An introduction to learning Maltese

The English speaker will immediately recognize many words imported during two centuries of British involvement.

Maltese has tended to assimilate loan words rather than generate vernacular equivalents, so this element continues to grow with the influx of new terms such as email, en-suite, supermarket, and laundry 'launderette'. Different spelling conventions sometimes conceal words of English origin, though they have a similar pronunciation, e.g. mowbajl 'mobile', or tajprajter 'typewriter'.

Many more words, old and new, derive from a Romance source, usually Italian or Sicilian, e.g. insalata 'salad', or biljetti 'tickets'.

Italian source words often have a Sicilian flavour, with u instead of o, as in centru 'centre', tempju 'temple' and puliżija 'police'. A direct French influence persists in phrases such as bonswa 'good evening'.

An extra dimension of interest is introduced by the underlying Semitic platform which has a strong influence on grammatical structure as well as providing many of the vernacular words in common use.

Maltese Grammar

Maltese grammar is underpinned by Semitic patterns but has freely adopted Romance (especially Italian and Sicilian) and English forms. It is unusual among Semitic languages in using a Roman alphabet and also unusual in the flexible way in which it is able to incorporate and adapt its imported vocabulary.

This can be illustrated by the different ways in which plurals are formed.

Plurals

In the Semitic pattern plurals are either regular ('sound') or complex ('broken').

In Maltese the ‘sound’ plural is formed by adding either –iet/-ijet or –in: dritt→drittjet (rights); mistoqsija→mistoqsijiet (questions), ċelebrazzjonijet (celebrations).

'Broken' plurals, which are commoner, change vowels and/or consonants within the word.

This process can also be applied to imported words e.g. form→forom 'forms', serp→sriep 'snake'

In the Romance pattern plurals often take a recognizably Italian form, e.g. biljett→biljetti 'tickets', karta→karti 'cards', batterija→batteriji 'batteries', prodott→prodotti 'products'.

English imports will often form their plural simply by adding an –s, or, in the case of nouns already in the plural, the –s is retained e.g. gogils (goggles).

Verbs

Maltese verbs show clear evidence of Semitic morphology. This can be seen in the way in which vowels change to indicate tense and number while the core consonants are retained. The same consonants - usually three in number - can also form the core of other words with related meanings.

Words originating in a Romance language such as Italian are readily absorbed by being given Semitic person and tense affixes but usually without the consonants being displaced.

The Definite Article

Maltese only has a definite article. 'The' is l or il attached to its noun by a hyphen, as in il-ktieb – 'the book' and l-iskola – 'the school'.

The i drops before a vowel as in the preceding example, and also after a vowel, as in kanta l-kan ż unetta 'he sang the song'.

The definite article remains the same for masculine and feminine nouns: it-tifel - 'the boy' it-tifla 'the girl'.

Negation

A word can be negated by putting ma in front and adding x to it, as in Ma nifħimx 'I don't understand'.

Sentences