Maltese language

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Maltese (Malti)

Spoken in

MaltaMalta Malta
speaker more than 400,000
Official status
Official language in MaltaMalta Malta European Union
European UnionEuropean Union 
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Maltese (own name: Malti ) is the language of Malta . It originated from an Arabic dialect ( Maghrebian , Sicilian Arabic ) and thus belongs to the Semitic languages .

Maltese is on the one hand the only autochthonous Semitic language in Europe and on the other hand the only Semitic language that uses Latin letters .

Maltese is spoken in the Malta archipelago and is the national language of the Maltese as well as one of the official languages ​​of the Republic of Malta and the European Union .


Maltese arose in the course of the Middle Ages from Maghrebian Arabic and the closely related Siculo-Arabic (Sicilian Arabic) and has developed into an independent language with peculiarities in syntax and phonology that distinguish it from Arabic. Nevertheless, the basic structure of Maltese, especially the formation of forms, is Semitic. The vocabulary was from the Middle Ages until well into the 20th century by the Italian (at first especially from Sicilian ) and increasingly since the occupation of Malta by the British in the Napoleonic period of English influence. It is often claimed that Aramaic , Phoenician-Punic and other pre-Arabic word stems can also be found in Maltese; as examples are u. a. the names of the two main islands "Malta" and " Gozo " are given, but their origin has not been clearly established - Malta from Greek melita ("bee") or Punic "malat" (refuge)? In fact, almost all Semitic roots, which are sometimes assumed to be pre-Arabic, are common Semitic linguistic material that occurs both in Punic-Canaanite and Aramaic as well as in Arabic and whose presence in Maltese can certainly be justified with an origin directly from Arabic. There is no written evidence of an older origin, just as the linguistic conditions both in antiquity and at the time of the Arab conquest in the Middle Ages are unclear due to the lack of relevant documents: In antiquity, did people speak Greek in Malta in addition to Punic? Was Malta repopulated by the Arabs, so that it could be assumed that Maltese has only Arabic origins and, apart from older topographical names, no pre-Arabic origins? Or were there remnants of a Punic-speaking population when the Arabs arrived, gradually giving up Punic in favor of Arabic and adding Punic words to Maltese Arabic? The linguistically unprovable Punierthese is often used when Malta - ideologically - is to be demarcated from the Muslim world as an outpost of the Occident. Púnico is sometimes also a term for the Maltese language in older descriptions.

After the conquest and probable resettlement of Malta by the Arabs from 870 onwards, Arabic developed into an independent local colloquial language on Malta. While it was initially an Arabic dialect , Maltese gradually freed itself from the sphere of influence of the standard Arabic language and education through the Christianization of the population and its connection to the Catholic-European cultural area. These were replaced by European influences. Since the political connection to Sicily (and later to the Kingdom of Aragón ) from the 11th century with the immigration of Sicilian noble families who administered the country, Italian was present in Malta, initially in its Sicilian form. The oldest known text in Maltese, the poem Il Cantilena , dates from the 15th century. The first Maltese lexicon appeared in 1649.

French gained a certain importance as the language of communication between the Maltese population and the predominantly French religious order of knights of St. John , also known as the Order of Malta, to which rule over the islands was transferred in 1530. In 1814 Malta became a British crown colony and English became the new administrative language. Italian also retained important functions, for example as a court language, and remained the educational language of the local upper class. Nevertheless, Maltese is usually the mother tongue and everyday language of the Maltese population. The British colonial rulers, whose rule lasted from 1800 to 1964 after a brief Napoleonic interlude, promoted the standardization and writing of the Maltese language in order to limit the influence of Italian, Italian newspapers and books and thus the fascist government of Italy. In 1924, binding spelling rules were issued. In 1934, Maltese became the official language alongside English, which today plays an important role as the language of instruction (alongside Maltese) in secondary and higher education, as well as in long-distance trade, technical professions and the tourism industry. The Italian language lost its status as the official language of Malta in 1934, but it is still mastered by many Maltese and learned as a foreign language in schools; around half of Maltese children choose it as a third language after Maltese and English, while French and German are taken much less often. Italian television and radio play an important role in spreading Italian language skills in Malta. In any case, the numerous Italian loan words in Maltese make it easier to understand the language of the neighboring country. In connection with Malta's independence from Great Britain (1964) and the abolition of the monarchy (until 1974 the Queen of England was head of state in Malta, as in many other Commonwealth countries ), the government pursued the rapprochement with Libya for a time and introduced Standard Arabic as a school subject. Today the percentage of Arabic students is extremely low; accordingly, modern standard Arabic has no noticeable influence on the further development of the Maltese language.

