Languages of Malta

Malta has two official languages: Maltese and English. Maltese is the national language. Until 1934, Italian was also an official language in Malta. The country having been governed by many different countries in the past, the Maltese population is generally able to converse in languages which are not native to the country, namely English and Italian.

According to the Eurobarometer poll conducted in 2012, 98% of Maltese people can speak Maltese, 88% can speak English, 66% can speak Italian, and more than 17% speak French.[1] This shows a recent increase in fluency in languages, since in 1995, only 98% of the population spoke Maltese, 76% English, 36% Italian, and 10% French. It shows an increase in Italian fluency, compared to when Italian was an official language of Malta, due to the broadcast of Italian television reaching Malta.[2]

According to the 2011 census, there were 377,952 people aged 10 and over, of whom 357,692 people (94.7%) declared they spoke Maltese at least at an average level, 248,570 (82.1%) declared they spoke English at least at an average level and 93,401 (43.7%) declared they spoke Italian at least at an average level, out of a scale made of "Well", "Average", "A little" and "Not at all".[3] French, Russian and Spanish are the other main languages studied in secondary and tertiary education.[4]

Languages of Malta[1]
OfficialMaltese (>98%)
English (88% as a second language)
SignificantItalian (66%)
SignedMaltese Sign Language


St. Agatha's Tower-main Inscription
A Latin inscription from 1649 at Saint Agatha's Tower.

Greek was made an official language of Malta in antiquity in 553 A.D. as part of Sicily by Emperor Justinian. Though Siculo-Arabic became officially used, Greek remained in use by the upper class until Norman rule which ended in 1194. Greek started to be replaced by Latin around 1130.[5]

For several centuries, Malta was ruled by the order of the Knights of Malta, with members coming from different parts of Europe, when, beside Tuscan Italian, Latin was commonly used for official purposes such as at the Castellania.[6][7]

During the rule of the Order of St. John many knights were French, and French was used by the community in everyday life. However, Italian remained dominant for official purposes. Despite this, it was often used for documentation and maps, because prominent military engineers of the order were French.[8] French was the official language of the Maltese islands during the brief French occupation of Malta (1798-1800).[9]


Lija - city limits sign
A Maltese welcome sign to the village of Ħal Lija, making use of the letter Ħ, unique to Maltese.
Suavi fructo rubeo is a Latin motto, meaning "I glow red with sweet fruit", referring to the many orange orchards present in the village.

Maltese is the national language of the Maltese people, and one of the official languages of Malta and the European Union. It is a Semitic language derived from Siculo-Arabic; however a majority of vocabulary comes from Sicilian and Italian, as described by Maltese linguist May Butcher. 52% of Maltese words are of a latin origin, a result of significant influence from Italy (in particular Sicily) and, to a lesser extent, France. Malta holds the distinction of being the only country in Europe with a historically Semitic language. The Maltese language is written with a modified Latin Alphabet which includes the graphemes ż, ċ, ġ, ħ, and .

Various localities have accents and dialects divergent from standard Maltese. There has been a decline in the number of dialectal speakers, mostly because of exposure to standard Maltese in the media and the institutionalisation of education. The standard language also shows a more pronounced Italianization and Anglicization of the language.[4]

Signers in Malta use the Maltese Sign Language.[10]


Malta - Ghajnsielem - Comino - Pig farm 01 ies
Bilingual danger sign at Comino in both Maltese and English

Before independence in 1964, Malta was a British possession, and as a result English is an official language, with government business being carried out in both English and Maltese. Most Maltese learn English in school, as it is obligatory in most cases. Secondary and tertiary education is conducted exclusively in English. Today, 88% of Malta's population speak English. Aside from Maltese, English is the only other official language of the country. Although standard English is official, the variety of English commonly spoken in Malta is heavily influenced by Italian, not only in vocabulary (most commonly by pronouncing Franco-Latin loan words in English in an Italian style) but extending to phonology, with the English being heavily accented; however, Received Pronunciation remains standard amongst Maltese individuals of a high socioeconomic bracket. Malta also shares with the Republic of Ireland the distinction of being officially Anglophone, a member of the Eurozone, and a Catholic dominance.

