1st International Conference of Maltese Linguistics
Bremen, October 18 – 20, 2007

Lisa Bonnici (Davis)Language Variation in Bilingual Malta in the Era of Globalization

In the last two centuries, English has gained much prominence in Malta, a result of the 150-year period of British colonization as well as the prominent role of English in our increasingly globalized world.  Alongside Maltese, English is an official language in the island-nation, and is the dominant language of primary and secondary schools as well as the sole language used at the tertiary level.  Although English plays a substantial role in Maltese society with all Maltese citizens considered bilingual in English and Maltese to varying degrees (Camilleri, 1995).  Furthermore, research has yet to investigate the linguistic structure of the variety of English spoken in Malta (see Camilleri, 1991; Camilleri, 1992; Camilleri, 1996).  With the admission of Malta into the European Union (E.U.) in 2004, the time is ripe for an investigation of language use and language ideologies on the island.  Previous studies have noted multifaceted attitudes of Maltese citizens (both in Malta and abroad) to the Maltese language (Slavik, 2001), valuing English as the language of global prestige. However, new questions arise.  Has the E.U.’s focus on the promotion of lesser spoken languages affected the patterns of Maltese and English language usage and the language ideologies among Malta’s citizenry? What role does English play in Maltese identities? This study will investigate the current sociolinguistic atmosphere in Malta first, through an analysis of its linguistic landscape and second, by means of a variationist sociolinguistic study on language use and language ideologies.

Linguistic landscape – the examination of language in public spaces – serves as a way to better understand the domains of language use as well as the symbolic value each language holds in a given place.  In this study, digital photographs of linguistic objects (e.g. signs, posters, event fliers) will be collected and cataloged for analysis.  Linguistic artifacts from three regions in Malta will be gathered to capture urban and rural differences in linguistic landscape.  As I have noted elsewhere “investigations into the linguistic landscape (LL) of a place…have recently emerged as a novel investigative technique used to elucidate the roles different languages occupy in multicultural localities” (Bonnici, 2007).  This investigation will document the ways in which language forms the Maltese landscape and will provide a means of analyzing the informational and symbolic roles each language plays in Maltese society in an innovative way.

Next, sociolinguistic interviews with Maltese participants will be conducted where individuals will discuss their own patterns of language use, their opinions on bilingualism and monolingualism, and their attitudes towards the entrance of Malta into the E.U.  Individuals of varying ages, genders, socioeconomic classes, language backgrounds, occupations and political affiliations will be considered in the selection of participants.  These interviews will provide the data for both a qualitative and quantitative analysis of language use and language ideologies. A discourse analysis of the oral interviews will be carried out in order to uncover the language ideologies of participants.  Then, using variationist methodology pioneered by William Labov (Labov, 1972), phonetic and morphological variation in the variety of English spoken in Malta will be investigated.

Through a discovery of linguistic variants and emic social categories, this study will serve to elucidate the ways in which Maltese identities are fostered in a bilingual setting.  Does Maltese fluency alone constitute a Maltese identity or is knowledge of English an inherent piece of “Malteseness”?  Finally, how are ideologies of language being shaped by Malta’s recent entrance into the E.U?


Bonnici, Lisa (2007). Israeli linguistic landscapes. Summary of Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, Elana Shohamy, Muhammad Hasan Amara, & Nira Trumper-Hecht.  2006. Current Anthropology 48(5).

Camilleri, Antoinette (1991). Crosslinguistic influence in a bilingual classroom: The example of Maltese and English. Edinburgh Working Papers in Applied Linguistics 2: 101-111.

Camilleri, Antoinette (1992). The sociolinguistic status of English in Malta. Edinburgh Working Papers in Applied Linguistics 3: 4-24.

Camilleri, Antoinette (1995). Bilingualism in Education: The Maltese Experience. Heidelberg: Julius Groos Verlag.

Camilleri, Antoinette (1996). Language values and identities: Code switching in secondary classrooms in Malta. Linguistics and Education 8: 85-103.

Labov, William (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Slavik, Hannah (2001). Language maintenance and language shift among Maltese migrants in Ontario and British Columbia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 152: 131-152.


Albert Borg (Malta)Marie Azzopardi-Alexander (Malta)Topicalization in Maltese

In previous work (Fabri Ray and Borg Albert, ‘Topic, Focus and Word Order in Maltese’ in A. Youssi et al (eds.) Aspects of the Dialects of Arabic Today, Rabat: Amapatril, 2000, pp.354-363) it was established that in Maltese, the Focus NP but not the Topic NP gets the main stress in the sentence and that the Topic object NP is always marked with a pronominal clitic on the verb.

In this paper we explore some other constituents which can be topicalised. In some cases there is no pronominal cliticisation on the verb and yet there is the perception that these expressions are also topics. It seems that there is a suprasegmental mechanism in place which identifies these expressions as such even though grammatically they may be considered to be outside the structure of the sentence  with which they are communicatively associated.


Joseph M. Brincat (Malta)Reflections on the developments of o > u and uCC > oCC in Maltese

The general perception that Italian o usually changes into u in Maltese, following the Sicilian pattern, represents cases when u changes into o as exceptions. However, abundant examples show that there must be some kind of rule governing the said vowel correspondence, especially because the change affects words of both Arabic and Romance origins.

The paper attempts an overview of the situation, considering the various categories, as well as a comparative exercise with evidence of the trend in Vulgar Latin, Sicilian and Italian, in Siculo Arabic and in Aljamiado-Morisco texts.


Antoinette Camilleri-Grima (Malta)Diglossia: Variation on a Theme

This paper is a preliminary investigation of the status of dialectal Maltese in Gozo, with special reference to the domain of education. The sociolinguistic concept of diglossia was explained in depth by Charles Ferguson in his seminal paper in 1959, and was later amplified by Joshua Fishman in 1967; and again defended and further explained by Fishman in 2002. Maltese dialects and their co-existence with Standard Maltese on the island of Malta are normally considered as presenting a case of diglossia (e.g. Camilleri 1987; Camilleri 1995), and Standard Maltese as enjoying a relationship of bilingualism without diglossia in relation to English.

This paper seeks to explain the peculiar co-existence of dialectal and standard Maltese on the island of Gozo, and claims that it is the Gozitan dialects, normally expected to act as Low varieties, that enjoy the higher social prestige normally associated with the High variety; while standard Maltese speakers are stigmatized. While focussing particularly on the domain of education, and dealing specifically with the two diglossic features of Function and Prestige, I shall (i) provide evidence to show how dialectal and standard Maltese share functions and fight for prestige in school; and (ii) discuss this unusual sociolinguistic context in terms of ethnolinguistic vitality. According to Fishman (2002) a fundamental criterion for describing a society as diglossic is depth in time, and in Gozo the prognosis is encouraging for the survival of dialectal Maltese, and its position as the High variety, given both the etiology, as well as the ehtnolinguistic vitality of the community.


