to know of any sites or clips online where maltese can be heard?
    Youtube links are not allowed to be posted here on the forum, but if you search there a bit, there are lots of Maltese مسلسلات, just look for drama maltija. Also if you search on Google you can find Internet radio stations and similar things.
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    4. اسم التفضيل Interestingly, they have made a word for "better" (أحسن) from the root خير as أخير pronounced أحْــيَــر aħjar. Words of European origin do not get اسم تفضيل but are made into the comparative or superlative by using aktar or iżyed (aktar edukat: more educated).
    Actually, أخير is apparently the original اسم التفضيل in Arabic (thus it conformed to the standard اسم التفضيل pattern), but the hamza was eventually lost due to frequency of use, at least according to the Arab grammarian Antoine Dahdah. The same goes for شر. He says:

    خير وشر أصلهما أَخْيَرُ وأَشْرُّ. فقد سقطت همزتاهما لكثرة الاستعمال.ا\

    So, while it could
    be that أخير from خير was an innovation originating within Maltese, it also could be that the hamza had not yet been (completely) dropped from the Arabic أخير when Maltese broke off as a separate language.of
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish

    So, while it could
    be that أخير from خير was an innovation originating within Maltese, it also could be that the hamza had not yet been (completely) dropped from the Arabic أخير when Maltese broke off as a separate language.of
    Does your understanding of the original أخير make sense with the fact that the Arabs left Sicily and Malta in the 11th century after being conquered by the Normans? The Emirate of Sicily (إمارة صقلية) (which included Malta) began in 965 and that's when Arabic was adopted as the language of the islands. Wouldn't the form have been خير already by then?
     

    Rochedileo

    New Member
    ARABIC
    I do speak Maghreb Dialect because of my origines and I consider maltese as a part of Maghreb dialects with some few Italian and English Words!Gramatically,structurelly and in mater of vacabular Maltese is a maghrebian Dialect spoken with a foreigner accent!:warn:
     

    Silky_Sword

    Senior Member
    Palestinian Arabic
    Maltese is a North African branch of Arabic, we're told, however I'v noticed that at least half the time the words are pronounced the Lebanese Beiruti way. The 'a' sound is turned into 'ay' so 'baab' (door) becomes pronounced like the word 'babe' :) 'tuffah' (apples) becoems 'teffaih', EXACTLY like Lebanese people speak!!! This reinforces the 'Phoenician' Semitic origin of their language, or the skeleton of it.

    I've, however, noticed (from what I remember, upon trying to study the language myself -before giving that up, as it just seemed like a corrupted Arabic / colloquial Arabic to me!) that their word for 'sun' is 'xamex' or was it 'xamxa'? Either way, the 'x' is the 'sh' sound and it's repeated twice, just like in ancient Semitic languages like Assyians from what I remember. Modern fus7a (fusHa) Arabic is the most refined and pleasantly sounding of all Semitic languageas know and still alive, like Assyrian, Hebrew or Aramaic. The second 'sh' in the word for 'sun' becomes 's' only in Arabic, making the word much more pleasant to hear :) It has also less 'kh' sound compared to Assyrian and Hebrew.

    The late amazing Levantine writer the Prince Shakib Arslan visited the island almost a century ago and wrote about its Arabic in one of his books which I have. He also visited parts of Europe that weren't conventionally known to have any Arab or Arabic influence, and he tried to trace that influence in those countries. It also included Geneva, the capital city of Switzerland, the word itself he traced its Arabic origin, and he did that with many other in his book!

    So while the Maltese have also city-names that follow the 'endearing' Lebanese way of giving things names (like Kammounah (Comino now?), Felflah), they say 'triq' like in Tunisian Arabic, or "ihna Nsara" (We are Christians) also the Tunisian way of making the first letter 'silent' (without a vowel after it), like also Felfla (not Felfelah) -"Nsara" in standarad Arabic is Nasara.