Italian and Sicilian

Idioma italiano
Dark blue shows official, previously official, or second language position of Italian. Light blue shows less common usage.
Żabbar Tal-Kmand inscription
Italian inscription from the former Ġnien tal-Kmand at Żabbar. This inscription dates back from the early 19th century, when Malta was a British protectorate

For many centuries and until 1934, Italian was the official language of Malta. Indeed, it was considered the language of culture in Malta since the Italian Renaissance. In the 19th century Italian irredentists and Italian Maltese wanted to promote its use throughout Malta for plans to re-unify it to Italy as Malta was part of the Kingdom of Sicily up to 13th century. In the first decades of the 20th century there was even a struggle within Maltese society and politics over the "language problem", which came to a head before World War II. In 1933 the Constitution was withdrawn over the Government's budgetary vote for the teaching of Italian in elementary schools.[11] The use of Italian in official matters was politcally motivated by the antiriformista party and by the Roman Catholic Church as a form of status quo and conservative measures against the Protestant British colonial power.[12]

Today, 66% of the Maltese population can speak Italian, and 8% of the population "prefer" to use it in day-to-day conversation, due to the large recent influx of Italian immigrants.[1][4] Although Italian has been replaced by English as the official language, it is still used and is spoken commonly in certain professional workplaces by Italian immigrants. The percentage of speakers today, 66%, is in fact much greater than when the language was actually official, in 1931, when only 14% spoke it.[4]

A large number of Maltese learn Italian through Italian television as Italian media broadcast reach the Maltese Islands.[2]

Foreign languages

In addition to Italian, many Maltese generally have some degree of proficiency in French, and quite a few understand or speak Spanish or German. Several other languages are studied too, and Arabic and Russian are offered in schools.

The Governmental Circular letter for the school year 2011-2012[13] shows the following language options should be available in schools:

Form I (around the age of 11)

  • Arabic
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Spanish

This language is studied for the five years in Secondary School

Form III (around the age of 13)

  • Arabic
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Spanish

This language is studied for the last three years in Secondary School



There are equal numbers of newspapers published in English and Maltese, with none in Italian.

The vast majority of people preferred English as their choice of reading, with English being preferred by 61.1% of the population for books and 70.89% for magazines. Only 35.8% of the population preferred to read books in Maltese, and 22.7% of them preferred it for magazines.


Regarding radio, Italian takes the place of English, with radio stations being predominantly in Maltese and Italian, with a few in English too.

82.41% of the population regularly listens to Maltese radio, 25.41% listens to Italian, and a smaller 14.69% listens to English radio.[4]


Local television channels are broadcast mainly in Maltese and sometimes English. However, many people have access to foreign television channels from Italy, the UK, or other European countries, or from the United States, either via local cable or digital terrestrial services, or directly via satellite.

Online usage of Maltese language

As at 2005, Maltese was not a commonly used language on the internet, with the majority of "Maltese" websites being written in other languages. Out of a survey conducted on 13 Maltese websites, 12 of them were entirely in English, with one being bilingual, but not Maltese.[14]


Possible scenarios for the future of Maltese are a subject of speculation among scholars. Dialectal variation of Maltese is in decline. There is influence from English and Italian. There is a perceived language shift towards English amongst the Maltese, with lexological and grammatical patterns in the Maltese increasingly anglicized.[4] However this absorption of linguistic influences saturates the history of the Maltese, which remains spoken by almost 100% of the population.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c European Commission (June 2012). Special Eurobarometer 386: Europeans and Their Languages (PDF) (Report). Eurobarometer Special Surveys. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 January 2016. Retrieved 12 February 2015. Lay summary (PDF) (27 March 2015).
  2. ^ a b Country profile: Malta BBC News; [2008/01/10]; [2008/02/21]
  3. ^ "Final Report of the 2011 CENSUS OF POPULATION AND HOUSING" (PDF). National Statistics Office, Malta: 149. 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Ignasi Badia i Capdevila; A view of the linguistic situation in Malta; NovesSL; [2004]; retrieved on [2008-02-24]
  5. ^
  6. ^ Cassar, Carmel (2011). "Malta and the study of Arabic in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries" (PDF). Turkish Historical Review. 2 (2): 128-130. doi:10.1163/187754611X603083. ISSN 1877-5454.
  7. ^ Cassar Pullicino, J. "G. F. Abela and the Maltese Language". Malta Historical Society: 30. Archived from the original on 8 May 2017.
  8. ^ Pullicino, Mark (2013). The Obama Tribe Explorer, James Martin's Biography. MPI Publishing. p. 74. ISBN 978-99957-0-584-8. OCLC 870266285.
  9. ^ Marco, Elena di (2013). "The state of the Maltese economy at the end of the eighteenth century. Considerations based on the deeds of a local notary Stefano Farrugia" (PDF). Journal of Maltese History. Malta: Department of History, University of Malta. 3 (2): 92. ISSN 2077-4338. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2016.
  10. ^ Paggio P, Gatt A, eds. (2018). The languages of Malta (pdf). Berlin: Language Science Press. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1181783. ISBN 978-3-96110-070-5.
  11. ^ "Le iniziative culturali italiane negli anni '30 per Malta e per le comunità maltesi all'estero". Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  12. ^ Cassar, Carmel (1988). "Everyday Life in Malta in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries". In Manuel Victor Mallla. The British Colonial Experience 1800-1964: The Impact on Maltsse Society (PDF). Mireva Publications. pp. 91–126.
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2011-03-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Country report for MINERVA Plus in 2005; Multilingual issues in Malta; Retrieved on [2008-02-24]
  • Hull, Geoffrey. The Malta Language Question: A Case Study in Cultural Imperialism. Said International, Valletta, 1993.

