Marie Alexander (Malta) Xlukkajr, Naduri and Standard Maltese: Vowel Systems and Phonological Symmetry

The paper examines the vowel systems of two Maltese dialects in contrast to that of Standard Maltese. The first dialect is Xlukkajr, the dialect used in Marsaxlokk, a fishing village on the south-east coast of Malta with a population of about 3,000.  The second is Naduri, the dialect used in the Gozitan town of Nadur with a population of over 4,000 and known especially for its Carnival.  The vowel systems of these two dialects are remarkably different from that of Standard Maltese. They differ in various ways including both their systemic organization as well as in terms of the phonetic realizations.


Lisa Bonnici (Berkeley/USA) Postvocalic (r) in Maltese: Variation within the "English-speaking" population by age and gender
In preparation


Albert Borg (University of Malta)Lectal Variation in Maltese

Different varieties of Maltese have often uncritically been termed ‘dialects’ although the term ‘accent’ has also been sometimes applied to them. This paper presents data to make the case that these varieties in general do in fact constitute dialectal variation (in terms of linguistic systems with specific characteristics on all levels of linguistic structure) but also examines possible reasons for their characterisation as ‘accents’. In addition the point is made that for some speakers, ‘lectal variation’ involves also elements of ‘Maltese English’.


Joseph Brincat (Malta)The genesis of Maltese

Up to now lexical studies of literary Maltese lacked concordances of Maltese authors. Joseph Brincat has guided two Honours students to compile the concordance of two major poets, Dun Karm and Ruzar Briffa. The publication of Dun Karm's Italian poems, edited by Oliver Friggieri, in 2007 made it possible, for the first time, to study the language of Dun Karm as a sample of l'italiano di Malta, in order to find out not only the sources or models for his ideas, but also to discover his choice of vocabulary in comparison to Italian poets of his age or of the preceding generation. Olivia Debrincat was entrusted with the task of drawing up Dun Karm's Italian wordlist and compare it with Carducci's Odi barbare. Another student, Christian Sciberras took on the task of compiling the concordance of Dun Karm's Maltese poems as they appear in Oliver Friggieri's 1980 edition. These two compilations provide a very useful tool for a deeper study of Dun Karm's ideas as reflected in his vocabulary, and for perceptions into the choice of words of a bilingual poet. Another student, Catherine Aquilina, compiled the concordance of Ruzar Briffa's poems, which will allow comparisons with Dun Karm's.

Joseph Brincat will present the first reflections, impressions and concrete data regarding these three studies.


Maris Camilleri (Malta)Pronominal Clitics in Maltese

Pronominal enclitics in Maltese are not phonological but morphosyntactic clitics (see Anderson 2005, Zwicky 1977, and Zwicky and Pullum 1983). They function essentially as internal verbal complements and they depend on the verb’s subcategorisation frame and whether they are used as core or non-core arguments. The pronominal enclitic’s function as a direct or indirect object is determined by the presence or absence of overt case-marking. In contrast, core and non-core arguments are determined by the relation between the argument structure of the verb and dative case-marking, which is an ethical dative (Borer and Grodzinsky, 1986), i.e. a non-core argument with a benefactive role, rather than an indirect object.

Three clines can be observed in Maltese pronominal enclitics. The first cline (which shall not be discussed here however) involves the trajectory of grammatical words which eventually become clitics, and which, at the end of the continuum, end up with inflectional affix status (Bresnan and Mchombo 1987, Nübling 1992, and Heggie and Ordóñez 2005). In this paper, I shall discuss the other two clines in Maltese which involve the trajectory from core pronominal enclitic status to anaphoric status, and the transition from being core or non-core pronominal enclitic arguments to becoming non-referential pronominal enclitics (dummy objects or expletives), whilst retaining the same syncretic form.


Antoinette Camilleri-Grima (Malta)Giving compliments in Maltese

A compliment is a speech act which explicitly or implicitly attributes credit to someone other than the speaker, usually the person addressed, for some ‘good’ possession, characteristic, skill etc, which is positively valued by the speaker and the hearer (Holmes, 1988). Compliments are almost always accompanied by a response, often verbal, and hence the speech act is normally considered to consist of a compliment and a response (c-r). An initial analysis of c-r types in Maltese was carried out in 1996 (Camilleri 1996) as part of a wider ‘European’ survey and some interesting comparisons already emerged, both about the linguistic form of c-r types in Maltese and also relating to gender differences. Żammit (2006) carried out a full-blown ethnographic project on c-r types in Maltese which can be said to have confirmed those of Camilleri (1996) and also to have added further dimensions. This presentation will illustrate the main findings to date on c-r types in Maltese.


Sandro Caruana (Malta)Il-Malti Mgħaġġel: Maltese in chat conversations, blogs and e-mails

One of the language varieties which has undoubtedly taken on a major role in many contexts is the one related to modern means of communication, amongst which chat conversations, blogs and e-mails. The use of this language variety has led to a number of noteworthy developments from a sociolinguistic point of view: whereas up to some years ago the distinction between spoken and written varieties ran parallel to the distinction between informal and formal registers, over the last few years this has changed considerably, as many modern means of communication are characterised by a written code which normally is also highly informal. In fact, the use of these modern instruments has led to the formation of such a written variety, which is highly iconic, syntactically concise and very similar to colloquial speech.

Although Maltese is historically mainly associated to a spoken variety, (as English has always had a significant role where reading / writing is concerned), its use as a written form is very widespread in all means of communication, including the more modern ones.  In this paper I present a description of il-Malti Mgħaġġel (literally: ‘hurried Maltese’) and I identify some of the main characteristics of the language as it is used in blogs, chat conversations and e-mails. Most of the considerations I present are based on ortographic, lexical and syntactic variation. Furthermore, I will also present the results of a quantitative survey concerning some of the above-mentioned aspects.