Maltese has been one of the official languages ​​in the EU since May 1, 2004 . For many of the approximately 1.5 million people of Maltese origin outside of Malta, Maltese serves as a symbol of identification, even far from where their ancestors came from. According to the constitution of the state of Malta, Maltese and English are equal administrative languages, and Maltese also has the status of the national language. Accordingly, the debates of the representative body, the Maltese Parliament, take place in Maltese.

Alphabet and pronunciation

Maltese is the only Semitic language to be written with Latin letters , but has the special characters Ċ / ċ, Ġ / ġ, Ħ / ħ and Ż / ż as well as the digraph Għ / għ , which is also treated as a separate letter. In some Italian loan words, the accented letters à, è, ì, ò, ù are also used in their final form.

During the debate must be observed ( IPA phonetic spelling ):
": silent, occurs only at the end of the word and is available there instead of GH
ċ: [⁠ ⁠] as ch in German , comes into Italian loan words in
e : [⁠ ɛ ⁠] how similar in apples
ġ: [⁠ ⁠] as dsh in jungle
GH: originally referred to a guttural sound (from Arabic Ayn (ع) and Ghain (غ) emerged); today it is pronounced as a vowel by most speakers; That is, it expresses itself in an elongation of the preceding or following vowel or forms a diphthong with it, e.g. B. GHI [⁠ ɛɪ̯ ⁠] , RI [ ɔʊ̯ ]; at the end of the word similar pronunciation ħ , where it is most simplistic ' written
h: mute
H: [⁠ ħ ⁠] , strong breath- h , between German h and ch in stream (such as arabic Ha' (ح))
j: [⁠ j ⁠] , like German j
o: [⁠ ɔ ⁠] as o in place
q: [⁠ ʔ ⁠] , very clear glottal stop (as in the German iron ver ( ') , as opposed to travel ), going to the attenuated in many Arab varieties or trailed QAF back (ق)
r: [⁠ r ⁠] , rolled r , with many speakers and the English retroflex r be related but not identical with this; goes to the dialectal pronunciation of r in the North African Arabic back
s: [⁠ s ⁠] always voiceless as in grass
v: [⁠ v ⁠] as w in water
w: [⁠ w ⁠] , like engl. w , z. B. water
x: [⁠ ʃ ⁠] as beautiful in beautiful
z: [⁠ TS ⁠] as z in tongue
ż: [⁠ for ⁠] , as voiced s in Rose

aw: [ ɐʊ̯ ], like au in house
ew: [ ɛʊ̯ ], a separately spoken eu , not like German eu ; corresponds to short e as in "hell", the short u as in "kiss" is followed by
ie: [ ɪɛ̯, ɪː ], to be spoken separately as ie ; occasionally just a long i with a slight tendency to e

Voiced sounds become voiceless when they are final, for example d> t and b> p.


Examples of words of Arabic origin:

The sound level, especially the vocalism , often does not correspond to standard Arabic, but to North African varieties of Arabic. The consonants have experienced a number of sound shifts: the emphatic sounds of Arabic have consistently coincided with non-emphatic ones ( ṣ / s > s , ṭ / t > t , but q / k > ʾ / k ; see above for details), so most of them typical Semitic sounds were lost. The Arabic throat sounds and have merged into Maltese ħ , which today, in turn, sounds much less like German h , while the original h is completely silent. The thus silenced h and q are nevertheless written in modern orthography. The same applies to , which is only realized vowelily today , and which also goes back to two different throat sounds in Arabic (see above).