    So while the Lebenese (Phoenician, ancient Semitic) origin is evident, the Tunisian (North African Arabic) influence is also very evident (another example: Mdina, not Madina).

    It was sad to read, while I was familiarizing myself with the island and its language, to read bigot, anti-Islamic remarks by some Maltese politicians, due to what they perceived as the link to Islam their language's similarity to Arabic brings to the island and its people!
     

    إسكندراني

    Senior Member
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    at least half the time the words are pronounced the Lebanese Beiruti way. The 'a' sound is turned into 'ay' so 'baab' (door) becomes pronounced like the word 'babe' :) 'tuffah' (apples) becoems 'teffaih', EXACTLY like Lebanese people speak!!! This reinforces the 'Phoenician' Semitic origin of their language, or the skeleton of it.

    I've, however, noticed (from what I remember, upon trying to study the language myself -before giving that up, as it just seemed like a corrupted Arabic / colloquial Arabic to me!) that their word for 'sun' is 'xamex' or was it 'xamxa'? Either way, the 'x' is the 'sh' sound and it's repeated twice, just like in ancient Semitic languages like Assyians from what I remember.
    I think all of this is true for Tunisian, so there might be no need to jump to Beirut.
     

    Silky_Sword

    Senior Member
    Palestinian Arabic
    I think all of this is true for Tunisian, so there might be no need to jump to Beirut.
    I don't think the 'alef' in Tunis is مائلة like in Lebanese, bro, is it?

    البيب and تفيحة is a well-known Lebanese way. But if the Tunisians do speak like that, then that only confirms the theory about the Phoenician origin of Malta, as the Tunisians themselves had on their coasts Phoenicians colonies (Carthage, an example). So that way of speaking must be the Phoenician way that originated on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean (Lebanon to be exact).

    Tunisians noticiably look different from other North Africans, due to the Phoenician 'stock' I'd also say.
     

    Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    Silky_Sword said:
    Maltese is a North African branch of Arabic, we're told, however I'v noticed that at least half the time the words are pronounced the Lebanese Beiruti way.
    There are some features of Maltese which do appear to resemble Eastern dialects more (not necessarily Beiruti Lebanese though). I think the Eastern dialects are a lot more conservative than the Western dialects, and since Maltese was separated from the Arabic world about 1000 years ago, it therefore still retains some of those conservative features the other Western dialects lost.

    Silky_Sword said:
    that their word for 'sun' is 'xamex' or was it 'xamxa'? Either way, the 'x' is the 'sh' sound and it's repeated twice, just like in ancient Semitic languages like Assyians from what I remember.
    I've heard of some Arabic speakers doing this, but more based on [lower] social status, or poorer education, than on regional variation. Akkadian merged sin & shin, hence the reason the word for sun is shamshu in Akkadian. Hebrew & Aramaic did it as well for this word, but the Arabian languages did not. Not just Arabic, but also the Sayhadic (Ancient South Arabian) languages kept it as shin-meem-sin. So it's not a distinction between ancient and modern Semitic languages.

    Silky_Sword said:
    The second 'sh' in the word for 'sun' becomes 's' only in Arabic
    It didn't become s in Arabic, it remained s in Arabic (as it was in proto-Semitic), it changed in the other languages.

    Silky_Sword said:
    He also visited parts of Europe that weren't conventionally known to have any Arab or Arabic influence, and he tried to trace that influence in those countries. It also included Geneva, the capital city of Switzerland, the word itself he traced its Arabic origin, and he did that with many other in his book!
    Actually Switzerland is known to have been settled by a large group of Arabs in the 10th. century. There is a book about this called Out of Arabia.

    Silky_Sword said:
    So while the Lebenese (Phoenician, ancient Semitic) origin is evident
    I don't see why it's Lebanese specifically, it's more a generic Eastern Colloquial tendancy, and I think Phoenician influence is minimal. By the time Arabic arrived, Malta had been a Roman island for many centuries, and probably had very little Phoenician influence left.
     