External links

 This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document "2006 edition".

English language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse (a North Germanic language), and to a greater extent by Latin and French.English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a group of West Germanic (Ingvaeonic) dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century, are collectively called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England; this was a period in which the language was influenced by French. Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London, the printing of the King James Bible and the start of the Great Vowel Shift.Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, and later the United States, Modern English has been spreading around the world since the 17th century. Through all types of printed and electronic media, and spurred by the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions and professional contexts such as science, navigation and law.English is the largest language by number of speakers, and the third most-spoken native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish. It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states. There are more people who have learned it as a second language than there are native speakers. It is estimated that there are over 2 billion speakers of English. English is the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, and it is widely spoken in some areas of the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia. It is a co-official language of the United Nations, the European Union and many other world and regional international organisations. It is the most widely spoken Germanic language, accounting for at least 70% of speakers of this Indo-European branch. English has a vast vocabulary, though counting how many words any language has is impossible. English speakers are called "Anglophones".

Modern English grammar is the result of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking pattern, with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word order, to a mostly analytic pattern with little inflection, a fairly fixed SVO word order and a complex syntax. Modern English relies more on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect and mood, as well as passive constructions, interrogatives and some negation. Despite noticeable variation among the accents and dialects of English used in different countries and regions—in terms of phonetics and phonology, and sometimes also vocabulary, grammar and spelling—English-speakers from around the world are able to communicate with one another with relative ease.

Index of Malta-related articles

This page list topics related to Malta.

List of linguistic rights in European constitutions

Linguistic rights in Europe are stated in constitutions which differ by country. These constitutions usually state the national language or official language, and may or may not explicitly allow for other languages in the country. Most of the linguistic rights stated here are negative rights, which grant freedom of usage of own language and prevents discrimination based on language. Some countries do offer positive rights: for example provision of language education from State funds in Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Hungary, Moldova, Portugal, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine.


Malta (, (listen); Maltese: [ˈmɐltɐ]), officially known as the Republic of Malta (Maltese: Repubblika ta' Malta), is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km.2 The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

Malta has been inhabited since approximately 5900 BC. Its location in the centre of the Mediterranean has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, with a succession of powers having contested and ruled the islands, including the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. Most of these foreign influences have left some sort of mark on the country's ancient culture.

Malta became a British colony in 1815, serving as a way station for ships and the headquarters for the British Mediterranean Fleet. It played an important role in the Allied war effort during the Second World War, and was subsequently awarded the George Cross for its bravery in the face of an Axis siege, and the George Cross appears on Malta's national flag. The British Parliament passed the Malta Independence Act in 1964, giving Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and queen. The country became a republic in 1974. It has been a member state of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations since independence, and joined the European Union in 2004; it became part of the eurozone monetary union in 2008.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and its Archdiocese is claimed to be an apostolic see because Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on "Melita", according to Acts of the Apostles, which is now widely taken to be Malta. While Catholicism is the official religion in Malta, Article 40 of the Constitution states that "all persons in Malta shall have full freedom of conscience and enjoy the free exercise of their respective mode of religious worship."Malta is a popular tourist destination with its warm climate, numerous recreational areas, and architectural and historical monuments, including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, Valletta, and seven megalithic temples which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world.