Camilleri A. 1987. Language, Education and Socialization in Mġarr. Unpublished B.Ed. dissertation, University of Malta.

Camilleri A. 1995. "'Issa l-mummy trid tibda tkellimni bil-pulit'. A case study of a regional dialect in Malta." In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of L'Association Internationale pour la dialectologie Arabe, held at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, 10-14 September 1995, pp. 11-20.

Ferguson C.A. 1959. "Diglossia". Word 15: 325-40.

Fishman J. 1967. "Bilingualism with and without diglossia; diglossia with and without bilingualism". Journal of Social Issues 23(2): 29-38.

Fishman J. 2002. "Diglossia and Societal Multilingualism: Dimensions of Similarity and Difference". International Journal of the Sociology of Language 157: 93-100.


Sandro Caruana (Malta)Maltese in the EU: a case of linguistic “Europeanisation”?

The recent enlargement of the European Union (EU) also entails the use of more languages within European institutions. Maltese is an official language within the EU and it is thereby used to translate documentation and to interpret European parliamentary sessions. Undoubtedly, Malta’s accession to the EU also involves many linguistic challenges. Besides practical issues – during the first years of full membership the complement of Maltese translators and interpreters in the EU was rather small – sectorial terminology has to be translated into Maltese and the language has to deal with terms for which a Maltese correspondent may not exist. The use of Maltese in these special or sectorial languages is often cause for debate because in these areas English is used predominantly in Malta, thereby limiting the development of technical terminology in Maltese.

This situation is even more intricate when one considers the complex nature of EU communication. Despite the fact that within the EU itself there have been attempts to render communication more transparent and documentation more easily accessible (e.g. Fight the Fog, published by the European Commission in 1997), terminological issues, as well as syntactic complexity, still abound. Furthermore, translation within the EU requires total equivalence between the source and the target language, thereby rendering other translation techniques, such as paraphrase or reformulation, rather inadequate.

Within this context Maltese translators reportedly also refer to Italian terminology prior to translating technical terms from English into Maltese. This, of course, is to be expected, especially when one considers the large amount of words of Romance origin present in Maltese, which, as referred by Brincat (2003:360), constitute more than half the corpus included in Aquilina’s dictionary (1987-1990).   

In this paper I will provide a brief description of the current sociolinguistic situation in Malta, followed by an in-depth analysis of what I describe as the “Europeanisation” of the language. This concept mirrors the work of Tosi & Visconti (2004) on the “Europeanisation” of Italian. I will therefore investigate the nature of the terminology used in Maltese when referring to EU matters. This will be done by referring to three sources: official EU documentation available online translated into Maltese, EU news as reported by local newspapers and by local television channels. The objectives of these paper are firstly to examine the extent to which terms of Italian origin are used in order to translate EU sectorial language into Maltese and, secondly, to verify whether these terms are also divulged in the local media.

The corpus comprises articles from EU documentation available on the website, articles from dailies and weeklies and news items transmitted on national television. The corpus will be analysed quantitatively and will be described in terms of word formation, inflectional and derivational morphology and etymology.

References (selection):

Aquilina, J. 1987-1990, A Maltese-English dictionary, vols I and II, Malta, Midsea Books.

Brincat, G. 2003, Malta. Una storia linguistica, Genova, Le Mani.

European Commission, 1997, Fight the Fog: How to write clearly, Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of European Communities.

Tosi, A. & Visconti, J. 2004, L’ “europeizzazione” della lingua italiana in: “Lingua italiana d’oggi”, 2004 (1), pp. 151-174.


Dominique Caubet (Lacnad)Towards a dialectoligcal atlas of Maltese ; questions to be raised

A few years ago, I published a questiopnnaire to be used for comparing North Afrcian languages. I presented it to our colleagues in Malta in 2004; but I am not aware that the work towards a Linguistic Atlas of Malta has started. I will present in Bremen a version of the questionnaire (in English), more oriented towards Maltese and hope a team of linguists will start working on the subject before it is too late.

The idea behind this questionnaire for Malta is double:

It helps situate Maltese in its standard form among the North African languages, but mostly, it should also allow the study of internal variation in Malta itself, while it still exists, with all the local variants and the dialects that have retained the pronunciation of phonemes that have disappeared in the standard form. A long term project !


AQUILINA J. ; Maltese-English Dictionary, vol. 1 (A-L), Midsea Books, Malta, 1987.

AQUILINA J. ; Maltese-English Dictionary, vol. 2 (M-Z), Midsea Books, Malta, 1990.

BUGEJA, P.; Kelmet il-Malti, Malti-Ingliz; Ingliz-Malti, AN Books, Malta, 1988.

CAUBET, D.; "Questionnaire de Dialectologie du Maghreb (d’après les travaux de W. Marçais, M. Cohen, G.S. Colin, J. Cantineau, D. Cohen, Ph. Marçais, etc.)", in EDNA, Estudios de dialectologia norteafricana y andalusi, n°5 (2000-2001), pp. 73-92, 2002.


Vincent Taohsun Chang (Taipei)A cognitive-pragmatic approach to contemporary Maltese discourse topic

This paper investigates the contemporary Maltese discourse topic across genres based upon cognitive/relevance-theoretic approach (Sperber & Wilson 1986/1995, Noveck & Sperber 2006) to render plausible interpretations to our research aims, as compared to those previous studies from syntactic/structural and functional/cognitive points of view (Chu 1993, 1999, 2000; Chen 1996; Hedberg 1990; van Oosten 1986). People often mean more than they say. Grammar/syntax on its own is typically insufficient for determining the full meaning of an utterance, the assumption that the discourse is coherent or 'makes sense' has an important role to play in determining meaning as well (cf. Asher & Lascarides 2005). Just as syntactic surface structures display ramifications of underlying structures, we can well appreciate the inferred implicit meanings (vs. explicit meanings) as potential topics conveyed and enriched by the interplay of syntax-semantics-pragmatics and discourse, as shown in this study.

Conceptual topic (or baldly termed cognitive topic in this paper) from a cognitive perspective will not merely facilitate the readers with more accessible contextual effects (implicatures), but the subtopics, grounding (Chui 2001) and composite topics (Bilhaut 2005) can also be approached layer by layer with regard to cognition and language, which, again, play a vital role in perception, comprehension, and interpretation of utterances and non-verbal communication, and hence the mental processes of assigning/deciding a topic. The topic may thus vary from a word, short phrases, to a sentence, and, above all, the gist (after reader's digestion and reorganisation) of the text/discourse.