    Ustaath

    Senior Member
    Arabic - levantine
    ; languages and their origins will remain debatable since they are living entities and change and morph in unexpected ways, and though linguists might not want to hear this, in unpredictable ways ...
    simplistically put, Maltese has Arabic syntax with a large base of non-semitic loan words, just like English has a Germanic syntax with a large base of non-Germanic loan words . but since English has evolved much longer, it has diverted away from it's Germanic roots more significantly and in a different direction than -for example- it's closest Germanic relative: Frisian, whereas Malta's relative isolation helped conserve a larger Arabic structure.
    As much as I would like to as a Lebanese, I really can't support the archaic theory that Maltese has any Phoenician influence in it's language, though we do have a common gene stock.
    However genetics of language differs form human genetics :0
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Moderator's Note:

    This thread is for the discussion of similarities between Maltese and Arabic. To discuss other topics (relationships between other dialects of Arabic and فصحى , Ancient Egyptian language, etc.) please post to related threads or start new threads where appropriate and in the appropriate forum (if not here, then Other Languages or Etymology & History of Languages).

    Staying on-topic helps keep our corner of WR organized and easily searchable by users here.

    Thank you for your understanding,

    clevermizo
    Moderator

     
    Last edited:

    Tracer

    Senior Member
    American English
    simplistically put, Maltese has Arabic syntax with a large base of non-semitic loan words

    I took someone's advice and went to YouTube to listen to a drama show in spoken Maltese. Although I could catch the Arabic and Italian words, the fact is I had no idea what they were really saying, except in the vaguest way.

    I heard, for example, "shandak?" which in the context obviously was Arabic "weish 3andak?" {what's the matter with you?}. But the reply was totally lost to me.

    I also went to a drama show in Moroccan and Tunisian.

    Bottom line: Moroccan and Tunisian are definitely "Arabic": Maltese is definitely not.

    I've run into a similar situation with Persian and Catalan. Although I can clearly hear and understand the many Arabic words in Persian, in the end, I have no idea what the speaker is really saying. Ditto with Catalan....supposedly, if you're a native Spanish speaker, you can understand spoken Catalan. Uhhh, no, you can't.

    Upon first hearing the Maltese drama show, it sounded to me like an Italian dialect. The stress, emphasis and lilt of Maltese is very close to spoken Italian.......and nowhere near to Arabic in this respect. Also, it was the Italian words that seemed to predominate.

    As Ustaadh mentioned above: Maltese has Arabic syntax with a large base of non-semitic loan words. Exactly. Problem is, a language is understood not by its syntax but by its vocabulary.

    Here's a sample of written Maltese which I've previously used in this Forum (from wikipedia). The words in RED are from Latin, the word in BLACK show the Arabic syntax:

    "L-Unjoni hija mibnija fuq il-valuri ta' rispett għad-dinjità tal-bniedem, ta' libertà, ta' demokrazija, ta' ugwaljanza, ta' l-istat tad-dritt u tar-rispett għad-drittijiet tal-bniedem, inklużi d-drittijiet ta' persuni li jagħmlu parti minn minoranzi.".....

    It's obvious which predominates.

    2nd Bottom Line: Maltese may technically be classified as a Semitic langauge with ultimate syntactic roots in Arabic and with a large number of Italian words.

    But that doesn't mean that if you're a native Arabic or Italian speaker, you can understand it, even if you know both Italian and Arabic fluently. Anybody who says differently, well.......where's that salt shaker?

    Maltese is now a separate independent language which must be learned as any other new language must be. Knowing Arabic or Italian will definitely help, but if you want to attain any useful proficiency level in it, you got to "hit the books."
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    I took someone's advice and went to YouTube to listen to a drama show in spoken Maltese. Although I could catch the Arabic and Italian words, the fact is I had no idea what they were really saying, except in the vaguest way.
    The truth is though, that I could say the same about Tunisian Arabic or any Arabic dialect with which I'm unfamiliar. But I tend to agree with you.