  • belt ("place, city") < بلد balad
  • ħobż ("bread") <خبز ḫubz
  • id ("hand") <يد yad
  • kelma ("vocabulary, word") <كلمة kalima
  • kbir ("large") <كبير kabīr
  • marid ("sick") <مريض marīḍ
  • marsa ("harbor") <مرسى marsan ("anchorage")
  • qamar ("moon") <قمر qamar
  • raġel ("man") <رجل raǧul
  • saba ' ("finger") <إصبع ʾIṣbaʿ
  • sema ("heaven") <سماء samāʾ
  • tajjeb ("good") <طيب ṭayyib
  • tifla ("girl") < طفلة ṭifla ("little girl")
  • tqil ("difficult") <ثقيل ṯaqīl
  • wieħed ("one") <واحد wāḥid
  • xahar ("month") <شهر šahr

Examples of words of Italian origin:

The vocalism of most Italian loanwords goes back to Sicilian Italian. Characteristic of this is the shift from high Italian o to u and the final high Italian e to i .

  • avukat (lawyer) < avvocato , Sicilian abbucatu
  • frotta ("fruit") < frutto
  • gravi ("important, significant") < grave , Sicilian gravi
  • griż ("gray") < grigio
  • gvern ("government") < governo
  • kriżi ("crisis") < crisi
  • lvant ("east") < levante
  • natura ("nature") < natura
  • parti (“part, part”) < parte , Sicilian parti
  • skola ("school") < scuola , Sicilian scola

See also :


The most distinctive feature of Maltese in contrast to the Indo-European languages ​​is the principle of Trilitteru and Kwadrilitteru, which means that words from the same field of meaning contain identical word roots (maltes. Mamma ), each consisting of three or four consonants. Stems of words in European languages ​​usually consist of consonants and vowels, which mostly remain constant in derived forms and words; Derivatives are formed here by adding prefixes and suffixes or by assembling several words (eg. As back- to back en, on back s, before back en to back en, baking book, Ge bäck , Bäck he, Bäck bakery and so on.). The distinction between the words of a word field in Maltese is made in particular by the vowels placed between the root consonants, which differ depending on the meaning; In addition, there may be morphemes that are placed before or after the root (pre- and afformatives, i.e. prefixes and suffixes). This principle is typical of the Semitic language family. Example: words derived from the root k - t - b (basic meaning: to write): kt i b t "I wrote", k i t e b "he wrote", k i tb et "she wrote", mi kt u b "Written" (passive participle), k i tt ie b "writer", k i tb a "document", kt ie b "book", k o tb a "books", kt ejje b "notebook".

The Semitic word formation and inflection is also largely applied to the numerous Romance and English loanwords. Compare for example nitkellem / titkellem / jitkellem / titkellem / nitkellmu / titkellmu / jitkellmu ( I speak / you speak / he speaks / she speaks / we speak / you speak / they speak ) of the Semitic root k - l - m (basic meaning: speak, word) with the to book borrowed from English : I reserve / you reserve / he reserves / ... is called nibbukkja / tibbukkja / jibbukkja / tibbukkja / nibbukkjaw / tibbukkjaw / jibbukkjaw . The recognizable prefixes n (i) - / t (i) - / j (i) - / t (i) - are the morphemes that occur in most Semitic languages, which make up the verb in the past tense (= incomplete action , Present / future tense) to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd person. The plural also has an ending ( -u or -w ) to distinguish it from the singular. In all Semitic languages ​​not only originally Semitic but also loan words, especially verbs, are treated according to this principle. Maltese, however, as a rule preserves the foreign vowelism of the foreign word stem, while in the sister languages ​​the vowels belonging to the respective conjugation and occurring in all verbs of this conjugation must be in the root word, i.e. only contain the consonants of the European word stem stay; z. B. Hebrew jetalfen , tetalfen , tilfen , tilfanti ( he will telephone , she will telephone , he telephone , I telephone ) etc.

While the present / future tense is formed with preformatives (preformative conjugation), the past is described as afformative conjugation. All verbs, whether regular or irregular, have the same endings that indicate the person, the number and, in some cases, the gender of the actor. Only the 3rd pers. masc. Sing. has no ending; it is therefore the only form of the verb without a temporal preface or afformative and allows the root of the word to be recognized most clearly. E.g. (jien, jiena) ktibt / (int) ktibt / (hu) kiteb / (hi) kitbet / (aħna) ktibna / (intu) ktibtu / (huma) kitbu = (I) wrote / (you) wrote / (he ) wrote / (she) wrote / (we) wrote / (you) wrote / (they) wrote ; also: tkellimt / tkellimt / tkellem / tkellmet / tkellimna / tkellimtu / tkellmu = spoke / spoke / spoke / ... . The endings recurring in all verbs are -t / -t / - / - (e) t / -na / -tu / -u . (The latter can be -w if preceded by a vowel.)