There are gaps having long existed between linguistic studies and language instructions, for the former emphasise theoretical investigations usually associated with abstract concepts, whereas the latter focus on practices and applications in their own right. Cognitive-functional linguistics, however, with its niche of observation and evidence from ordinary language use, poses challenges and opportunities to the two research areas of language science. For the discourse topic (and/or sentence topic) exemplified in this study, we as researchers and language instructors are able to introduce (but definitely not confined to) the basic linguistic patterns, with contingent prototype/prototypicality of topic, to language learners. We are also to embrace multifaceted non-prototypical speech encounters across genres and languages, since cognitive processing is crucial to human communication, verbal and non-verbal, and reveals one of the most important language universals.


Asher, Nicholas, and Alex Lascarides. (2005). Logic of Conversation: Studies in Natural Language Processing. Cambridge University Press.

Bilhaut, Frédérik. (2005). Composite Topics in Discourse. Paper for Symposium on the Exploration and Modelling of Meaning (SEM 05) Connectives, discourse framing and discourse structure: from corpus-based and experimental analyses to discourse theories. ( 14-15 November, Biarritz (Basque Country), France.

Chen, Ping. (1996). Pragmatic interpretations of structural topics and relativization in Chinese. Journal of Pragmatics, 1996, 3: 27-36.

Chu, Chauncey C. (1993). The Prototypicality of Topic in Mandarin Chinese. JCLTA, Vol. 28: No.1, pp. 25-48.

Chu, Chauncey C. (1999). A Cognitive-Functional Grammar of Mandarin Chinese. Taipei: Crane.

Chui, Kawai (2001). Topic Chain and Grounding in Chinese Discourse. Taipei: Crane.

Hedberg, Nancy. (1990). Discourse-Pragmatic Preliminaries. Chapter 2 (pp. 9-33) in Discourse Pragmatics and Cleft Sentences in English. Ph.D dissertation, University of Minnesota.

Noveck, Ira A. and Dan Sperber (eds.). (2006). Experimental Pragmatics. (Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Languages and Cognition). Palgrave Macmillan.

Sperber, Dan, and Deirdre Wilson. (1986/1995). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

van Oosten, Jeanne. (1986). The Nature of Subjects, Topics, and Agents: A Cognitive Explanation. Bloomington, IN: IU Linguistics Club.


Flavia Chetcuti (Malta)Sarah Grech (Malta)Michael Spagnol (Malta)Alexandra Vella (Malta) SPeech ANnotation – Developing Guidelines for Maltese Corpora

Maltese, like many other languages of small communities, suffers from a serious lack in the availability of structured resources for use both in research on Maltese as well as in the production of commercial products such as, in this case, products having a speech-related interface such as Text-to-Speech systems for Maltese. The dearth of information about the prosody and intonation of Maltese in particular is a hindrance to those working on developing high quality Text-to-Speech systems and other speech engineering tools for Maltese, the intonational interface built into such systems being often rudimentary at best. It is in this context that the project SPAN was conceived. This presentation aims to outline the work carried out so far as part of the project SPAN as well as to give an indication of the way forward. The work carried out so far in the context of the project SPAN consists of the annotation of dialogue data from a small corpus of spoken Maltese compiled as part of a parallel project, MalToBI. Annotation carried out at this stage is of two kinds: orthographic and prosodic. The prosodic annotation in particular will serve a dual purpose:

  • establish standards for the annotation of the prosody of Maltese in the ToBI-style which have and are being developed for other languages;
  • clarify aspects of the phonological analysis of the prosodic structure and intonation of Maltese in order to consolidate this analysis.

In the course of this work a set of guidelines for use in the annotation of spoken Maltese more generally are being formulated. The annotated corpus and the accompanying guidelines should serve to encourage further research on specific issues related to both the segmental phonology of Maltese and its prosody.


Abdou Elimam (Oran)Les préverbes en maltais et en maghribi

Cette étude s’intéresse à ce que l’on a pu appeler, ailleurs, la « métalinguistique naturelle »1 et interroge cette notion à partir de formes où le renfort d’un verbe en position de « préverbe » aboutit à une sorte de métaphorisation fonctionnelle du préverbe. Nous nous intéressons à l’agglutination [ V1 + V2] où un seul et même sujet de la relation prédicative est impliqué. Une telle configuration permet à V1 – en s’allégeant de certains de ses traits  sémantico-syntaxiques – d’occuper une position de surcharge sémantique pour pouvoir combler certaines lacunes sémantico-syntaxiques de V2. Bien des analyses ont approché ces questions notamment en étudiant les phénomènes d’auxiliarisation, d’inchoativité, de préverbes aspectuels, de prédicats complexes, etc. Généralement l’intérêt des analystes a porté sur des figements fonctionnels qui attribuent à un éléments du lexique une valeurs morpho-syntaxique vérifiés dans les faits. Nous viserons, pour ce qui nous concerne, des formes verbales impliquées dans des constructions aboutissant à un complexe morpho-syntaxique traduisible, dans la même languie ou dans une autre, sous la forme d’un item morphémique autonome. C’est un peu le cas de « montrer » vis-à-vis de « faire voir », où « faire » apporte la dimension « factitive » qui manque à « voir ».2  En maltais, aussi bien qu’en maghribi on constate le recours à une sorte de ressource naturelle permettant aux locuteurs  de faire usage de ces « recharges  sémantiques ou syntaxiques » – selon la nature de la lacune à combler pour des besoins de communication – de manière assez courante.

Nous nous prononcerons sur des constructions telles que :

« nippreferi nara xi VD » [nippreferi + nara]
« 18 u 20 sena jistennew biex jehduha (il-midalia) » [jestennew + jehdu]
« … dak li  qieghed jinteressa mill-qrib lill poplu taghna » [qieghed + jinteressa]
« qamet etqul es-sahh » [qamet + etqul]
« asma’ ed-deq, nad jeġġri lil-bab » [nad + jeġġri]
« q’ad jaħki m’ahum toll an-har » [q’ad + jaħki]

1Cf. le courant français des opérations énonciatives et prédicatives  (A. Culioli, C. Delmas , etc.)

2En anglais, « show » = « make » + « see »


Ray Fabri (Malta)Compounding in Maltese

Compounding is one of the areas of grammar in Maltese that have not been explored at all, probably on the assumption that, like Arabic, Maltese is very poor in compounding. In this paper, I intend to show that this is, in fact, not the case. I will first give an overview of the different types of compounds that exist in Maltese, including cases such as xatt il-baħar ‘seashore’ (literally shore the-sea), Triq il-Kbira ‘Main Street’ (lit. Street the-big, lumi larinġ ‘sweet orange’ (lit. lemon orange), qargħa ħamra ‘pumpkin’ (lit. pumpkin red), għalhekk ‘therefore’ (lit. for-like-this), fuq fuq ‘superficially’ (lit. up up/on on) and tal-laħam ‘butcher’ (lit. of-the-meat), among others.

