History of the Maltese Language.

Bruce Ware Allen (whose book The Great Siege of Malta is coming out next week!) found and passed on to me this lengthy webpage about Maltese at Joe Arevalo’s Wunderkammer (“an assortment of compelling old and new items I have discovered and find interesting”); like Bruce, I don’t know enough about Maltese to judge its accuracy, but I know some of my readers do.

Update. Alex Fink points out in a comment:

This is just a translation of large parts of the French Wikipedia article on Maltese, and quite possibly one that has at best been lightly touched up by human hands (compare Google’s current rendering).

Comments

  1. Alex Fink says:

    This is just a translation of large parts of the French Wikipedia article on Maltese, and quite possibly one that has at best been lightly touched up by human hands (compare Google’s current rendering).

  2. Oops! Uh, nothing to see here, move along…

  3. marie-lucie says:

    I started to read from the link and thought that the original might have been Italian (translation inadequacies would be of the same type as with French), but the Italian Wiki page is quite different. The English one is disappointingly short, but the French one is fulsome about history and language. I would gladly translate it if I did not have other pressing commitments at this point.

  4. And such a Wikipedia article… It’s outstanding as Wikipedia goes, but when you see a whole section on the megalithic period in an article which admits that its subject didn’t reach Malta until the medieval period, you really feel the lack of a coherent author.

    I found this line interesting:

    Bosio rapporte les propos d’un vieux maltais qui disait lors de la pose de la première pierre de La Valette en 1566 : « Legi zimen en fel wardia col sceber raba iesue uquie », ce qui donne en maltais moderne : « Jiġi żmien li fil-Wardija kull xiber raba’ jiswa uqija » (Est-ce le temps à Wardija[Note 21] où chaque pouce de terrain vaut une once)[c 32].

    Note the en in place of modern li, the relative particle. That would appear to be a remnant of Classical tanwiin, the use of a suffixed n to mark the indefinite, which is in fact attested in Sicilian Arabic, but not as far as I recall in the Maltese of today.

  5. The article was doing so well, and then I came across this nugget of rubbish:

    “à partir de l’hébreu[104] : [ʤilaːl] → dell (ombre)”

    Not that any of the Hebrew etymologies are plausible, but this one is particularly egregious, given that Ancient Hebrew didn’t even have a sound ʤ. The Berber etymologies are also problematic to say the least – just because it’s non-Arabic and used in North Africa doesn’t automatically mean it’s Berber – but there they have the excuse of following Aquilina.

    The list of “Equivalence en siculo-arabe”, by the way, is actually a list of Sicilian words of Arabic origin.

  6. Charles Quint in English text sounds like name of Chicago gangster

  7. Tanwīn in a dialect, wow!

  8. @SFReader: Really? Charles Quint sounds like a nebbish to me.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Charles-Quint : this is the French adaptation of Carolus Quintus, better known in English as Charles the Fifth, the literal translation.

  10. Charles Quint should ideally be served at a temperature of 7°C. To fully do justice to the Charles Quint experience, it is best drunk from the specially designed chalice glass.

  11. It’s a well known beer brand!

    http://www.charlesquint.be/en

    This is probably why Google translate detects Charles Quint as English text.

  12. *runrunrunrun*
    *pantpantpant*
    I just saw the bulbul-signal in the sky, what did I miss?
    *readreadread*
    Hm, apparently not much. I’ll just add here that when it comes to the history of Maltese, the French wiki article relies heavily on the Akkademja tal-Malti summary of the history of Maltese.

    Lameen, re Iegi zimen en: that the ‘en’ is a residual tanwin is very unlikely both because of what we know about the history of Maltese and because of the syntax of the sentence. As De Soldanis pointed out, it’s more probable that Bosio or his informants messed up and the ‘en’ is actually ‘hen’ < هناك, so 'when'. De Soldanis corrects the first part of the quote to "Iegi zmien hen fel Uardia" = "Jiġi żmien hinn fil-Wardija…" = "there comes a time when in Wardija…" Now not everything is kosher with this interpretation because a) modern Maltese has 'meta' for 'when' in this role and b) 'hinn' is an adverb, but Olvin Vella agrees (which is good enough for me) and it's definitely more likely.

    minus273,
    Those do crop up from time to time, for example in dialects of the Arabian peninsula.

  13. One thing that jumped out at me in the article was how hopelessly outdated it is when it comes to Maltese literature, especially considering the veritable explosion of new authors in the past decade. For a nation of 400.000+, it’s really remarkable how much great stuff gets published, not just first-grade literary fiction, but also genres like sci-fi or scholarly literature.

