CASTAGNA’S MALTESE.

Giovanni Bonello, “a recently retired, one-time judge on the European Court of Human Rights and gentleman scholar of all things Maltese, which he writes up for a popular audience with widespread curiosity,” according to the reader who sent me the link (thanks, Bruce!), has a fascinating two-part writeup for the Times of Malta: Pietru Pawl Castagna and his quaint Maltese book (about Castagna and his book), Castagna’s idiosyncratic Maltese of 150 years ago (about the language). Bonello says: “It intends to explore what colloquial Maltese sounded like 150 years ago through the pages of the very first full-length book ever published in our national language. It will show what a lot has changed. It will show that a lot has survived.” The book is Malta bil Gzejer Tahha u li Ghadda Min Ghaliha (1865), “what amounts to an encyclopaedia of Malteseness in Maltese” by a man who had written only “a couple of minor stage pieces” in a language with “negligible printed literature to boast of” and “little support and even less respect from the so-called cultured classes.” It’s quite a story; unfortunately, the examples in Maltese aren’t translated, but even so, it’s well worth reading.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    You know who can translate Maltese: bulbul.

  2. What a coincidence – I was going through the second volume of the 1890 edition of this work titled “Lis-storia ta Malta bil gzejer tahha. Storia politica” (“The history of Malta through its islands. The political history”) just yesterday and Bonello’s description is in some aspect right on the money: for example, the volume opens with a chronological table informing us that the Creation took place exactly 5894 years ago. The orthography is a little different here – there is no ħ (which in current orthography represents etymological ḥ and ḫ), the silent h is usually missing altogether (so we get e.g. ùma for modern huma = “they”), but archaic Italianate terms do abound as in “ir-religion dominanti (vuldiri ir-Religion tal pajis)” where “vuldiri” would today be replaced by “jiġifieri” (“that is; i.e.”) and the VSO word order is something that jumps out at you on the very first page:

    “Jibdghu xi auturi, lis-storia ta pajisna, bill’ighidu…”
    “Begin some authors, the story of our country, by saying…”

    I am, however, somewhat puzzled by the Bonello’s characterization of the work as “the very first full-length book ever published in our national language”. Not even the “full-length” qualification will make it true since there exist works like 1831 “Ktyb yl qari ghat-tfal” and “Storja tas-sultan Ciru” written in Vassalli’s trippy orthography, not to mention Montebello’s 1824 and 1826 “Chtieb il Kari Yau Dahla ’al ilsien Malti” and “Trattat Fuq l’Obblighi Tal-Bniedem” and, three years before Castagna’s book, Ġan Anton Vassallo published his history of Malta in Maltese, “Storja ta’ Malta Miktuba għall-Poplu”.

  3. As for the translations, the longer quotations given at the end of each part for now:

    “Nisthajel hauna jiena xi hatt jithak, mentri forsi x’ihor chien jirracconta dan ’l fatt b’maniera l’ibicchi… izda jiftacar min kighed jakra li fid-dinja m’hux il hwejjeg collha jittiehdu xorta uahda; uisk drabi id-dahk ibicchi; u lis-stess bichi, idahhak.”
    “I expect here* that someone will laugh while maybe someone else would recount this in a way that would make people cry … But the reader should remember that in this world, not all things end up the same; many times the laughter will make you cry; and the same crying will make you laugh.”

    The second part:

    “il Cavalieri chienu sferrau ghal kollox; ebda cont, ebda misthija ma chien baka fihom; u chienet kibret tant ix-xelleragini tahhom illi x’uhut inchitbu masuni, u ohrajn, qabel ma imorru jitkarbnu, chienu jehdu ic-cucculata u ‘l caffe.”
    “The Knights ignored all the rules** – they spared no expense, nothing was too shameful. Their wickedness grew to such an extent that some of them became Freemasons and others ate chocolate and drank coffee before going to receive the Holy Communion.”

    * Most likely archaic or dialectal for “hawn” or “hawnhekk”.
    **Nowadays, the verb “sferra” means “to break loose (of an animal)”.