I will then focus upon a specific subset of compounds, namely, those made up of an adjective on the left and a noun on the right, e.g. tqil ċomb ‘very heavy’ (lit. ‘heavy lead’, i.e. as heavy as lead) and għarwin ħuta ‘totally naked’(lit. ‘naked fish’, i.e. as naked as a fish). I will present the relevant data, identifying what elements actually appear on the left, and what elements occur on the right, and what semantic relation/s they express. I will then discuss and analyse their properties in order to characterise them as a class. Finally, I will specify their morpho-syntactic status, i.e. justify my claim that they should indeed be treated as compounds, rather than, say, collocations or some other form of grammatical construction.


Ray Fabri (Malta)Sandra Gett (Ohio State)Elizabeth Hume (Ohio State)Alexandra Vella (Malta)Vowel Duration and in Maltese

Historically, the Maltese phoneme inventory included a voiced pharyngeal approximant which, in modern Maltese, has been replaced by increased duration of an adjacent vowel. However, the extent to which increased vowel duration is observed in all contexts that contained the pharyngeal consonant is controversial. Brame (1972) assumed all contexts yielded increased duration while Puech (1979) shows the situation to be more complex: in some contexts increased vowel duration is consistently observed while in others it is not. Hume & Venditti (1997) found that the extent to which increased duration occurs in the context of a historical pharyngeal consonant is affected by syllable type, stress and word position. It is unclear, however, whether these findings are consistent with the patterns for all dialects of Maltese.

The findings to be discussed in this talk form part of a larger study that builds on the earlier works noted above. We intend to take advantage of Malta's rich dialectal landscape and investigate the realization of vowel duration in several different Maltese dialects from phonetic, phonological, and sociolinguistic perspectives. The work discussed in this talk focuses on a subset of the data for the larger study, that is, the speech of two speakers of Standard Maltese. Similar to the study of Hume & Venditti (1997), several factors are considered: stress, syllable type, word position, and the presence of a historical pharyngeal consonant.


Helen Grech (Malta)Barbara Dodd (Queensland)Effects of Language Learning Context on Phonological Acquisition: data from Maltese children

One major question arising from current research on the phonological development of bilingual children concerns the influence of the language pair being acquired. Goldstein and his colleagues report that for Hispanic-English in America the same error patterns are used in both languages and that they do no not differ from those of monolingual speakers of English. In contrast studies on Punjabi-English and Cantonese-English bilingual pre-scoolers indicate that the error patterns used differ between languages and from monolingual speakers. The study reported investigates the effects of language pair by comparing error pattern use of 3;0-6;0-year old Maltese-English ‘bilingual’ children with  ‘monolingual’  children in Malta and UK. The proportion of lexemes in a picture-naming test that children chose to name in either Maltese or English is also evaluated in relation to parental report regarding the primary language of the children.

The results have both theoretical and clinical implications. Theoretically, if the language pair learned affects the nature of phonological error patterns used, then it provides evidence supporting cognitive-linguistic theories of phonological acquisition. Clinically, it is essential for research to provide information concerning the extent to which the language pair influences the type of error patterns and lexical mixing in child speech.


Fernande Krier (Paris)On the Nominal Sentence in Maltese

There was a problem to formulate the title of the present lecture. First, I chose the negative definition “verbless sentence” which I rejected afterwards, because it would have suggested a sentence with ellipsis of the verb and thus a deficient sentence. Nevertheless, the traditional term “nominal sentence”, which I finally borrowed from the Arabic grammarians, leaves much to be desired, too; in fact, the predicate is not only a noun or an adjective, but it can also be a pronoun, an adverb or a prepositional phrase.

After a brief description of some main features of Maltese grammar, I shall demonstrate that, in Maltese, the nominal sentence is a primary and autonomous structure, as in the other Semitic languages. The unmarked sentence generally admits two members, subject and predicate or, sometimes, one member, the predicate. The marked sentence has an auxiliary element, the copula, inserted between subject and predicate; it is optional, that is to say, it depends on the discursive and cognitive contents and specifies the information by bringing out such various issues as the locative and the durative meaning, but also essence and even emphasis.

The unmarked as well as the marked sentences will be described accurately by numerous examples.


Utz Maas (Osnabrück)Complex Predicates In Maltese - In The Perspective Of Neo-Arabic

Predicates in Maltese show (manifest?) somewhat fuzzy borders between complex predicates and complex sentences, as all parts of a complex predicate can remain (morphologically) finite and as subordination can be asyndetic, cf.

  • beda jmur l-iskola “he started (to go to) school”
  • ried imur l-iskola “he wanted (to go to) school”

Complex predicates demand extensive agreement, e.g. in person marking, cf.

  • *beda(-ni) mmur l-iskola “he started me to go to school”
  • ried-nimmur l-iskola  “he wanted me to go to school”,

and complementizers cannot be intercalated, cf.

  • *beda li jmur l-iskola “he started (to go to) school”
  • ried li mmur l-iskola “he wanted (to go to) school”

I call verbal modifiers in a complex predicate coverbs.

Maltese continues a common (neo-) Arabic pattern of predicate formation, even augmenting the coverbal stock by Romance verbs, e.g. kompla “to continue”, spiċċa “to finish”.

The paper will look at the Maltese constructions from a neo-Arabic point of view, comparing them with patters known from related languages: Magribinian (Tunesian, Algerian, Moroccan) as well as Mashriqian (Egyptian, Palestinian).


Laura Mori (Viterbo)The shaping of Maltese along the centuries: linguistic evidences from a diachronic-typological analysis

La storia linguistica di Malta racchiude in sé le caratteristiche principali di una lunga esperienza coloniale. Il maltese, che insieme all’inglese è dal 1934 una lingua ufficiale, è di origine araba, ma di sviluppo europeo.

(Friggieri, 1982: 30)

The present study focuses on the shaping of Maltese along the centuries, in order to underline evidences of a creolization process by applying theoretical principles and methodological guidelines derived from the framework of Creolistics.

Creole studies have shown that there exist some languages which can be better classified by taking into consideration the role of language contact into their development rather than genetic filiations (abnormal vs. normal transmission, cfr.  Thomason-Kaufman, 1988).