  14. I foresee a Nobel in a decade or two!

  15. ‘hen’ < هناك, so 'when'
    Of course I meant ‘there, where’, modern Maltese ‘fejn’. Stupid bul*2.
    Olvin Vella’s MA thesis (which he still hasn’t published, much to everyone’s loss) contains a number of variations on the proverb:

    Scgharet Neuiè iegi zmien li tesuà kol scober mie (Pelaġju 1747)
    Sciaarata neuie Tegi Ziman li col sciter jesua mie (Ciantar 1772)
    Sciaaret meuja, li col sciber isua mia (ibid)
    Hen f’scaghret neuie ghat iegi e żimen li kol sceber iesue ukiè (De Soldanis ca. 1767 ms. BNM, Lib. 142 I/6, f. 22v.)
    Xagħriet Mewwija, / Għad jiġi żaman / Li kull xiber / Jiswa mija (Magri 1902)

    It would appear from De Soldanis’ alternative version that the ‘hen’ (mod. Mt. ‘hinn’) is indeed used as an adverb, so “There in Xagħret Mewwija (of which Neuie is an alternative name) will come a time every measure of land will cost an uncia.” Also, those of us writing a thesis on constituent order in Maltese, note the position of the verb in the subordinate clause: VS in Pelaġju, SV in all the others. How do we explain the variation, is it there strictly for rhyming and rhythm purposes?
    And finally, in more good news, De Soldanis’ dictionary will finally be published next year.

  16. Also, who is Mr. Bruce Ware Allen and how does he intend to improve upon the treatment of the subject of the Great Siege by Bradford and Crowley?

  17. Well, he’s an author and LH reader, and surely you’re not implying that once a sufficiently good book has been written on a topic, the topic is closed for business?

  18. Damn it, if the scholarly establishment scorns Vella’s magnum opus, let him publish it at academia.com. “I can’t get published” is no longer viable in this age, when we are all publishers. Publish after all means ‘make available to the public’; the OED even provides us with the nifty (though obsolete) phrase publish a war ‘declare war’.

    (ObIrrelevant: This reminds me of a favorite line from a review: “This work was evidently meant to be a magnum opus; unfortunately, it’s just a big book.”)

  19. hat,
    Well, he’s an author and LH reader
    And more power to him!

    once a sufficiently good book has been written on a topic, the topic is closed for business
    Certainly not, but then again, it’s a historical event for which there are only so many contemporenous sources, so what I would like to know what is it that Mr. Allen brings to the tabe that would justify the investment of 20 USD.

  20. Tabe is probably just a typo, but it would make a good piece of slang, like nabe ‘neighborhood’ or ‘neighborhood movie theater’, both common in NYC (where my neighborhood has no less than nine movie theaters in easy walking distance, brag brag).

    I meant academia.edu, of course.

  21. Bulbul: you’re certainly more familiar with the literature on Maltese than I am, but a construction *zmien ejn…, with a spatial interrogative following a word for “time”, strikes me as much weirder in an Arabic context than a survival of tanwin, which after all was still productive in contexts like this in Andalusi Arabic of the same century. Does Sicilian offer some parallel that would explain such a usage?

  22. it’s a historical event for which there are only so many contemporenous sources, I would like to know what is it that Mr. Allen brings to the tabe that would justify the investment of 20 USD.

    There are more unexploited contemporary sources than you might think. Bradford is a fun read, but his book if fifty years old and his sources tend to be secondary, and at times demonstrably wrong. Crowley does better, and no question they are both engaging writers – but I found a good deal of material that does not appear in either of their treatments. You can get a healthy preview on google books. Check it out.

  23. Lameen,

    sorry, I messed that up: the construction is not *zmien ejn, the ‘en’ is an adverb (“There comes a time there in Wardija…”) and judging from attested variations, Bosio’s version is either a simple error that leaves out the complementizer ‘li’ or it’s a paratactic relative clause. Either of those appears more likely that vestiges of tanwin because there is no other trace of it in Maltese (that we know of). Also, *zmien with an indefinite marker doesn’t seem that likely either.

    BWA,
    sold!

  24. Well, there are traces of tanwiin – xejn < شيئا, for example – though that admittedly is just indefinite marking rather than the indefinite linker we see in Andalusi or Bedouin dialects. "Here" fits the context fine, but if tanwiin did survive, I don't see why zmien, a clearly indefinite noun followed by a relative clause, wouldn't be expected to take it.

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