  4. Thanks, bulbul!

  5. Thanks from me as well!

  6. marie-lucie says:

    From me too!

  7. You are most welcome.
    A bit of clarification: the 1831 books were written in a modified version of Vassalli’s trippy orthography, which makes it less trippy. Vassalli’s original system is really something.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    A question for bulbul (to whom I also add my thanks): how much intelligibilty exists between Maltese and neighbouring versions of Arabic, say Libyan or Tunisian? Has Malta been Christian so long that its language has diverged too much?
    I have a Maltese friend who works in a UK university. She says that when the North African students are speaking Arabic among themselves she can usually tell what they are talking about, but not what they are saying (sometimes quite interesting, as mostly they have no idea that she can understand any Arabic at all). However, she is not a linguist and hasn’t (as far as I know) studied Arabic. For a Maltese speaker who wanted to learn Arabic would it be a similar degree of difficulty as an Italian speaker learning Portuguese, say, or much more difficult?

  9. Athel,
    essentially, nobody knows. You get to hear these anecdotal reports from both sides, but as far as I know, no one really looked into it. Which is why last year I put together a grant proposal to functionally study the mutual intelligibility of Maltese and Benghazi Arsbic (with another dialect, possibly Tunisian, as control). Much to my suprise, the grant went through and so with the help of kato (of dormir debout and Oriental Berber) – another LH truant – we will put together a test suite and go out into the wild and test on folks in Benghazi and Malta how well they understand each other. We should have the answer to your question by March 2014 at the latest.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    bulbul,
    That’s great. Be sure to alert us on your own blog when you have some answers.

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  12. marie-lucie says:

    bulbul, congratulations on your project and your grant. I wonder why you chose Benghazi?

  13. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    bulbul, congratulations on your project and your grant. I wonder why you chose Benghazi?
    At first I wondered why you wondered that, but that was because I hadn’t looked at the map, and thought that Malta was further east in relation to Africa than it is. However, now that I have looked at the map I wonder as well, as Tripoli and Tunis are much closer to Valletta than Benghazi is.
    Incidentally, although I’ve never been to Malta my parents met one another there, and it’s a place I’ve heard about all my life.

  14. m-l, Athel,
    thank you, m-l.
    The simple answer is I picked Benghazi because I know kato who’s basically at home there which simplifies the logistics. Geographical proximity doesn’t really enter into the equation considering the amount of contact Maghrib and Malta have historically had (not counting the Maltese immigrants to Tunisia). Besides, a comparison with Tunisian will be involved in some way.

  15. Insert joke about drunk looking for his keys under the streetlamp (rather than where he dropped them) here.

  16. Well, seeing as any linguistic contact between Malta and North Africa was severed by late 13th century, geography really doesn’t come into play. Basically we’re looking at two different branches of Neo-Arabic* and I don’t believe it really matters which variety of branch B we pick.
    Plus, the project is officially a pilot study, so if I’m wrong on this, yay, more justification for next year’s application for renewal.
    *I know, I know, Maltese technically falls within the Maghribi branch, but with the heavy contact-induced restructuring, it really is best viewed as its own branch.

  17. Chris Samule says:

    It is high time the Maltese nation appointed a standing body solely concerned with Maltese lexicography.

  18. For having studied the issue, I can say that it has been a waste of time and energy for Maltese not to involve Tunisian (researchers) from an early date.
    The basic structure (morpho syntax) and (everyday) vocabulary of Maltese (an independent language of its own today) not only is Arabic but Tunisian Arabic (not Libyan, Algerian or Moroccan Arabic…) although Tripolitania Libyan would come second.
    Its systematic description as “a Semitic language” “closer to urban varieties of Tunisian Arabic” has been misleading. Following Oliver Friggieri or Godfrey Wettinger, one could better say that it is originally Tunisian Arabic (the colloquial language of the conquerors of the 9th/11st centuries; obviously coupled with literal Arabic) which underwent the further European (Sicilian/Italian, English, French) evolution.
    Any Tunisian, even illiterate, can understand almost every verse of the Maltese Cantilena (ca. 1470) and 99% of the “Blooming May” poem written two centuries later. The demonstration can be found in an article recently been published on this issue: http://tinyurl.com/pcq75k5
    Thank you for your attention and the interesting exchange of comments.