Maltenglish, also known as Manglish, Minglish, Maltese English or Maltingliż, refers to the phenomenon of code-switching between Maltese, a Semitic language, and English, an Indo-European Germanic language.

Both Maltese and English are official languages in Malta, and about 88% of the Maltese people can speak English as a second language. Various Maltese social groups switch back and forth between the two languages, or macaronically mix lexical aspects of Maltese and English while engaging in informal conversation or writing.Maltenglish can also refer to English loanwords in the Maltese language.

Maltese Italian

Maltese Italian is the Italian language spoken in Malta. It has received some influences from the Maltese language.

Maltese Sign Language

Maltese Sign Language (Maltese: Lingwa tas-Sinjali Maltija, LSM) is a young sign language of Malta. It developed into its modern form c. 1980 with the establishment of the first deaf club in Malta and subsequently with its use in education for the deaf. LSM's prior history is unrecorded, though there are some signs which indicate contact with British Sign Language (Malta was a British colony until 1964). These signs are relatively few, however, and LSM is not part of the BSL family (Brentari 2010).

Maria Galea has described the use of SignWriting when used to write Maltese Sign Language.The Maltese public broadcaster PBS Ltd. began airing a nightly newscast in LSM on its TVM2 network in 2012.

Maltese language

Maltese (Maltese: Malti) is the national language of Malta and a co-official language of the country alongside English, while also serving as an official language of the European Union, the only Semitic language so distinguished. Maltese is descended from Siculo-Arabic, the extinct variety of Arabic that developed in Sicily and was later introduced to Malta, between the end of the ninth century and the end of the twelfth century.Maltese has evolved independently of Classical Arabic and its varieties into a standardized language over the past 800 years in a gradual process of Latinisation. Maltese is therefore considered an exceptional descendant of Arabic that has no diglossic relationship with Classical or Modern Standard Arabic, and is classified separately from the Arabic macrolanguage. Maltese is also unique among Semitic languages since its morphology has been deeply influenced by Romance languages, namely Italian and Sicilian.The original Semitic base, Siculo-Arabic, comprises around one-third of the Maltese vocabulary, especially words that denote basic ideas and the function words, but about half of the vocabulary is derived from standard Italian and Sicilian; and English words make up between 6% and 20% of the vocabulary. A recent study shows that, in terms of basic everyday language, speakers of Maltese are able to understand less than a third of what is said to them in Tunisian Arabic, which is related to Siculo-Arabic, whereas speakers of Tunisian are able to understand about 40% of what is said to them in Maltese. This reported level of asymmetric intelligibility is considerably lower than the mutual intelligibility found between Arabic dialects.Maltese has always been written in the Latin script, the earliest surviving example dating from the late Middle Ages. It continues to be the only standardized Semitic language written exclusively in the Latin script.

Outline of Malta

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Malta:

Malta is a small and densely populated sovereign island nation located in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta comprises an archipelago of seven islands, of which the three largest are inhabited. Malta is located 93 km (58 mi) south of Sicily, and 288 km (179 mi) north of North Africa, giving the country a warm, Mediterranean climate. The nation's capital is the 16th century city of Valletta.

Throughout much of its history, Malta has been considered a crucial location due in large part to its position in the Mediterranean Sea. It was held by several ancient cultures including Sicilians, Romans, Phoenicians, Byzantines and others. The island is commonly associated with the Knights of St. John who ruled it. This, along with the historic pseudo-historic and religiously claimed shipwreck of St. Paul on the island, and since the 12th century ingrained a Roman Catholic legacy which is still the official religion in Malta today combined with secular values.

The country's official languages are Maltese and English, the former is the national language and the latter a legacy from Malta's period as a British colony. Malta gained independence in 1964 and is currently a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

Timeline of Maltese history

This is a timeline of Maltese history, comprising important legal and territorial changes and political events in Malta and its predecessor states. To read about the background to these events, see History of Malta. See also the list of monarchs of Malta and list of Governors of Malta.

Sovereign states
States with limited
Dependencies and
other entities
Other entities
Dialects and accents of Modern English by continent
North and

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