Il Kaulata Maltia.

Karl Farrugia posts about Il Kaulata Maltia – The only extant copy of the first journal in Maltese for the Asian and African studies blog of the British Library:

The turning point in the history of Maltese publications was the liberalisation of the press in 1839, which formally came into force in March of that year following a wider drive for political autonomy in the British colony throughout that decade. The earliest wave of independent newspapers to be published in Malta came on the heels of this development. These newspapers were a largely multilingual affair, with the vast majority being in Italian or English, bilingual Italian and English (Il Mediterraneo, BL NEWS8160 NPL), and even trilingual in Italian, English and French (Il Corriere Maltese, BL NEWS8160 NPL). However, a number of short lived journals in Maltese started popping up at the same time, with one issue of the English-language publication The Harlequin published on the 6th of December, 1838, under the title L’Arlecchin, jeu Kaulata Inglisa u Maltìa, (Cassola, 2011,p. 22), being entirely in the vernacular. One month later, on the 15th of January, 1839, the first issue of the first Maltese journal Il Kaulata Maltia was published followed by two other issues. Only one copy of the first issue was thought to have survived in a private collection in Malta, and a reproduction of its frontispiece was first published by Ġużè Cassar Pullicino (1964). The second and third issues have thus far eluded researchers for decades until I recently discovered a copy of the full three-issue set in the British Library newspaper collection (view Kaulata pdf here).

The editor was James Richardson, “an Anglican missionary for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) who was also the editor of the aforementioned The Harlequin as well as The Phosphorous.” The British government did not allow publication of material of a religious nature intended for local circulation, and in any case Maltese literacy was a recent phenomenon (from an 1831 article in CMS’s The Missionary Register: “The Maltese, in general, are not a reading people, and their language can scarcely be said to be a written language: it is only a few years since it was reduced to writing; and nearly all the books which have ever, to my knowledge, been published in it have been published within a very short time”).

This may have been seen as a hindrance to the missionary efforts of the CMS which consequently undertook a role in education. It is in this context that Il Kaulata Maltia should be seen. Rather than a newspaper, it was meant to be a compilation of opinion pieces by its author George Percy Badger, together with poetry, idioms and aphorisms. […]

The second issue tackled suggestions brought forward by the Royal Commission of 1836, in which the two commissioners sent to Malta, John Austin and George Cornewall-Lewis, reviewed the educational system of the islands. In their report they had suggested that all elementary school children should first learn Maltese, followed by Italian, which they deemed to be the de facto language of the educated, through the medium of the former. Consequently, English should be taught on the basis of the country being a British colony, followed by Arabic. Badger criticised the idea of teaching students four languages and rubbished the need to learn Italian except for those businessmen who required it for their trade. He declared pro-Italianism as the domain of irredentists and Carbonari wanting to secede from the British Empire, and suggested that the Maltese people as a whole wanted to be British and should thus be taught English. His article highlights the vehemently pro-British nature of the publication. […]

Il Kaulata Maltia also sheds some light on another aspect of the Maltese language that was topical at the time of its publication: orthography. As written Maltese was still in its infancy there were different opinions on how it should be written, particularly in terms of the sounds that have no equivalent letters in the standard Latin alphabet, such as the għajn and the rgħajn, equivalent to the Arabic ع and غ respectively. Some writers preferred to use the Arabic letters mixed in with the Latin alphabet, while others like Vassalli added specially designed characters to it, as can be seen from the image reproduced above from the spelling book by Cleardo Naudi. More radically, others proposed the exclusive use of the Arabic consonantal script, an example of which can be seen below. […] The CMS, however, opted for a modified version of Vassalli’s Latin orthography which became the basis of its Maltese publications, including Il Kaulata Maltia. In fact, it seems that the journal was intended to introduce the orthographic system to the general population, as the second page of the first issue lists the whole alphabet with a guide to its pronunciation and an explanation.

I got this link via bulbul, who explained that kaulata, in modern spelling kawlata, means “a kind of vegetable soup with pork,” or figuratively “a mess” — the equivalent of English potpourri or salmagundi. Anyway, fascinating stuff, and it’s exciting to think about all the material hidden away in archives awaiting digitization.