A first attempt of analysis of Maltese within the framework of Creole studies was put forward by Stolz (2003); according to him, Maltese – as well as Chamorro – doesn’t belong neither to the category of ‘mixed languages’ nor it may be interpreted as an example of ‘massive borrowing’ (cfr. Bakker/Mous, 1994). Maltese is marked by quite a mixed vocabulary but it doesn’t reach the degree of lexical admixture as in the case of ‘massive borrowing’ (90%): 57% of its vocabulary is of non-Semitic origin (Sicilian, Italian, English) and only about 38% of its words are derived from Arabic, functional words not being considered (cfr. Brincat, 2000: 194-197).

With such a high degree of lexical borrowing, Maltese cannot be considered neither as a ‘mixed language’ and it has to be placed in an intermediate category between the two; according to Stolz, language contact typology has to be rather interpreted in terms of an ideal continuum .

Along this continuum, if we compare Maltese to other contact language types, it reveals to be an extra-ordinary case: not only was it subjected to lexical interferences, but also it underwent structural changes in line with a creolization process.

Both the socio-linguistic situation Malta underwent along the centuries and the actual features of the Maltese system allow us to propose its typological classification as a creoloid belonging to the group of Araboid languages (Owens, 2001).

Starting from the VIIIth century up to the second half of the XXth century, Malta has experienced a story of colonialism along which different populations –speaking various languages- have imposed their power on the island, so affecting the Maltese language  in a diglossic condition.

Considering as termine a quo  the Arabic colonization, over the time the Maghrebine variety of Arabic spoken in Malta has progressively differentiated itself from other Western Arabic dialects, and nowadays it is marked by phenomena of restructuring and elements of admixture at the morphological level.

In the domain of morphology the system has been restructured either through reduction or complexification, by introducing into it morphological processes derived from Romance languages as well as by undergoing admixture between the Semitic and the Romance component; in this case Maltese morphemes of Semitic origin are affixed to loan stems, but it is also true the other way round: Maltese roots are combined with grammatical morphemes of Romance origin.

In order to add consistency to our proposal of classification, a typological diachronic analysis is being led on a corpus of texts in Maltese along the centuries (XVIIth – XIXth) in order to find out cues of the creolization process in progress, by focusing on the presence of phenomena of restructuring and elements of admixture as far as noun and verb morphology and morphosyntax are concerned.


Arends, J./ Muysken, P./Smith, N. (1995) Pidgins and creoles. An introduction, Benjamins: Amsterdam-Philadelphia

Bakker, /Mous (1994) Mixed languages. 15 case studies in language intertwining, Amsterdam: Ifott

Banfi, E./Grandi, N. (2004) Lingue d’Europa. Elementi di storia e tipologia linguistica,Carocci: Roma

Borg, A./Azzopardi, A.(1997) Maltese, London: Routledge

Borg, A. (1978) A historical and comparative phonology and morphology of Maltese, tezi tal-PhD, The Hebrew University

Brincat, J.M. (1995) Malta 870-1054 Al-Himyarī’s account and its linguistic implications, Said International LTD: Valletta

(2000) Il-Malti: Elf sena ta’ storja (Kullana Culturali 10), Malta: PIN

(2003) Malta. Una storia linguistica, Le Mani: Genova

Cassar Pulliċino, Ġ. (2001) Il-Kitba bil-Malti sa l-1870, Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza: Malta

Comrie, B. (1991) Towards a history of Arabic Maltese, A. Kaye (ed.) Semitic Studies, Wiesbaden, pp. 240-241.

Durand, O. (1995) Introduzione ai dialetti arabi, Sussidi Didattici 1, Centro Studi Camito-Semitici: Milano

Friggieri, O. (1982) Letteratura e lingua nell’isola di Malta, “La grotta della Vipera”, Cagliari, 22/23, pp. 26-31

Galea, M. (1997) It-Teatru Malti tas seklu dsatax (2 voll.), Mireva Publications: Malta

Garbini, G./Durand, O. (1994) Introduzione alle lingue semitiche, Paideia Editrice: Brescia

Grandi, N. (2002) Morfologie in contatto. Le costruzioni valutative nelle lingue del Mediterraneo, Franco Angeli: Pavia

Haspelmath, M./Caruana, S. (2001) Subject diffuseness in Maltese: on some subject properties of experiential verbs, Folia Linguistica, XXXIV/3-4, Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin

Kontzi, R. (1981) L’elemento maltese nel maltese, Journal of Maltese Studies14, pp. 37-42

Krier, F. (1976) Le maltais au contact de l’italien, Forum Phoneticum 15, Helmut Buske Verlag: Hamburg

Labov, W. (1971), The notion of ‘system’ in creole studies,  in D. Hymes (ed.) Pidginization and creolization of languages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.

Meisel, J. (1977) Langues en contact –Pidgins- Creoles – Languages in contact, TBL Verlag Günter Narr: Tübingen

McWhorter, J. (1998) Identifying the creole prototype: vindicating a typological class, Language, 74, pp. 788-818

Mifsud, M. (1995) Loan verbs in Maltese. A descriptive comparative study, in J.H. Hospers/C.H.M. Versteegh, Studies in Semitic languages and linguistics, XXI, E.J. Brill: leiden-New York-Köln

(1996) The loanverb in Maltese: a romance-arabic crossbreed, in J. Lüdtke (ed.) Romania arabica. Festschrift für Reinhold Kontzi zum 70. Geburtstag , Gunter Narr Verlag: Tübingen, pp. 117-128

Owens, J. (2001) Creole Arabic: the orphan of all orphans, Anthropological linguistics, vol. 43, n. 8, pp. 348-378

Prevaes, M.H. (1993) The mergence of standard Maltese: the Arabic factor, Catholic University of Nijmegen

Puech, G. (1979) Les parlers maltais. Essai de phonologie polylectale, Thèse du doctorat en Lettres et Sciences Humaines

(1994) Ethnotextes maltais, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz

Stolz, T. (2003) Not quite the right mixture: Chamorro and Malti as candidates for the status of mixed language, in Y. Matras/P. Bakker (eds.) The mixed languages debate. Theoretical and empirical advances. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 271-315

Tagliavini, C. (1949) Le origini delle lingue neolatine, Pàtron editore: Bologna (ristampa 1995)

Thomason, S.G./Kaufman, T. (1988) language contact, creolization and genetic linguistics, University of California Press: Berkley-Los Angeles-London

Vanhove, M. (1993) La langue maltaise. Etudes synntaxiques d’un dialecte arabe « périferique », Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz Verlag

(1994) The island of Malta, a crossroad for influences ? The case of auxiliary verbs, in J. Brincat (ed.) Languages in the Mediterranean. Substrata. The islands. Malta, The Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta, n. 1, pp. 286-292