    Anecdotally, when I started learning Maltese, I found it very easy once I learned the orthography. I found the written Maltese completely intelligible to me as I have both a strong basis in colloquial Arabic and Romance languages. But it's definitely the combination of both - so I agree that we can't say just with Arabic alone can you find it intelligible. There are grammatical features of Maltese that are Romance in origin, even though using Arabic words within an otherwise Romance syntax! Without the marriage of the two, I think one would be lost.

    Despite this intelligibility in writing, I did find the spoken language difficult to understand and still do to some extent. I try to watch dramas or other shows online when I can but I focus primarily on Arabic and I have not devoted myself fully to Maltese. The pace of the speech and the rhythm combining both the Arabic and Romance elements makes it quite unique to me but also difficult to understand in fluid speech.

    Upon first hearing the Maltese drama show, it sounded to me like an Italian dialect. The stress, emphasis and lilt of Maltese is very close to spoken Italian.......and nowhere near to Arabic in this respect. Also, it was the Italian words that seemed to predominate.
    I hear a mixture of both, personally. There are some things that seem "So Arabic!" to me and some things that seem "So Italian!"

    As Ustaadh mentioned above: Maltese has Arabic syntax with a large base of non-semitic loan words. Exactly. Problem is, a language is understood not by its syntax but by its vocabulary.
    Actually, I disagree with this. Maltese has a combination of Arabic and Romance syntax, and a combination of both Arabic and non-Arabic vocabulary. It's truly a mixture - you can't separate the two things!

    For example consider how the verb "to download" was imported into Maltese.

    This verb is iddawnlodja.

    So the base of the verb is the English word download pronounced [daunlo:d] as in English and spelled dawnlod in Maltese orthography.

    The initial d is doubledand the initial i is epenthetic to facilitate pronunciation. The initial doubling of the consonant in this way comes from southern Italian dialects. You even find it as far away as Neapolitan.

    Finally, the final suffix -ja is not a typical way to make verbs in Arabic, but it is suffixing a final alif maqsuura ـى. You find this then in the conjugation:

    jiena ddawnlodjajt (I downloaded, etc.).

    In a single word, an English loan has been modified morphologically in both Arabic and Italian ways. And that's grammar alone.

    Even if we only consider Arabic words, we see Italian influences in grammar. For example, a common way to form a passive voice is to use the verb gie (to come, جاء) along with the passive participle of the verb.

    Hija giet miktuba - it (fem.) was written

    All of these words are Arabic words. The structure comes from the Italian passive voice structure using the verb venire although it applies to Arabic words as well here.

    By the way, you can also say hija nkitbet - it was written which I think is less colloquial.

    Furthermore, you find structures like
    Here's a sample of written Maltese which I've previously used in this Forum (from wikipedia). The words in RED are from Latin, the word in BLACK show the Arabic syntax:

    "L-Unjoni hija mibnija fuq il-valuri ta' rispett għad-dinjità tal-bniedem, ta' libertà, ta' demokrazija, ta' ugwaljanza, ta' l-istat tad-dritt u tar-rispett għad-drittijiet tal-bniedem, inklużi d-drittijiet ta' persuni li jagħmlu parti minn minoranzi.".....

