Maltese / Arabic dialects - mutual intelligibility

  • Ihsiin

    Senior Member
    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.
    I have a (very) little knowledge of Italian, but I'm only aware of forming the passive with essere (era scritto) and with a reflexive pronoun (si è scritto). Could you provide some examples of the passive with venire?

    I think one could compare Maltese to English. English is fundamentally a Germanic language with a heavy romance influence via French, in terms of vocabulary mainly, but also in terms of syntax. If you exposed an English speaker (who spoke no other language whatsoever) to various foreign languages, the language he would recognise most words from is French. However, if he sat down and analysed a passage of, taking any Germanic language almost at random, Swedish, say, he'll uncover a greater common "feeling" of the language (and I'm not just talking syntactically).
    Similarly, Maltese shares an Arabic "feeling", a sense of common constructions and a common idea of how language works.

    I can see, since fus7a has no place in Malta, and perhaps there is a desire within Malta to appear more similar to Europe, that there is a case for calling it a distinct language from Arabic (and the Arabic dialects). I, however, don't think the yapping of politicians are anything to be taken account of, and looking at the language as a language and nothing more, it is fundamentally Arabic, despite the level of foreign influence.


    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    I have a (very) little knowledge of Italian, but I'm only aware of forming the passive with essere (era scritto) and with a reflexive pronoun (si è scritto). Could you provide some examples of the passive with venire?
    I'm not an Italian speaker, but there's a whole thread about it here on WR. :) (And I'm sure if you search, there are bound to be some others, like this one I just found)

    I, however, don't think the yapping of politicians are anything to be taken account of, and looking at the language as a language and nothing more, it is fundamentally Arabic, despite the level of foreign influence.
    Who are these yapping politicians? :) I think Maltese does warrant itself being called a distinct language. It's distinct in that the informal mixing of Romance and Arabic or Arabic and non-Arabic which has taken place in other dialects of Arabic, has actually been standardized in Maltese. Once so established, it definitely sets itself apart from the Arabic-speaking world. The Maltese at some times have desired to purge themselves of European influence (the early attempts at standardization in the 18th-19th centuries for example by Mikiel Anton Vassalli) as well as at other times to purge themselves of an Arabic identity.

    Like I said in my lengthy post, Maltese is very mixed. It is not just Arabic grammar with non-Arabic vocabulary. There are elements of non-Arabic grammatical influence on Arabic vocabulary and vice versa. This is quite different from what we see in most Arabic dialects where the non-Arabic influence seems entirely superficial at the level of lexicon and doesn't penetrate the core of the language.

    Ultimately, the decision about language is a sensitive one and one must ask the native speaker himself. If he does not consider himself to be speaking Arabic, then we must respect that. :D Because even if we think that objectively he may really be speaking Arabic, the very fact that he chooses to say he doesn't, in some ways means that he isn't. This conscious or non-conscious decision shapes the way language is used in my opinion. The overwhelming majority of Maltese say "We speak Maltese" and they don't say "We speak Arabic." That's quite enough for me. In the community of linguistic science, no one seriously denies however that Maltese falls under the umbrella of a continuum of spoken Arabic, except for fringe theories about it being Punic or something else (perhaps brought by space aliens :) ) that have arisen over the years.
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    Senior Member
    Thanks for those links. I learn something new everyday.

    The standardisation is precisely what I was getting at when I talked about the "yapping of politicians". To me, it doesn't make a difference whether a language is standardised or not. What matters to me is that the language is spoken. Whereas in the bulk of the Arabic world, no spoken language is the official standard language, Malta has made the colloquial vernacular official. But to me, that's just politics. It doesn't really change anything we call something "standard" or "not standard".

    I appreciate that Maltese has an extensive influence from non-Arabic sources, greater than most (if not all) (other) Arabic dialects. I don't think the use of some non-Arabic grammar is unique to Maltese. In Iraqi, for example, there is the word "khosh" (from Persian, I believe), meaning "good". Unlike other adjectives, khosh always comes before the noun it qualifies, and is never inflected for gender or number. I don't know if this reflects Persian grammar (I have virtually no knowledge about Persian), but it's certainly out of line with normal, Arabic grammar. Of course, such examples aren't as abundant in Iraqi (and other Arabic dialects) as they are in Maltese, but that's not to say they don't exist.

    And I think this is where we come to the crux of the matter. You think that how the native thinks of his language matters; I don't. I think the language continues to exist in the same form whether any individual speaker considers it to be this kind of a language, or that kind of a language. I think on this issue, we're just going to have to agree to disagree.

    Incidentally, I'm of the opinion that Arabic is very much a language family, and all the modern "dialects" of Arabic are languages in their own right.
    Well, to a certain degree. The exact nuances as to what distinguished a dialect from a language seem rather arbitrary to me, and that particular debate is not one I'd like to participate in.


    Senior Member
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    Listening to a random tv clip on youtube in maltese, (try searching programm tan-nies), it's a lot like an arab who's lived his whole life in Europe; like a super-extreme version of Egyptians who lived their whole life in the UK and when speaking amongst themselves would say stuff like (ye2oopen eldoor) in the middle of a long discussion because the arabic words didnt come to mind :D.
    The syntax & feel is totally like tunisian Arabic.
    In fact, even though I was aware it was very 'similar' to Arabic, I was shocked how Arabic it was when I just listened. It's so much like a خواجة speaking fluently, but adding lots of Italian and occasional English words. It could certainly 'be Arabic' if it avoided using so many loanwords for technical concepts, and 'chose to be'!


    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.
    If you listen to Libyan being spoken, the accent, the stress pattern and vowel sounds are, to my ears, at times quiet similar sounding to Italian. Since Arabic dialects sound very different depending on the region I don't think the sound of Maltese makes it any less Arabic, when and if in fact Arabic words are used.


    Senior Member
    Arabic - levantine
    Political and ideological prejudices ( and in many cases religious) do influence where we draw a line between dialects and languages - Scandinavia chose to call them languages, Malta with it European affiliation acknowledges Maltese as a Semitic language- boasting to be the only official Semitic language in the union
    According to one's definition of what is and is not a dialect- Maltese falls in the twilight zone with legitimate arguments on both sides.


    Senior Member
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    I don't know...
    I got interested by the discussion here so I went and watched Maltese videos & material on Youtube (news, bible, series...etc), and strangely enough, I was able to identify more the Italian & English words than the Arabic words (although I don't know Italian, but I could understand quite a number based on my English & limited French). Only Arabic I could identify were the numbers and just some word every here & there (and the ta' of course)! Anyways I'd still remain oblivious to the scenario or topic.
    Reading Maltese was another story. I found it more comprehensible that way.
    I guess it's thus a problem of phonology that makes it so distant (to me)!
    It would be interesting to know, however, whether native Maltese speakers are more able to understand Arabic (dialectal or otherwise) than the other way round.

    P.S. I'm quite unfamiliar with the Western Arabic dialects, so it might be actually more understandable to them!
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