The second example, which is derived from the root k - l - m , also shows that there are conjugations in which the verbs in all forms have a conjugation-typical preformative in addition to the prefix and / or suffix typical of the tempo. In the case of k - l - m with the meaning to speak , this is t- which occurs immediately before the root. (He) spoke is thus tkellem (conjugation preformative + root), while in the present / future tense the temporal prefix ( n- / t- / j- / t- ), which in addition to the tense also the person and in the 3rd pers. Sing. Indicates the gender, preceded by: nitkellem / titkellem / ... (tense preformative + conjugation preformative + root). This type of conjugation formation is a characteristic of the Semitic languages; see. for example Hebrew jitraggesch ( he will get excited ), which contains the tense preformative j- , the preformative of the conjugation Hitpael (hi) t- and the root r (a) g (e) sch (to feel ). Maltese has a total of ten conjugations (so-called Form I – X), several of which are formed with a conjugation preformative. Others are characterized by the elongation of the vowel between the first and second root consonant or the doubling of the middle root consonant. The latter can also be seen in tkellem - in addition to the preformative t- . Some conjugations (forms) have both a conjugation preformative and the elongation of the vowel between the first and second root consonant or the doubling of the middle root consonant; s. following overview.

The so-called forms I – X (conjugations) of the Maltese verb largely correspond to those of Arabic; in them the root , which usually consists of three consonants ( radicals ), is inflected:
I - between the radicals there is a short vowel; mostly transitive meaning, e.g. B. kiteb (wrote), xorob (drink), għamel (tat)
II - with doubling of the second radical, mostly transitive, e.g. B. kisser (broke), dawwar (turned)
III - with a long vowel (usually -ie- ) between the first and second radical, mostly transitive, e.g. B. siefer (departed)
IV - occurs only in the verb wera (pointed)
V - like II, with preformative t- , mostly reflexive or passive
VI - like III, with preformative t- , mostly reflexive or passive
VII - like I , with preformative n- , mostly passive or reflexive
VIII - like I, with infix -t- after the first radical
IX - occurs only in verbs that express a property
X - with preformative st- , reflexive.

Many roots come in several of the ten possible forms. In this way, active and passive / reflexive are differentiated or different meanings of a word field are expressed. E.g. bierek (III, blessed) / tbierek (VI, was blessed), fehem (I, understood) / fiehem (III, explained), għallem (II, taught) / tgħallem (V, learned), għaraf (I, understood) / għarraf (II, informed).

The addition of pronominal suffixes typical of the Semitic languages ​​has also been preserved in Maltese; Real personal pronouns are only available in the nominative ( jiena / int / huwa etc. for I / you / he etc.). The suffixes can appear at prepositions, but also at verb forms, e.g. B .: tqarribna = it brings us closer ( -na is a pronominal suffix ); f ' (in)> fiha = in her ( -ha is a pronominal suffix ). On the other hand, the classic possessive education, e.g. B. arab. dār (u) hum = her (pl.) house . Instead, the noun is preceded by the article to determine it, and behind the noun comes the preposition ta ' ( von ) with the suffix, i.e. id-dar tagħhom = the house of them (Arabic -hum or paints. -hom is pronominal suffix ).

Elsewhere, the suffix system was expanded. Contrary to the classic Arabic usage, in which i. d. Usually only personal pronouns in the accusative are appended to verbs, additional dative suffixes have formed in Maltese. They go back to the classical Arabic preposition ila (for, to), shortened to l- , to which the actual pronominal suffix is ​​appended, e.g. B .: nippreżentalek = I introduce you ( -lek is a pronominal suffix in the dative, consisting of the previous preposition -l- and the suffix -ek ).