(1999) La dialectologie du maltais et son histoire, Revue d’ethnolinguistique, 8, CNRS : Paris, pp. 171-191

(2000) Le maltais et les interferences linguistiques, in Cristofaro, S./Putzu, I., Languages in the Mediterranean area. Typology and convergence. Il progetto MEDTYP: uno studio dell’area linguistica mediterranea, Materiali Linguistici, Università di Pavia, Milano: Franco Angeli

Versteegh, K. (1984) Pidginisation and creolization: the case of Arabic. Amsterdam: Benjamins

(1984-1986) Word-order in Uzbekistan Arabic and Universal Grammar. Orientalia Suecana 33-35, pp. 443-453

Whinnom, K. (1971) Linguistic hybridization and ‘the special case’ of pidgins and creoles, in D. Hymes (ed.) Pidginization and creolization of languages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 91-115


Stefan Müller (FU Berlin)Towards a HPSG-based description of modern Maltese

I demonstrate a computer implementation of an HPSG fragment of Maltese that is based on the description in Fabri, 1993. The fragement covers most of the phenomena discussed in Fabri's book as for instance:

  • (simple) inflectional morphology
  • definitenes marking and the syntax of the NP
  • agreement in the NP and subject verb agreement
  • lil marking
  • clitics
  • constituent order
  • pro drop

The analysis uses Minimal Recursion Semantics as a semantic representation formalism, which allows for the underspecification of scope relations. The Maltese grammar uses a set of constraints that is also used in grammar implementations of German, Chinese, and Persian.


John Peterson (Osnabrück)"Pseudo-Verbs" - an analysis of non-verbal (co-)predication in Maltese

It is well-known that the so-called pseudo-verbs of Maltese, such as għand 'have; have to, must' are used both predicatively and co-predicatively, i.e., they "function as verbs", although they are not themselves verbs. In addition, it is clear that most of these pseudo-verbs have evolved from prepositions, in this case għand 'at (the home of)'.

In my poster, I begin by reviewing both the similarities and differences between pseudo-verbs and verbs. Next I show why it is not possible to view clauses whose predicate is a pseudo-verb as containing a preposition plus a "zero-copula", using għand by way of example. In other words, pseudo-verbs in Maltese must be viewed as a separate form-class. The reasons for this conclusion include both morphological as well as semantic factors.

Finally, I will show that concepts such as "subject" and "(direct) object" needlessly complicate the discussion of the status of person marking with verbs and pseudo-verbs in Maltese. For example, in the following predicate, is the first person, singular the subject of the predicate, the object, or perhaps even both?



'I have to go'

The =i in għand=i appears in "object position", whereas the (i)m- in (i)m-mur is clearly the subject of this predicating unit.

Using terminology from Role and Reference Grammar (RRG), I conclude my discussion by arguing that it is most advantageous in Maltese - and perhaps Modern Arabic languages in general - not to speak of "subject" and "object" but simply of concepts such as "Actor", "Undergoer" and "Privileged Syntactic Arguments" (PSA's). For example, in the sentence given above, the first person, singular is the Actor, and with that the PSA, of both co-predicates and hence of the entire predicate, although it is the "object" of għand=i and the "subject" of (i)m-mur.


Michael Rosner (Malta)Ray Fabri (Malta)Duncan Attard (Malta)Albert Gatt (Malta)Michael Spagnol (Malta)Maltese Language Resource Server (MLRS)

The creation of Maltese-sensitive computer programs is of immense interest in the context of the evolving information society in Malta. However, a major obstacle to the creation of such programmes for Maltese is the lack of suitable resources. This project is about the creation of such resources.

One resource that stands out as being of crucial importance is an electronic dictionary or "computational lexicon". Such a lexicon is an essential building block of practically any language-enabled system. It must contain information about every potential word form which the system might come across, in order to guide subsequent processing. Such information includes, besides the spelling of the word, information about part-of-speech, pronunciation, contexts of use, and meaning. One major objective of this project is therefore to develop a framework for the creation, maintenance and deployment of a computational lexicon of Maltese.

Language resources refer to an organised collection of speech or language data and descriptions in machine readable form. Language resources, like natural resources, exist at different levels of refinement: thus, at one extreme, we have the primary resources obtained more or less directly from e.g. newspapers, machine-readable documents, and the internet. At the other, we have derived resources which serve a particular purpose. Typically such resources will take the form of texts to which supplementary information has been added in the form of "annotations".

What we lack for Maltese is a truly representative corpus of primary materials: a snapshot of the language that can be used for both research and development, such as the extraction of bare lexical entries and the observation of word behaviours. Our second main objective is therefore to create a standard, representative, and evolving Maltese National Corpus (MNC) of text and other materials.

MNC is being set up as a national resource, much along the lines of British National Corpus, a very large (over 100 million words) corpus of modern English, both spoken and written, created and managed by an industrial/academic consortium. Some have argued that the language data is an important part of the national heritage, and as such, deserves to be made accessible using modern technology. The technology for deploying of such a corpus shares many similarities with that of the lexicon, and again, we are in the process of implementing a distributed model in which a server provides an extensible range of services for the creation and maintenance of resources at different levels of refinement.


Thomas Stolz (Bremen)Splitting the verb chain in modern literary Maltese

Maltese makes ample use of periphrastic constructions with a leftmost auxiliary (kien ‘to be’) whose main function is the marking of tense. The auxiliary is a finite verb – and it is followed by a sometimes relatively extended chain of other finite verbs. These verbs to the right of the auxiliary may be semi-auxiliaries, phasal verbs, aspect auxiliaries and, last but not least, full lexical verbs. Example (1) – taken from Tusè Costa’s Maltese translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince – illustrates a verb chain of this kind without reaching the limits of what is possible in written Maltese.

(1) [LPP Maltese, 5]



‘Then they would not be able to move.’

There are three finite verbs in a row and nothing can come between them – or so it seems. The linear order of the elements cannot be inverted. The tense-encoding auxiliary precedes modal verbs which in turn are followed by the proper lexical verbs.

However, we frequently find that the chain of verbs can be broken, in a manner of speaking, as lexical material can be inserted between the leftmost auxiliary and the remainder of the verb chain. This is a relatively common strategy with one-word adverbials as in example (2) drawn from the same source as (1) above. The intercalated adverb (= X) is highlighted in boldface.

(2) [LPP Maltese, 189]



‘I had let gone the tools already.’

In my talk, I try to determine the maximal syntactic weight of those elements which can be inserted into a verb chain. In addition, I identify which word classes and syntactic units are candidates for insertion into verb chains. Time permitting, I will address the issue of which (stylistic or pragmatic) purposes the insertions serve.