  19. And thanks for your informative comment — this is why I’m so glad to have all old threads open now!

  20. marie-lucie says:

    Than you all here! I knew very little about these topics.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    ThanK you, of course.

  22. Kamal,
    The basic structure (morpho syntax) and (everyday) vocabulary of Maltese (an independent language of its own today) not only is Arabic but Tunisian Arabic
    And your evidence for this is …?

    Following Oliver Friggieri or Godfrey Wettinger, one could better say that it is originally Tunisian Arabic
    Can you please point to specific works and places? Also, I wonder why cite these two scholars and not, say, Joseph Brincat or Manwel Mifsud. Neither of them says what you say they says and small wonder, all that can be reliably said about Maltese before the Normans is that it was a variety of Arabic of the Maghribi type, possibly related to that spoken in Sicily. And even if it were true that Maltese evolved from Tunisian Arabic, that was a thousand years ago and since then, both languages developed in their own way.
    I have briefly reviewed your paper and while I cannot give it the full critical treatment it deserves at the moment, there are a few things that jump out at the informed reader. For example, you insist that the sounds of Cantilena are “typically Tunisian”. First, do we really know what Tunisian Arabic sounded like in ca. 1500? Second, can you really say that about e.g. “huakit” with its apparent absence of ʕayn or the apparent confusion between qāf and kāf (cf. “calb” < "qalb" and "huakit" < "waqʕit" vs. "chakim" < "ḥākim" and "col" < "kol")? And third, what about the heavy imāla as evident in "miken" or "zimen", is that also typically Tunisian? Your contribution to the study of the relationship between Maltese and Arabic is welcome and appreciated, but one cannot help but wonder if, in an attempt to offset the arabophobia of some scholars of Maltese, you haven't gone too far in the opposite direction.
    And finally, allow me to lay your worries to rest: Tunisian Arabic is indeed involved in our project as fully as possible. We expect to publish the results in March or April next year.

  23. The ability to comment on old threads is indeed a delight!

  24. Bulbul,
    First off, Merry Christmas to everybody there. Thank you very much for your interesting interaction. I am sorry for the delay in responding as I was kept busy with other things not to mention the fact that the system does not seem to notify contributors of the appearance of new comments… Anyway, last time I had to say put many things in a nutshell as the task was not less than trying to clear up a misunderstanding of several centuries …

    Please find below a point-by-point response to your concerns:

    YOU SAID: “Kamal, The basic structure (morpho syntax) and (everyday) vocabulary of Maltese (an independent language of its own today) not only is Arabic but Tunisian Arabic and your evidence for this is …?”
    RESPONSE: Please refer to works of Pr Aquilina to Sulaiman and many other scholars until more recently, Cassar. Any linguist, or individual having a good knowledge of Tunisian Arabic, would state the same. As for the common sense (the Tunisian (wo)man in the street), it is a statement of the obvious… Unfortunately, over the past fifty years, many have been beating around the bush…

    YOU SAID: “Following Oliver Friggieri or Godfrey Wettinger, one could better say that it is originally Tunisian Arabic. Can you please point to specific works and places? […]all that can be reliably said about Maltese before the Normans is that it was a variety of Arabic of the Maghribi type, possibly related to that spoken in Sicily.”
    RESPONSE: I said “following” because Friggieri’s concise formula for describing the Maltese language is rare and true: of Arabic origin but European evolution (1982). In spite of himself, he may also be viewed as the most Tunisian of all Maltese writers… Indeed, his careful selection of his vocabulary is quite striking… As for Wettinger, please see his work published in 1986. You will also note how, in a recent interview, the famous scholar stated that Maltese is Arabic (as if it were a half-a-century echo to Pr Aquilina: “quite like Arabic”…) and was even ironical about those who claimed a Sicilian origin for the Arabic (“Sicilian Arabic”) at the very source of Maltese because it would thus give have a European connotation… Please forget about “Maghribi Arabic” also. Go right to the point: Tunisian Arabic.