As in Arabic, there is no indefinite article. The basic form of the definite article is il- (e.g. il-jum = the day ). As in Arabic, the -l- of the article is assimilated to dental consonants ; H. to n , t , d , z , s , ż , x , ċ , r , if these immediately follow the article as in id-dinja ( the world ), is-sena ( the year ), ix-xemx ( the sun ) etc. Before the other consonants , -l- is always retained ( il-karozza = the car , il-bint = the daughter , il-ħbieb = the loved one, etc.). If the previous word ends with a vowel, there is no i- in the initial part of the article. It is also omitted if the following word starts with a vowel. In both cases the article is only l- ( l-istudenti u l-professuri = the students and the professors, etc.) or n- , t- , d- , z- , s- , ż- , x- , ċ- or r- , if assimilated as explained above.

The double determination of Arabic is in the process of dissolution, with the definite article before the noun and before the adjective that follows it. It is still preserved in fixed phrases and terms such as l-assedju l-kbir ( the Great Siege of 1565 ), il-Milied it-tajjeb ( Merry Christmas ), l-ikla t-tajba ( good appetite ), is-saba ' l-kbir ( the big finger, the thumb ). Usually, the specific article only comes before the noun, but not before the following adjective, i.e. always at the beginning of the noun-adjective phrase, e.g. B. id-dar ħamra qadima instead of the older id-dar il-ħamra l-qadima ( the old red house ). If, for idiomatic reasons, the adjective precedes the noun, the article appears at the beginning of the phrase in these cases too, i.e. H. before the adjective and not before the noun, e.g. B. it-tieni gwerra dinjija ( the Second World War ), l-ewwel edizzjoni ( the first edition, the first edition ).

The Semitic genitive connection ( status constructus ) has almost completely disappeared and is used with the preposition ta ' ( from ), with the article tal- or, depending on the assimilation, tad- , tat- , tan- u. Ä. circumscribed, z. B. il-ktieb tal-bint ( the book of the daughter ) instead of the classical Arabic kitāb al-bint ( book of the daughter, the daughter's book ). In the status constructus, the article only appears before its last link; when paraphrased with ta ' it comes before both the first and the second term of the phrase. Genitive connections of the classical kind are rare, mostly they are fixed terms, e.g. B. lejlet il-milied next to il-lejla tal-milied ( the holy night ) and qasbet ir-riġel next to il-qasba tar-riġel ( shin ). The feminine ending -a in the first word of a genitive compound becomes -et , corresponding to the Arabic Tā 'marbūta . With regard to the breakdown of the genitive connection, Maltese is similar to post-Biblical Hebrew, in which it is mostly replaced by a paraphrase with schel (= from ) ( ha-jeled schel ha-ischa instead of jeled ha-ischa = the child of the woman or the child of the woman ).


  • Arne A. Ambros: Bonġornu, kif int? Introduction to the Maltese language. Wiesbaden: Reichert 1998, ISBN 978-3-89500-085-0
  • Arne A. Ambros: Bonġornu, kif int? Introduction to the Maltese language. Key and dictionary. Wiesbaden: Reichert 2006, ISBN 978-3-89500-534-3
  • Manfred Moser: Dizzjunarju Dictionary = Malti-Ġermaniż / Maltese-German; German-Maltese / Ġermaniż-Malti. Megħjun minn Christopher Meilak. - San Ġwann, Malta: Publisher Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd 1999; ISBN 99909-0-176-7
  • Manfred Moser: Malti-Ġermaniż - Dizzjunarju kbir / German-Maltese - Large dictionary. With colleagues from Sharon Meyer and Joe Felice-Pace. - Wiesbaden: Reichert 2005, ISBN 978-3-89500-468-1
  • Manfred Moser: Malti-Ġermaniż - Dizzjunarju kbir / German-Maltese - Large dictionary. Interactive e-book. - Wiesbaden: Reichert 2015, ISBN 978-3-95490-102-9
  • Manfred Moser: Malti-Ġermaniż - Dizzjunarju kbir / German-Maltese - Large dictionary. Interactive digital dictionary / Dizzjunarju digitali interattivu. - Self-published 2017, free with MaDeTabl.htm as download . Description , information sheet with instructions (PDF)
  • Brigitte Ohk: Do you speak Maltese? - Qormi: Kimmik, 1995.
  • Kim Ohk: Maltese. Word for word (=  gibberish . Volume 117 ). 3., rework. Edition. Reise-Know-How-Verlag Rump, Bielefeld 2010, ISBN 978-3-89416-568-0 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Long Focus: The Maltese Language: An Arabic Descendant on YouTube