6.2 What is the Maltese Language?

The first question one is asked when introducing oneself as "Maltese" is: What is the Maltese language? Is it like Italian?". One then goes on to explain that Maltese is a semitic language, very close to Arabic, and that we inherited this language from way back, probably from Phoenician and Carthaginian times, some between 900 and 218 BC. Irrespective of whether this is true, it is most likely that the Maltese under Arab rule from 870 to 1091 AD spoke some sort of Arabic dialect which persisted to this day. Superimposed on this Arab background are a number of words and phrases borrowed from the surrounding European languages, particularly, Sicilian, Italian, and to a lesser extent French and Spanish. English became a dominant force since the beginning of the 19th century and has influenced not so much the vocabulary, extensive as that is, but more noticeable the syntax and the way of expressing oneself.

The written script is Roman with minor exceptions as follows:

The letter c is written as 'c and is always pronounced as ch in charter. The letter g is pronounced as g in gutter, while g is pronounced as g in gin.

The letter h is silent while the letter ri is pronounced as the h in history. The diphthong gh is usually silent (except that in some villages in Gozo it is still pronounced as a guttural ch as in the Scottish Loch).

The letter z is pronunced as ts in tsetse, while the letter @ is pronounced as z in zoo.

Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990

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