  1. potpourri or salmagundi

    Or gallimaufry?

  2. Maltese galimatias

  3. Wait, “galimatias” is an English word, too? Well I’ll be damned.

  4. Trond Engen says

    Huh, is it an [insert your language] word too? In Norwegian it’s pronounced as if gale-Mattias “crazy Matthew”.

    (It’s written galimatias, and I’ve known since forever that “crazy Matthew” is a folk-etymology of a borrowed word, but I’m surprised how widespread the word is,)

  5. We discussed the word here (in connection with Russian галиматья)

    Arabic origin – from the word meaning “a kind of vegetable soup with pork,” or figuratively “a mess” seems quite possible. (from Arabic into French and from there to all European languages)

  6. I’ve never encountered “gallimaufry” in normal use, except when it was part of a Dr. Who joke.

  7. David Marjanović says

    I’ll contribute to shoring up everyone’s fragile sanity by reassuring you that the word is not pan-European. I have never encountered it before in any language.

  8. @David, well at least eight European languages have it per Wiktionary:

    Czech: galimatyáš
    English: galimatias
    French: galimatias
    German: Galimathias
    Portuguese: galimatias
    Russian: галиматья́
    Spanish: galimatías
    Swedish: gallimatias

    Den Danske Ordbog has galimatias in Danish, and the Store Norske Leksikon has it in Norwegian.

  9. Polish: galimatias

  10. Marja Erwin says

    I’ve heard of potpouri to smell, but not to eat.

  11. Bulgarian: галимация, but I’ve only heard it as referring to a mess, not a soup. As in, a messy situation.

  12. Den rene galimatias (stressed on the penult) is something my grandparents’ generation would actually say, but it’s not really alive in Danish any more. The traditional etymology is from university jocosity galli μάτας ‘rooster’s wisdom,’ but I’m very willing to believe that’s spurious.

  13. January First-of-May says

    The (probably folk) etymology of Russian галиматья that I’ve seen (with variations) in several (pop-sci) etymological books derived it from galli Mathias “roostery Matthew” [as per the source I remembered first; another translation is “rooster’s Matthew”], supposedly a particularly unfortunate mispronounciation of gallus Mathiae “Matthew’s rooster”.

    (I likely misspelled the “original” words; I only know them in Russian transliteration – галли Матиас and галлюс Матье respectively.)

    [EDIT: having found a source for the same etymology in English, I was able to fix the only – surprisingly minor – error.]

  14. If I had to come up with a folk etymology for Bulgarian галима̀ция, it would probably be гали (caress) маца (make stains). I’ve never thought about it, though. The -ия ending makes it a noun.

  15. German: Galimathias
    The variant “Gallimathias” can also be found. It means “gibberish”. But in my experience it’s a very literary / outdated word. On a quick Google search, looking at the first six pages of hits I mostly found discussions of the word (dictionary explanations, etymology); any quotations of actual use were from the 19th century or earlier.

  16. It only gets 20 300 Google hits, which is strange, because while rare, I am quite familiar with it and young-ish people use it. One of the links describes it as “street slang” (I searched for “галимация”, without the Unicode grave accent, which is almost never used outside dictionaries). I does have a strong slangy feel, but sort of elevated slang.


    The Wikitionary entry for the synonyms: rambling, nonsense; disorder, chaos; basically. I am only familiar with the “disorder, chaos” meaning. But in my mind it’s more specific, it’s about people non-intentionally misleading one another. The first list of synonyms seems more appropriate to лакърдия.

  18. Forgot to say that in Danish galimatias is quite unetymologically connected with gal ‘crazy/wrong’, an old/reformed pptc of gale cognate with English yell. (Still galen in Swedish. Semantics via ‘bewitched’).

  19. My mother, born in 1960, just confirmed my intuition about the meaning of лакърдия as being more fitting for the first entry of the Bulgarian Wikitionary entry for галимация as “gibberish, nonsense, making it up as you go along.”

    NB: лакърдия is more often used in its verbal form, while галамация is used in its noun form virtually always.

  20. I did a mini-survey of some friends and they broadly agreed галимация means something like “confusion” with implications of misunderstanding, possibly instigated by one of the parties, but not necessarily.


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