    YOU SAID: “Also, I wonder why cite these two scholars and not, say, Joseph Brincat or Manwel Mifsud”
    RESPONSE: Don’t worry, Bulbul. These two scholars have already been cited: either in the article you read about the very much Tunisian-sounding Cantilena or in a further in-depth (unpublished) one.

    YOU SAID: And even if it were true that Maltese evolved from Tunisian Arabic, that was a thousand years ago and since then, both languages developed in their own way.
    RESPONSE: It did indeed. Certainly, Maltese (Tunisian Arabic at the beginning) evolved and, as Friggieri nicely put it, the European way… Tunisian Arabic itself evolved but not that as much as Maltese (reasons given in core article). Any Tunisian speaker, after discovering the Cantilena or Blooming May, will tell you that the language of these two poems is very similar to nowadays’ Tunisian; which is also evidence that the latter did not substantially change.

    YOU SAID: “I have briefly reviewed your paper and while I cannot give it the full critical treatment it deserves at the moment, there are a few things that jump out at the informed reader. For example, you insist that the sounds of Cantilena are “typically Tunisian”.
    RESPONSE: “Briefly” is not sufficient for such a complex issue. Please read it in detail and feel free to share it. Yes, the sounds are typically Tunisian the same way the Tunisian speak is immediately recognised by natives of other Arabic dialects. While it is a statement of the obvious (for any Tunisian speaker), there has been a researcher who has investigated this very phonological aspects of the Cantilena and who concluded in a similar way.

    YOU SAID: “First, do we really know what Tunisian Arabic sounded like in ca. 1500?”
    RESPONSE: Yes, and even before, but please keep it as secret because my core article about the formation of the Maltese language is not yet published. Simply, according to Arabic sources, Tunisian Arabic was not very different from what it is today…

    YOU SAID: “Second, can you really say that about e.g. “huakit” with its apparent absence of ʕayn or the apparent confusion between qāf and kāf (cf. “calb” < "qalb" and "huakit" < "waqʕit" vs. "chakim" < "ḥākim" and "col" < "kol")? And third, what about the heavy imāla as evident in "miken" or "zimen", is that also typically Tunisian?”
    RESPONSE: From what we know or may infer from a critical reading, the spelling of the cantilena is not absolute and you may also be aware that there were no orthography rules for Maltese by that time. The point of utmost importance is to clear up a misunderstanding of several centuries so I am afraid the risk there is of getting bogged down in “byzantine” discussions, and subsequently beating around the bush again and again instead of going right to the point. The same consideration applies to the question of knowing which dialect of a such a small country as Tunisia is the more akin to Maltese. If the latter is supposed to be one in many works, why not make the same assumption (at least in a first phase, a thing which has not been done) for Tunisian. For the average Tunisian, the fact that the poet’s words were written “calb” or “qalb” (heart) or that he feminised some of them (the word “heart” is actually masculine in Arabic) – or even the “imala” here and there (although we have made some comment on this)- is absolutely not important in the first instance. What actually counts is the meaning and the direct inductions an average researcher can make (unfortunately, they have not been made for decades): i.e. the Maltese-Tunisian direct strong linguistic link…. Furthermore, the early Maltese Arabic was obviously spoken in a different way. We could hypothesise an early short lived creoloid form of Arabic (and this is the first impression for any Arabic speaker, particularly Tunisians) but this is not very important here (though discussed in the core article).

