Leftovers of “pure” Semitic roots in Maltese?

This article is about a recent small little research project we’ve decided to take on to try an interesting experiment. The Maltese language is fascinating because it contains a Semitic grammar system and syntax, and the vocabulary reflects the historical foreign rule of the island nation. Many foreign nations ruled Malta including the Phoenicians, Arabs, the French, the British, and the Kingdom of Sicily for the most part. Although some claim that Maltese is Phoenician at its core, there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to confirm this. The Sicilian language has contributed most of the vocabulary of modern Maltese, nearly 50%, but there is still a good portion of what was the Siculo-Arabic “dialect”/”language” of Arabic, at figures ranging from 32%-40%. English has been contributing many new words into the language recently, but the Maltese people still create new words using their native Siculo-Semitic vocabulary. Maltese is considered a separate language for many reasons, and will be treated as such in this article, however, there are many proponents who advocate for the inclusion of Maltese as an Arabic dialect, but this has been met with much controversy. 

However, what we want to know is, what would happen if you took all the Siculo-Italian words out of Maltese, and communicated using only the Semitic elements of the language. What would that entail? Would it be more possible to speak with neighboring speakers of Arabic “dialects” (Tunsi, Shams, Moroccan, etc)? The thought is that most of the vocabulary would be very basic in nature, dealing with religion (leftover Islamic terms re-purposed for Catholicism in Malta), household activities, agriculture, nature, and ancient life. However, with this vocabulary, could one from Malta get around and live their life well in an Arabic-speaking country? 

What was the Maltese/Siculo-Arabic dialect? In Muslim-controlled Malta, was Malta a crossroads for different Arabic “dialects”? Features show mainly from the Maghrebi dialects, many from Egyptian Arabic, and surprisingly enough, quite a few from Levantine Arabic. As we discover more information about the Semitic Maltese that is left, or “Malti Safi” as Mikiel Anton Vassalli referred to it, we will write more articles about these features. For questions about this work, or about historical Maltese/Siculo-Arabic, send us a contact email!

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