Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

Learning Maltese

The Maltese language tickled my fancy a little while ago, and my interest was renewed when floating_crumb came back to life.

The other day, I borrowed an "introduction to the Maltese language" from the public library; its title is Bonġornu, kif int?, which the author says symbolises in one phrase the Semitic/Romance mixture found in the language.

I was amused when I read the preface, part of which reads (my translation from the German):

This book had to take into account, first of all, that there cannot be much reason to learn Maltese for practical purposes and with the goal of mastering it actively in both oral and written forms, since English—the second official and most wide-spread educational and literary language of Malta—completely suffices, in general, for communication in all professional, touristic, or private contacts.

Which I take to be something like "Only weird crazy people learn Maltese voluntarily if they don't live there". Yay! I'm weird and crazy! :)

The preface goes on to say that, in the author's experience, the three main groups of people interested in Maltese are (a) Arabists, (b) students of the Romance languages (Romanists?), and (c) people who were fascinated by a visit to these "magical islands". He also says that, rather than aiming to lead to oral fluency (being able to speak the language), the book wants to present the language's grammar in such a way that written texts can be understood. (Yay grammar! says the German in me. Kle will know why.) Because of the special interest Arabists have, there are also numerous notes about sound changes or etymology for people who know Arabic, which are specially marked so that people without that background knowledge can ignore them as they are not necessary for the rest of the text. (I read them anyway, 'cos they're fun.)

While reading through the book, I find that the hardest parts are pronunciation, since stress and vowel length are not marked in Maltese orthography, and only occasionally in the book, so I'm sure I'm pronouncing many words wrong in my head. The book does give rules for determining stress and vowel length, which is usually possible just by looking at the shape of a word, but I haven't internalised them. (Vowel length and stress is also important for knowing how words change shape e.g. when you add certain suffixes, since a change of stress caused by the change can cause unstressed short vowels to disappear, e.g. kíteb "he wrote" -> kítbu "they wrote" without the e, not *kítebu.)

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