    YOU SAID: “Your contribution to the study of the relationship between Maltese and Arabic is welcome and appreciated, but one cannot help but wonder if, in an attempt to offset the arabophobia of some scholars of Maltese, you haven't gone too far in the opposite direction.”
    RESPONSE: The famous researcher who clearly referred to that trend (long after Pr Aquilina) is Mathias Prevaes, author of a doctoral thesis and one of the best introductions to the issue. I was really amazed that in a field of research supposed to be scientifically done, a scholar refers several times to what he personally had to cope with during his hard academic work. Please rest assured that I cannot go “too far in the opposite direction”. What I have actually done is to decide to “translate”, for the first time in half a millennium, the Cantilena (but also Blooming May) because I noticed that quite amazingly this had been done previously in several European languages but not in Arabic… I hope History will absolve me for this…

    In the course of the analysis, I have never chosen the “easy solution”; i.e., relying on the common sense, particularly the spontaneous impressions which lead some Arabic speakers to “decide” that Maltese is just Arabic. What I found out is that it was once Arabic, Tunisian Arabic to be more exact, and the best example remains the Cantilena itself, understandable by even illiterate Tunisians (while academics have written kilometres of words in an attempt to interpret it with very few of them highlighting the many Tunisian correspondences). Who is to blame? Is not it the way research has been done and the official research policy in Malta? I am sorry to pinpoint ideological aspects there in which I am absolutely not interested in. I was also very sad to know that a French Maltese researcher like Sammut had been attacked for expressing independent views on the issues. In these conditions, I would not be surprised if a new viewpoint (even more coming from Tunisia) is misinterpreted.

    ___________
    As a conclusion, Maltese is undoubtedly a language of its own, different from (Tunisian) Arabic though still keeping quite close to it. The definitive concrete evidence is that those rare Tunisians (ideally with some grasp of English and Italian) who decide one day to learn Maltese prove to be the quickest language students of the world; even when comparing with Esperanto.
    The key methodological instrument in this field is “scratching the surface”. A Maltese correspondent recently told us recently that when in Tunisia, he endeavours to use ancient words of Maltese, not Italian (loan) words. He said he was very surprised and pleased by the results…

    YOU SAID: And finally, allow me to lay your worries to rest: Tunisian Arabic is indeed involved in our project as fully as possible. We expect to publish the results in March or April next year.””
    RESPONSE: Congratulations. Keep singing, Bulbul…
    Best intercultural wishes to you and your Maltese friends for the New Year.

  25. I am completely at sea in the discussion, but I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year, and I look forward to bulbul’s response!

  26. Malta Yok (There’s no such thing as Malta) is a Turkish phrase that has at least limited currency in Greek and Hebrew. Μάλτα γιοκ gets 31,000 hits on Google; מלטה יוק gets 1,500. Hebrew probably came by it via Arabic. This article in Turkish suggests the phrase, or at least the “yok” part, is used in Levantine Arabic too. It doesn’t come up in a quick search in Maltese.

  27. A quick partial update on the mutual intelligibility project: here are the analysis results for the full data set examining the intelligibility of Benghazi and Tunisian Arabic for speakers of Maltese, for now word recognition task only. Respondents were played a word and were asked to assign a semantic category, one out of total of 11 choices (animals, food and drink, clothing, emotions etc. etc.). Here is how well they did in terms of whether they identified the correct category:

    Tunisian Arabic:

    incorrect correct
    70,72% 29,28%

    Benghazi Arabic:

    incorrect correct
    71,35% 0.28,65%

    In other words, virtually no difference at all. Take that, Tunisian-Arabic-primacists!

  28. That’s a great synchronic result, but it doesn’t tell us anything about diachronic distance. Italian-speakers generally seem to find Spanish easier to understand than French, although French is more closely related to Italian than Spanish is.

  29. Baby steps, Lameen, baby steps. We’ll discuss plans for the future once we wrap this up.
    Oh and Kamal, thank you for your reply. I’ll be sure to continue our conversation as soon as I’ve taken care of this mountain of deadlines hovering over me.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Lameen: Italian-speakers generally seem to find Spanish easier to understand than French, although French is more closely related to Italian than Spanish is.

    But French phonology has changed a lot more than Spanish phonology has, making cognate words difficult to recognize.

  31. marie-lucie: My point exactly, although in this case, it’s Maltese phonology that’s changed a lot more than Tunisian or Libyan Arabic.

