The Maltese language like many Semitic languages, has a special system of morphology that uses consonants roots of 3 or 4 letters to determine word creation and derivation. Those with 3 consonants are called trilateral and quadrilateral for 4 letters. Trilateral roots are much more common than quadrilateral roots. The way this works in practice is, say you have a root (K-T-B), that means that all the words that come from (K-T-B) will have a “k”, “t” and “b” in that given word, in that order, with different vowels separating the consonants.
(K-T-B) – root dealing with writing
kittieb – a writer
ktieb – a book
ktejjeb – a booklet
miktub – written (adj.)
kiteb – to write/he wrote (verb)
These words all derive from the same root of (K-T-B). They all have “k” as the first consonant, then a “t” or duplication of it, and then “b”. The vowels used in between the consonants is what dictates the meaning.
Just imagine for a second that the verb given “kiteb” had other “verb forms”, well what does that mean? A verb form in this context does not refer to the conjugation (I go, he goes, I went, he went, etc.) but to the aspect of the verb. One form might have an “n” before “kiteb”, signifying the passive voice, so “nkiteb” would be “it was written”, or “to be written” in its infinitive form. Even “kiteb” follows a form (the first). Every Maltese verb is in one of those nine forms.
Marshall made the case that Arabic originally had 15 of these verb forms, but that only the first ten were “in common use” (Marshall, 1968). The fourth form is rarely used in Maltese, only the verb “wera” – “to show” uses this form. It seems that colloquial Arabic was already mainly utilizing these 10 verb forms during the time that Siculo-Arabic/Maltese was in its growing stages, seeing as the modern language only has 10 today. The tenth verb form is a hybrid of two verb forms.
We will visit all these verb forms in the coming blog posts. Take a look at Hoberman’s work, it goes far in depth from Page 267-277. Marshall’s work is more a comparative view between Arabic and Maltese verb forms.
Hoberman, R. (n.d.). Maltese Morphology. Retrieved April 2, 2018.