Maltese Sums Up the Mediterranean.

Bryant Rousseau has a NY Times piece on the history of Maltese:

Maltese is very much a living language. More than 90 percent of the nation’s 425,000 citizens speak it at home. Authors writing in Maltese won the European Prize for Literature in 2011 and 2014.

Over the centuries, other languages and dialects have been layered on top of Maltese’s Arabic core, to the point that Sicilian and Italian words account for about half the vocabulary today, and English, Malta’s other official language, around 10 percent. […]

“For me,” said Michael D. Cooperson, a professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, “the fascination of it is that every sentence seems to sum up the history of the Mediterranean.”

The link was sent to me by Slavomír “bulbul” Čéplö, who knows this stuff, and it gets his seal of approval.

Comments

  1. From what Michael Cooperson told me, I was expecting a longer piece (and a shout out to yours truly, grumble grumble), but still, nice of NYT.

    One correction and a note:

    Since 1934, Maltese has been written in a Latinate alphabet; before then, no standard existed, and people sometimes wrote in a mix of Latin and Arabic letters.

    The date is probably a typo, since the first official orthography was published in 1924. Also, there had been in fact at least three competing de facto standards long before then, e.g. the Italian inspired one used in religious materials and even in press.
    And what’s with the -ate suffix? I remember recently encountering it in the word “islamicate” in a research project and I wasn’t the only one who went “huh?” reading it.

  2. I know “Islamicate” sounds odd and unfamiliar, but it was introduced by Marshall Hodgson to fill a gap in vocabulary, and once you get used to it it becomes, well, useful. The Wikipedia article gives a good short summary: “Most importantly he distinguished between Islamic (properly religious) and Islamicate phenomena, which were the products of regions in which Muslims were culturally dominant, but were not, properly speaking religious. Thus wine poetry was certainly Islamicate, but not Islamic.” I strongly recommend reading at least the first volume of his The Venture of Islam; the second volume is also great, the third falls off somewhat. Reading Hodgson a quarter century ago overturned my view of world history and gave me an appreciation of the Islamic world and its history which has never left me.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    bulbul: I was expecting a longer piece (and a shout out to yours truly, grumble grumble)

    I too was expecting a longer piece with a mention of you, but it is quite likely that a longer original was drastically cut by the editor.

  4. To me, Islamacate (with unreduced -ate) would be a verb meaning ‘to transform into Islam’. Latinate with reduced vowel, however, is a standard term: the OED defines it as “Of, pertaining to, or derived from Latin; having a Latin character. Also, occas., resembling an inhabitant of a Latin country.” Most of the examples are applied to Latin-derived words in English, or a style heavy with them.

  5. Hmm. I say the adjective Latinate with an unreduced vowel, and the major online dictionaries seem to agree.

    As it notes in that wiki article, Hodgson also coined the term Persianate – a category which seems to include all the non-Arab and non-African parts of the Islamic world. I’ve seen it used much more than Islamicate, in fact.

  6. I say the adjective Latinate with an unreduced vowel

    Me too.

    Hodgson also coined the term Persianate – a category which seems to include all the non-Arab and non-African parts of the Islamic world. I’ve seen it used much more than Islamicate, in fact.

    How various people’s reading experiences are! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, and in fact I’d forgotten he coined it.

  7. The NYT’s fact checkers were asleep on the job here. The writer seems to be impressed by the presence of a Maltese author among the winners of the EU Prize for Literature in both 2011 and 2014, but that’s just because it was Malta’s turn to be included (along with 11 or 12 other countries) in those years.
    The Prize competition is open to the 37 countries currently involved in the Creative Europe Programme. Each year, national juries in a third of the participating countries nominate their winning authors, making it possible for all countries and language areas to be represented over a three-year cycle.
    See http://www.euprizeliterature.eu/what-eupl.

  8. Very relevant background info — thanks!

  9. ‘ “Since 1934 …” The date is probably a typo, since the first official orthography was published in 1924.’

    Or a thinko, since Wiki says Maltese was made an official language in 1934.

  10. Persianate – a category which seems to include all the non-Arab and non-African parts of the Islamic world.

    Even Malaysia?

  11. Eskandar says:

    Definitely not. “All the non-Arab and non-African parts of the Islamic world” is not accurate. “Persianate” refers to those societies which were under Persian influence or where Persian language and literature left an impression. It’s a broad swath of territory, for sure, including much of the Caucasus, erstwhile Ottoman lands, Iran, and Central and South Asia, but it wouldn’t include the Muslim-majority Malay world (Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, southern Thailand and Philippines), nor much of Islamicate South India (Kerala and Tamil Nadu in particular).

  12. Yeah, I guess that was some sloppy thinking on my part – though to be fair to me, I have seen some (sloppy) online sources defining it that way.

  13. Andreas Johansson says:

    Hm. I’m familiar with “Persianate” from its use on Wikipedia, but I don’t think I’ve seen “Islamicate” before. I agree it sounds like verb – my immediate association was “masticate”.

    Maybe “Islamate” or “Muslimate” would’ve been better?

  14. marie-lucie says:

    AJ: I think the -icate words sound better, linking not just with masticate (which does not have ‘mastic’ or even ‘mast’ as a genuine stem) but domesticate from domestic, so similarly islamicate from Islamic. But of course it would have to mean something different from islamicize.

  15. I suppose I was thinking of lambdacate ‘transform into a lambda’ (not a Greek letter, but a notation for expressing mathematical functions), with an unreduced vowel in the last syllable.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Hat notes the import of Maltese in Mediterranean […]

Speak Your Mind

*