  32. Hello to all contributors here. A few questions asked to naïve Tunisians or Libyans will not make the field move forward in this respect since you do not take into account the evolution of phonology through 1000 years. Remember our Maltese friend who, when in Tunisia, endeavours to use old Maltese words instead of Italian (loan) ones… Why not read to your volunteers verses of the 15th century Cantilena or from the 18th century “Blooming May” poem instead? You will see this way if we are “primacists” or rational people… The point here is to put the record straight and call a spade a spade, or a “qattus” a “qattus” as French would say…
    Facts, particularly Maltese linguistic ones, are stubborn things… َ A few “positive” results without a clearly explicited context (study “limitations”) will not change anything to what is obvious to the millions. Unfortunately, the latter are not linguists, easily manipulated or silenced. More than that, they can barely “decipher” the Maltese alphabet…
    This said, and in spite of the dramtatic evolution of Maltese phonology, mutual understanding between Tunisians/Libyans and Maltese is still (amazingly) possible (an ideal setting was described in a previous comment): not only on the basis of “word” recognition but common grammar. In this respect, there is also a famous geopolitical anecdote with had tragic consequences (Lockerbie) and that almost nobody has paid attention to. It could be revealed here one day if necessary. Thank you for your attention.

  33. Trond Engen says:

    Kamal: In this respect, there is also a famous geopolitical anecdote with had tragic consequences (Lockerbie) and that almost nobody has paid attention to. It could be revealed here one day if necessary.

    Please. (I’m also curious about the fame that nobody pays attention to,)

  34. Here is a result, neither synchronic nor diachronic, but more dialogic… The 15th century Cantilena was recently read in Tunis to a gathering of one hundred people or so and most of them have understood it.
    PS: Trond (interested in the anecdote): it was appended as a comment (from the author himself) right at the end of the article that was discussed in this column. If it had been revealed in time to the judges there in Europe, perhaps History would have taken another turn…

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Kamal: call a spade a spade, or a “qattus” a “qattus” as French would say…

    Yes, we don’t care so much about spades, but we are picky about cats.

    Which of the languages you mention has qattus? Do you know what the proto-language ancestor is supposed to be? Seeing that Spanish has gato not “cato” which would be expected if from Latin cattus, I have always thought that the g is probably not a strange deviation from the normal Latin to Spanish evolution but an approximation of a [q] which must have belonged to a Semitic (Phemician?) original from which the word was borrowed at an early date into the Latin of Spain (as distinct to that of Rome). The [k[ in the other Romance languages (including the ancestor of French) shows that the word may have been borrowed into Latin from another route or at a different time. Do you have information on this?

  36. (The French are) picky about cats.

    It’s cat names the Semitic languages are picky about.

    John Huehnergard, who wrote the introduction to the Semitic roots section in the AHD, published a paper a few years ago that sheds fur on the matter.

  37. Marie-Lucie: I believe “qattus” is widespread as the word for “cat” in many (most?) North African varieties of Arabic, as well as of Berber. However, it is very clear that, whatever its ultimate etymology, “qattus” entered North African Arabic/Berber from Late Latin/Early Romance (for reasons I won’t go into here, and which I may discuss in a paper or conference talk someday, I suspect it entered North African Arabic from North African Romance and thence spread to Berber), not vice-versa. The reason is the “-us” ending, which is alien to Berber or to any of the relevant Semitic languages (nothing similar is found in any of the etyma John Huehnergard gives: thank you for the article, Paul) but which could go back either to the Latin nominative singular “cattus” or to the accusative plural “cattos” (I am inclined to favor the latter).