Thomas Stolz (Bremen)Andreas Ammann (Bremen)News on the Maltese inchoative

Vanhove (1993) provides the most detailed study of secondary verbal categories i.e. aspects and similar distinctions expressed by periphrastic means. The inchoative/ingressive is especially intriguing for a number of reasons. First of all, there is an entire paradigm of competing auxiliaries which encode inchoativity. Beda ‘to begin’ is the most frequent one. However, the co-existence of almost half a dozen competitors calls for an in-depth study of the phenomenon. In Stolz/Ammann (forthcoming), we emphasise that instances especially of beda abound in our (mostly literary) corpus to such an extent that its frequency goes far beyond the one of say, phasal verbs of more familiar SAE languages as e.g. English, French and German. Moreover, it is clear that this tendency to employ the inchoative periphrasis more often than expected is deeply rooted in Maltese (literary?) style and grammar because there are scores of attestations of beda also in texts translated from languages which do not mark the beginning of an action/event/situation formally as often as Maltese. Likewise, a translation of a Maltese original into one of the above SAE languages would leave out the bulk of the occurrences of beda. Thus, there seems to be something special about the Maltese inchoative/ingressive, cf. (1).

(2) [LPP Maltese, 43]









‘And the thunder of the third fast train with its lights on began to roar.’

The French original (Le Petit Prince) has Et gronda le tonnerre d’un troisième rapide illuminé i.e. inchoativity is not expressed overtly.

On our poster, we will present new statistical data of the use of the various inchoative/ingressive auxiliaries. Furthermore, we will show in which contexts the attestations of beda and its (partial) synonyms increase and where their employment is relatively scarce. It is shown that at least some of the cases are in correlation with stylistic aspects such as suspense, etc. However, not all instances of beda can be ascribed to stylistic effects. There is also something that suggests that cognitively, Maltese verbs have a contour different from the one assumed for their translation equivalents in the above-mentioned SAE languages. Speakers (and especially writers) of Maltese feel impelled to highlight the opening phase of a situation so frequently that one is induced to interpret this as evidence of the weak delimitation of the concepts representing Maltese verbs: if it has to be marked overtly so often that something starts/has started, chances are that the simple lexical verb does not automatically invite a reading which gives the initial phase of the situation sufficient prominence.


Stolz, Thomas & Ammann, Andreas. To appear. “Beda u Qabad: The Maltese Inchoative / Ingressive”. Submitted for publication in a special edition of Romano-Arabica, Center for Arab Studies, University of Bucharest.

Vanhove, Martine. 1993. La langue maltaise. Études syntaxiques d’un dialecte arabe “périphérique”. Wiesbaden: Harrasssowitz.


Alina Twist (Tucson)On the structure of Maltese loan verbs

This presentation describes the results of an elicitation experiment that was conducted with native speakers of Maltese to determine what factors influence the shape of new words.  Maltese exhibits an unusual strategy for borrowing words from non-Semitic languages.  The pervasiveness of this process, outlined below, has led some researchers to believe that Maltese might be losing its productive non-concatenative morphology (Hoberman and Aronoff 2003).

As Mifsud (1995) concludes, loan verbs can be broken up into two main types, shown in (1).

(1) Two types of loan verbs in Maltese 








p t r

to paint

Italian - pittore




to park

English – topark

First, there are loans that conform to Semitic patterns of non-concatenative morphology.  These words were originally borrowed in noun or adjective form.  Gradually, consonantal roots were extracted from these forms. Existing verbal patterns were combined with these roots, regularizing the use of the new verbs in non-concatenative morphology.  This process of consonantal extraction is typical of loan word behavior in other Semitic languages.  In the second main class of loan verbs identified by Mifsud are those that were borrowed as intact verb stems.  Although the formation of verbs from intact stems is not restricted to loan words with consonant clusters, it does allow loan words to maintain their clusters as they are nativized.  This type of borrowing is not allowed in other Semitic languages but is currently reported as the most productive type of borrowing in Maltese.

The elicitation experiment required speakers to form verbs from real and nonsense nouns.  Bilingual (Maltese/English) participants were presented one item at a time in standard Maltese orthography on a computer screen.  They were then asked to orally produce an active verb that corresponded to the test item.  The origin of test item stems were of four types: native Semitic stems, English stems, and non-attested but phonotactically available stems that resembled Semitic and English varieties, respectively.  A total of 160 items were elicited from each subject.

(2) Test item types for elicitation task

Test Item Category

Example Test Item

Example Target

Semitic origin

Real word

baħar – sea

baħħar – to navigate



gerrem / iggirmja ?

English origin

Real word

film - film

iffilmja – to film



sikrit / iskritja ?

Statistical analysis shows that both root extraction and suffixing strategies are productive in verb formation.  Factors that influence verb shape include the word structure of the noun and whether or not the noun has obviously foreign segmental elements.  However, linguistic structure alone does not account for the type of verb formation that is applied.  There also appears to be an element of optionality in word formation strategy, revealing that both the expected Semitic borrowing pattern and suffixing are productive in Maltese.  Analysis of each participant’s language background and usage provides further explanation for the variation observed.


Adam Ussishkin (Tucson)Alina Twist (Tucson)Lexical access in Maltese using visual and auditory lexical decision

In this talk, we address issues of lexical access in Maltese, drawing upon results from two psycholinguistic experiments. As a Semitic language, Maltese is typically analyzed as having root-and-pattern morphology (though see Hoberman and Aronoff 2003 for an opposing view of Maltese, and Stolz 2003 for a mixed view), where words from the Semitic stratum of vocabulary are decomposed into their constituent consonantal root and vocalic pattern morphemes. Recent theoretical work (Bat-El 1994, 2003, Ussishkin 1999, 2005) and experimental work (Sumner 2003, Berent et al. 2005) have challenged this decompositional view of Semitic, arguing instead for varying degrees of whole-word representation in the lexicon.

In order to investigate these divergent theoretical claims, we carried out two psycholinguistic experiments on Maltese, with the aim of discovering the mechanisms for lexical access in the language. The first experiment we discuss utilizes a masked priming methodology with a visual lexical decision task in order to examine whether masked exposure to primes that share a root or pattern morpheme facilitates lexical access of visual stimuli. Earlier studies on Arabic (Boudelaa and Marslen-Wilson 2000, 2004, 2005) and Hebrew (Frost et al. 1997, 1998, 2000) have revealed facilitatory effects for both types of morpheme, providing evidence for the decompositional view of lexical access in Semitic. The results from our masked priming study in Maltese reveal a facilitatory effect for consonantal roots, adding to the evidence supporting this decompositional view. Interestingly, however, no effect was found for primes sharing a pattern morpheme, contrary to the results from other Semitic languages.