    It's obvious which predominates.
    That's only because you chose that one text. If we look at the Maltese Bible:

    (Genesis 1:1 - 1:6)

    Fil-bidu Alla ħalaq is-sema u l-art:(Gen:1:2) u kienet l-art tahwid u baħħ; u d-dlam kien fuq wicc l-abbissi u fuq wicc l-ibħra kien jittajjar l-ispirtu ta' Alla.(Gen:1:3) U qal Alla: ̋Ha jkun id-dawl.̏ U d-dawl sar.(Gen:1:4) U ra Alla d-dawl li kien tajjeb. U Alla fired id-dawl mid-dlam.(Gen:1:5) U d-dawl Alla semmieh jum, u d-dlam sejjahlu lejl. U dalam u sebah - L-ewwel jum.(Gen:1:6)

    In red, I have shown the Romance-derived vocabulary. Everything else is Arabic. There are only two. By the way, there was plenty of Italian influence in Maltese by the time the translation of the Bible was made into it.

    I can even directly re-write it in Arabic characters :)

    في البدو الله خلق السما والأرط (أرض) وكانت الأرط تهويد وبحّ والضلام (ظلام) كان فوق وتش (وجه) الأبسّي (الوهدة) وفوق وجه الأبحرة كان يتطيّر الإسبيرتو (الروح) تاالله (تاع الله) . وقال الله: ها يكون الضول (الضوء) والضول صار. ورا الله اللي (إنه) كان طيب. والله فرد الضول مالضلام والضول سماه يوم والضلام صيّحله ليل. وضلم وصبح -الأول يوم.



    By the way, although all those words except two are Arabic, can you find the Romance syntax? :) It, by the way, is using the relative pronoun li (from illi which like other dialects is the colloquial form of الذي), however using it not as a relative pronoun, but as a conjunction (like que in Romance languages which can function as both).

    (Interesting I thought that they use the verb صيّح to "call" سمّى whereas in Arabic it's only to shout or scream :) .

    It's important to note that a hallmark of Church Maltese is using mostly Arabic words. However it demonstrates that in Maltese you can often write a sentence which is mostly Arabic, or you can write one which is mostly Romance. I could re-write that paragraph from Genesis using many more Romance words if I wanted. That stylistic flexibility is very interesting in this language, and choosing from what stock you populate your sentences postures your utterance in different ways. Similarly in many dialects of Arabic, inserting more English words or French has a certain social effect, in Maltese choosing between Arabic and Romance synonyms can be conscious and have a similar effect on interlocutors. Most of the core influence in Maltese is from southern Italian dialects. However, in a previous generation, using more standard Italian vocabulary was very "cool" and in vogue. Nowadays the same is true of English. But again, you could say the same sentences using mostly Arabic words if you wanted it. It depends on context and how "modern" you want to seem. It's very very similar to the way English is used by the youth in Jordan or the way that French and English are used in Lebanon. The difference being that these are readily admitted (although sometimes not without a fight :) ) into the written language which is more flexible since it's all عامي. In Lebanon or Jordan you couldn't write a verb like شو بدك تدونلود ? :D because there is still Fuṣħa which predominates as the written language.

    2nd Bottom Line: Maltese may technically be classified as a Semitic langauge with ultimate syntactic roots in Arabic and with a large number of Italian words.

    But that doesn't mean that if you're a native Arabic or Italian speaker, you can understand it, even if you know both Italian and Arabic fluently. Anybody who says differently, well.......where's that salt shaker?
    Actually in my opinion, if you know a colloquial dialect of Arabic fluently and fluent Italian and maybe a southern Italian dialect fluently, you will find written Maltese completely understandable, and you will be able to get used to spoken Maltese with time, especially if spoken slowly.

    I'm not implying you shouldn't hit the books, by the way. :D

    However, if you don't have a good background in colloquial Arabic and Romance languages, learning Maltese will be very difficult. The reason for this is that the language was only standardized in the early 20th century. Because of this, many grammatical rules are not fully explained by the existing pedagogical works, of which there are very few. For example, Maltese doesn't mark stress or vowel length in words, and books don't explain it other than sometimes saying "this vowel is long sometimes, sometimes it's not, etc.", "sometimes this is stressed, sometimes it's not."! If I didn't know colloquial Arabic patterns and Romance patterns, I wouldn't know how to pronounce anything I read!
     
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