  38. Hello…
    First off, let me say I am sorry for the delay. As I once pointed out, there is apparently no way here to be notified when new comments are published… Then, is should also say I was surprised by the level of the continuous contributions… since he very first time I came here, this was by mere chance and I believed you were discussing the endless issue of the nature of the Maltese language…
    If I mistake not, most people are scientists here, aren’t they?…

    I became aware of this, not because of Marie-Lucie’s pickiness about cats (sometimes I wonder how many electronic forums there may be about cats…) but her very questions and, to make things worse, the fascinating Huehnergard article Paul Ogden share with his likes here (thank you very much, Paul). Anyway, I have a better sense of what this site is about now… Here are some personal views regarding Mari-Lucie’s concerns:
    -”Qattus” is common to Maltese and Tunisian (and also some other dialects westwards).
    -The first letter is not by chance. The “q” is clearly a Maltese transliteration (or adaptation) of the way the word was pronounced by the time it reached the island, likely from Tunisia (or Tunisia via Sicily) as most of the daily vocabulary of Maltese. (reminder: Maltese morphology and syntax are also mainly derived from Tunisian Arabic as you may have understood from previous comments).
    -The Arabic word is “Qitt” (or “Qatt” according to the pronunciation (cities vs. countryside…)): the same for “qattus” which is may be pronounced this way in some parts of Tunisia but also “gattus” in others. Here, the similarity with “gatos”, the plural of Spanish “gato” is strikingly interesting.

    Since the Maltese language (of the early centuries) has gone a long way (some researchers have mentioned a form of short-live “pidginisation” of Arabic by that time) in adapting and adopting Arabic phrases (including taking “as found” such words as “il-ma” for “water” with the “embedded” article… which may pose a problem later in a language suppose to use separate articles the Latins do),… there may another hypothesis…

    The word “qattus” could have entered both Malta and Tunisia (and why not other countries of the Mediterranean) in the Middle Ages period through “los gatos” (the cats) that either Tunisians and/or Maltese would have “pidginised” into “gattous” or “qattus” according to the well-known binary pronunciation patterns in Arab countries with “g” for “q” and vice-versa…

    This way, “Qattus” would not necessarily be of Latin origin but, perhaps, an original Arabic word (“Qitt”/ “Qatt”) latinised in Spain (“gato”) and whose plural form (“los gatos”) came back, as an echo…, to Tunisia and/or Malta where it was re-arabicised.
    Mawaw… (Maltese and Arabic: Waw….)
    PS: Etienne’s comment is in tune with what a Maltese linguist wrote about it.

  39. Another anecdote…
    The last time, we said that the 15th century Maltese Cantilena was recently read in Tunis to a gathering of one hundred people or so and that most of them had understood it.

    On the occasion of the same event, we also read the “Blooming” May Maltese poem (17th century) –which is about how, by the merry month of May, in Malta, the wind, cold and rain stopped and how the flowers began to blossom again and the birds singing.. The weather there is very similar to that of Tunisia…

    As a conclusion, we told people there that this poem definitely proved one thing: that its author had foreseen the end of the Tunisian Arab Spring two centuries and a half before it appeared in Tunis (the meeeting was held in the very downtown main avenue where the so-called “revolution” took place and shook the world (at least in the media only…)…Some individuals there in the audience laughed out…loud… It was a great day indeed…

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Kamal: Thank you for your contribution to the “cat” problem.

    “Qattus” would not necessarily be of Latin origin but, perhaps, an original Arabic word (“Qitt”/ “Qatt”) latinised in Spain (“gato”) and whose plural form (“los gatos”) came back, as an echo…, to Tunisia and/or Malta where it was re-arabicised.

    This sounds plausible, but I would suppose a more generally Afro-Asiatic origin, rather than simply Arabic, since the ancestor of the domestic cat is not the European wild cat but a North African feline.

    According to Wikipedia:

    Since cats were cult animals in ancient Egypt, they were commonly believed to have been domesticated there, … but there may have been instances of domestication as early as the Neolithic from around 9500 years ago (7500 BC). … … A genetic study in 2007 concluded that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica) c. 8000 BC, in the Near East. …

    As for the origin of the word, Wikipedia continues:

    The English word cat (Old English catt) is in origin a loanword, introduced to many languages of Europe from Latin cattus and Byzantine Greek κάττα, including Portuguese and Spanish gato, French chat, German Katze, Lithuanian katė and Old Church Slavonic kotka, among others….