In order to further investigate the nature of lexical access in Maltese, our second experiment utilized simple auditory lexical decision. This study was designed to determine whether native speakers of Maltese access verbs in two different themes (theme 1 and theme 2) in different ways. Our hypothesis was that a significant difference in reaction time between the two themes would indicate that verbs of one theme are accessed decompositionally, while verbs in the other theme are not. However, no significant difference was found, suggesting that both themes are accessed either via the root or via whole-form representation.


Martine Vanhove (Villejuif)The nominal quantifier "xi" in Maltese: polysemy and semantic invariant

The Maltese particle xi ‘some’, like in many other Arabic varieties, is a grammaticalized cognate of the classical Arabic noun šay’- ‘thing’. This presentation will focus on its use as a nominal quantifier. The different values associated to this function will be analysed in detail within the framework of enunciative theory. It will be argued that xi is a third degree determiner, i.e. it expresses a quantitative extraction and a qualitative operation thus marking an inflected extraction with various modal values.

First, it will be shown that although xi is compatible with all aspectual, temporal and modal forms of the verbal predicate, and with all syntactic positions, its occurrence is nevertheless strictly constrained by the syntactic role of the qualified noun, the type of predicate and the assertive modalities.

A second part will show how the use of xi as a nominal quantifier brings about, in addition to its value of third degree determiner, a complex set of semantic and modal values which depend on various factors.

The results are summed up in the following table:

semantic value syntax constraint

inflected extraction of a possible element of a class

third degree determiner: ‘some’

xi + sg. noun

modality marker

indefinite article

second degree determiner

xi + sg. noun

object position,

strict assertion,

achieved certainty

inflected extraction of a subset of a class

third degree determiner: ‘some’, ‘certain’

xi + pl. noun


quantitative approximation: ‘about’

xi + numerals


or more than two

indefiniteness of noun: ‘some’

xi + numerals

number = two


1. xi + few quantifiers

2. xi + sg. noun

1. continuous noun

2. exclamation

The third and final part will discuss the ongoing change towards the expression of a second degree determiner, i.e. a singular indefinite article, only noticeable in the object position. This evolution will be contrasted with a related language, Moroccan Arabic, as well as with unrelated ones, French and Bulgarian. All four languages show a certain number of common values and constraints, but some are specific to Maltese. In particular, the modality constraint which, when fading away in Maltese, leads to the emergence of the value of second degree determiner. This issue would be worth investigating on a large scale cross-linguistic study in a diachronic perspective.


Aquilina, Joseph. 1987-1990. Maltese-English Dictionary. Volume One: A-L. Volume Two: M-Z. Malta: Midsea Books Ltd.

Borg, Albert. 1996. The Structure of the noun phrase in Maltese. Rivista di Linguistica. The Maltese Noun Phrase Meets Typology, n° 1, vol. 8, p. 5-28.

Borg, Albert and Azzopardi-Alexander, Marie. 1997. Maltese. London: Routledge.

Caubet, Dominique. 1983. Quantification, négation, interrogation: les emplois de la particule “’i” en arabe marocain. Arabica 3, p. 227-245.

—— 1984. A la recherche d’un invariant: les emplois de la particule “’i” en arabe marocain. in, Opération de détermination. II. Paris: Université Paris VII, p. 33-56.

Culioli, Antoine. 1982. A propos de quelque. Sapostavitelno Ezikoznanie / Contrastive Linguistics, VII, 1-2, p. 21-29. Repris dans Linguistique, énonciation. Aspects et détermination. (1983) ed. by Sophie Fisher & Jean-Jacques Franckel. Paris: EHESS, p. 6-12.

Guentchéva, Zlatka. 1999. Les équivalents de quelque et de quelques en bulgare. in Deschamps, A. et Guillemin-Flescher, J. (éds.), Les opérations de détermination. Quantification / qualification. Gap: Ophrys, p. 45-61.

Vanhove, Martine. 1993. La langue maltaise. Etudes syntaxiques d’un dialecte arabe “périphérique”. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.


Alexandra Vella (Malta)On Maltese Prosody or The Intonational Phonology of Maltese

This paper reports on ongoing work on consolidation of the phonological analysis of Maltese within the Autosegmental-Metrical framework used in other work on intonation (Pierrehumbert 1980, Ladd 1996) and in previous work of the author (Vella 1995, 2003 and 2007).  The paper is therefore intended to provide a state-of-the-art description of the work on prosodic structure and intonation in Maltese which has been and is being carried out by the author.

The paper describes a number of tonal sequences or “tunes” which have been identified.  It focuses in particular on the two “post-nuclear tunes” which have been identified by Vella as occurring in Maltese.  The paper  seeks to account for the distribution of these tunes by examining various structural contexts (e.g. contexts involving topicalisation resulting from changes in constituent order, the use of pronominal clitics, negation and the use of indefinite pronouns etc.) that give rise to the use of such post-nuclear tunes in Maltese.  The paper will also outlines recent research on the intonation of interrogative word or wh- questions in Maltese.  In this case, the analysis focuses on providing empirical evidence for a characterisation of one aspect of the intonation of wh-questions in Maltese, the realisation of the initial H tone reported to occur at the beginning of such questions in Maltese.  Again, an attempt will be made to exemplify use of a tune similar to that which occurs in Maltese wh- questions across a number of structural contexts


1996. Intonational Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pierrehumbert, J. 1980. The Phonetics and Phonology of English Intonation. Ph.D. thesis, MIT.

Vella, A. 1995. Prosodic Structure and Intonation in Maltese and its Influence on Maltese English. PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh.

Vella, A. 2007. ‘The phonetics and phonology of wh-question intonation in Maltese.’ International Congress of Phonetic Sciences.  Saarbrücken.


Sumikazu Yoda (Osaka)The Vowel System of "Cantilena":Its Historical Development

Cantilena is the oldest known literary text in the Maltese language, dating from the 15th century.  Despite the short length of the text, it contains many interesting features for those concerned with the Maltese language and its literature.

In this study I analyse phonological phenomena regarding vowels in the text of Cantilena, demonstrating the vowel system of the language of Cantilena. Some phenomena I will mention here have already been treated, especially by Cowan (1975) and Cohen and Vanhove (1984-1986).  However, I will argue that the vowel system of the language of Cantilena shares characteristics observed in modern Arabic dialects of North Africa, including Modern Maltese.  For this purpose, I examine the historical development of the vowels of Cantilena, making comparisons with Classical Arabic, Medieval Tunisian dialect, Modern Tunisian dialect and Modern Maltese.