    So far so good, but:

    The ultimate source of the word is Afroasiatic, presumably from Late Egyptian čaute, the feminine of čaus “wildcat”. The word was introduced, together with the domestic animal itself, to the Roman Republic by the 1st century BC

    I think that the word is indeed ultimately Afroasiatic, but it cannot be from “Late Egyptian čaute“: the sound [č] (English ch or tch) cannot possibly evolve into [k], [q] or [g], instead it is commonly a result of the evolution of [k], which can itself evolve from [q]. If the original word for ‘cat’ had started with [č] , it would have been adapted into other languages as variouely [č] , [c] (= [ts]), perhaps [ky] or [ty], ending up in some of them as [š] or [s]. (Consider French chat, Modern Fr [ša], from Latin cattus, via Old Fr [čat] ). Note that the Egyptian attestation is “Late”, meaning that the word is first attested in writing at that time, but “first attestation” can occur centuries later than the actual entry of a word into the language, especially if the older attestations are in formal inscriptions rather than everyday documents. It is likely that the cat was a commensal animal long before it was deified.

    As for Spanish/Portuguese gato, the initial [g] is more compatible with an original (non-Spanish) [q] than with the [k] of the Latin word: many people first encountering the (uvular) sound [q] interpret it as [g] (and as you mention, a change or adapation from [d] to [g] is attested in some forms of Arabic). If gato) had come directly from cattus (of cattos, many other Latin words starting with ca would have ended up with ga in Spanish, but gato is an exception. If it was not borrowed directly from Arabic, at least it may have been influenced by the Arabic pronunciation during the centuries of Arabic dominance in Southern Spain.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    oops: a change or adapation from [q] to [g] is attested …

  42. Readers may be may be interested in a recently published book titled:
    [Malta and Tunisia: the common oral culture (subtitle: An anthropo-linguistic contribution to the long debate over the nature of the Maltese language)][*].

    Built upon a bibliography of about 110 top-quality scientific references, it addresses though a quite simple question:

    “Why is Maltese so close to Tunisian speak, much more than other forms of Arabic?”

    BACK COVER (free translation):
    Because of its peculiar sounds and alphabet, Maltese is often seen as an “unusual” European language. Its origin, now described as “Semitic”, unavoidably brings to mind, though wrongly, languages such as Phoenician, Punic or even Hebrew… However, no other language has shaped more deeply its personality than Tunisian speak from which it inherited its essential traits between the 9th and 13th centuries.
    Even if Maltese has subsequently been intensely romanised thanks to a borrowing process (loan-words) from Italian and Sicilian languages and, more recently, English, its original (morphosyntactic) structure has hardly changed since then. Scratching, not between the lines, but, as archaeologists do, beneath, suddenly reveals an ocean of striking colourful correspondences between Maltese and Tunisian: from simple words of everyday life to more elaborate idioms and proverbs, not to mention an almost identical grammar.
    The author has rendered in Tunisian Arabic and French several texts of the written and oral Maltese culture, including the famous 15th century Cantilena (see image). One will discover how and why, with time passing, Maltese eventually became an orphan language. Tunisia, where thousands of Maltese people migrated to between the 19th and 20th centuries, happened to be a natural laboratory for reunion, confirmed by mutual understanding tested in the daily life, often shared in hardship conditions.
    This book, motivated by personal and mere scientific reasons alike, offers for the first time an original though self-evident viewpoint: Malta as seen from Tunis one thousand years later…
    ______________

    [*] La culture orale commune à Malte et à la Tunisie (sous-titre: Contribution anthropo-linguistique au long débat sur la nature de la langue maltaise). Paris, Ed. L’Harmattan, 2014, 136 pages. Coll. “Histoire et Perspectives Méditerranéennes” (*), ISBN : 978-2-343-03577-2, illustré).

    [Malta and Tunisia: the common oral culture (subtitle: An anthropo-linguistic contribution to the long debate over the nature of the Maltese language)]

    http://www.amazon.fr/culture-orale-commune-Malte-Tunisie/dp/2343035776

  43. Sounds interesting, thanks!

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