Ray Fabri (Malta)The language of young people and language change

This presentation is based on the idea that the language variety of young speakers can and should be taken as an indicator of potential change and developments in the language. Starting off with a discussion of the language change, after an examination of the language variety of young Maltese speakers, I will try to speculate about potential trends in the development of Maltese at various levels of grammatical representation: phonetic/ phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic. Finally, it is suggested that an on-going programme should be established with the specific aim of regularly and objectively monitoring developments in the Maltese language.


Elisabeth Hume (Ohio State University)Samantha Gett (Ohio State University)A study of word-final geminate consonants in Standard Maltese
In preparation


Laura Mori (Rome/Italy) Linguistic variation in juridical Maltese: EU Directives compared to National laws

Being an official and working language of the European Union has proved to affect the dynamics of linguistic variation as far as the contextual and situational dimension of variability is concerned. Due to their use within such a supranational context, EU languages experience a linguistic harmonization taking place along with the continuous process of inter-linguistic translation where they are all involved either as source or target languages.

Except for a reduced amount of EU legislation originally drafted in one of the actual 23 Official languages, the majority of EU Regulations and Directives are written either in English or French and, then, translated into twenty-two different linguistic versions.

The effect of this peculiar situation of language contact is evident in the development of common linguistic features that characterize the juridical varieties of different EU languages (referring to a ‘Eurolect’, see Goffin, 1997) and differentiate the EU juridical variety (a so-called Community variety) from the corresponding National juridical one (see the case of EU Italian compared to National Italian, Mori, 2003; 2005; 2009).

After the EU Enlargement in 2004, Maltese was recognized as an Official and working language of the European Union thus undergoing a rapid process of ‘Europeanization’ attested in EU websites and Maltese media whereas concerning Europe-related matters (see Caruana, 2006).

According to Caruana EU Maltese, at least as far as media communication is concerned, proves to be particularly affected by Italian rather than English especially the use of Italian-origin nouns is preferred compared to Maltese in National websites (see Caruana, 2009).

Considered these interesting results on the media language, our research study aims at investigating another domain of variation in Contemporary Maltese: the juridical field.

Therefore a preliminary study is already being carried out on EU juridical Maltese (referred to Eurolect features and considering the relationship with English and Italian) by leading a contrastive analysis of the Maltese version of the Treaty of Lisbona face to the Italian and English versions (Mori, in preparation).

Once defined the peculiar features of the EU juridical Maltese, the main topic to be presented here concerns the description of the EU juridical variety compared to the National juridical one.

The linguistic investigation is led on a corpus of EU Directives in the area of ‘Freedom of movement of workers and Social Policy’ to be compared to a corpus comprising the National Maltese laws that implement the Directives. In order to lead a quantitative analysis of data (i.e. type/token ratio, concordances, key-word lists and statistics of occurrences) WordSmith Tools software will be used.

Our research objective is to find out how, ant to what extent, linguistic features characterizing the EU juridical variety are transposed into the National laws along with a process of intra-linguistic translation.


Caruana, S. (2006) Elementi italiani nel maltese europeizzato, in E. Banfi/G. Innàccaro (a cura di) Lo spazio linguistico italiano e le “lingue esotiche”. Rapporti e reciproci influssi, Roma: Bulzoni, pp. 395–407

Caruana, S. (2009) Terminology of Italian origin used in EU Maltese. A case of linguistic “Europeanisation”?, in: Comrie, B. / Fabri, R. / Hume, E. / Mifsud, M. / Stolz, T and Vanhove, M. Introducing Maltese Linguistics, Amsterdam, John Benjamins, pp. 355–375

Chircop, J. (2003) L’italiano scalfito. Resistenze, cedimenti e recuperi dell’italiano nella lingua della giustizia a Malta. In Valentini A., Molinelli P., Cuzzolin  P., Bernini G. (a cura di), Ecologia Linguistica, Società di Linguistica Italiana, Roma: Bulzoni, pp. 247–260.

Cosmai, D. (2001), Il linguaggio delle istituzioni comunitarie tra creazione terminologica e resa traduttiva. In: Rivista internazionale di tecnica della traduzione 5/2000, Trieste, Scuola Superiore di Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori

Goffin, R. (1997), L’eurolecte: le langage d’une Europe communautaire en devenir. “Terminologie et Traduction“. La revue des services linguistiques des institutions européennes», 1: 63–73

Mori, L. (2003) L’euroletto: genesi e sviluppo dell’italiano comunitario, in Ecologia linguistica, a cura di A. Valentini, P. Molinelli, P. Cuzzolin, G. Bernini, “Atti del XXXVI Convegno internazionale di Studi della Società di Linguistica italiana, Roma: Bulzoni,  p. 473–492

Turchetta, Barbara/ Mori, Laura/ Ranucci, Elisa (2005) Il mondo in italiano. Varietà ed usi internazionali della lingua, Laterza Editore: Bari


Pamela Murgia ( University of Cagliari, Italy)The role of social and historical background in the interference of Romance languages in Maltese

The interference between the Semitic basis of Maltese language and the Romance additional element has been extremely important to create the actual Semitic language as we know it today. However, the proximity of the earlier Semitic Maltese population with speakers of Romance languages could not have been the only reason for this successful mix. For example, many attempts have been made by scholars to identify the Mediterranean countries as part of a linguistic area, but the results of this research lead to the conclusion that there are not enough linguistic traits that belong systematically to a reasonable number of countries that would justify such a definition (Grandi, 2006).

The case of Maltese is generally predictable by the means of linguistic research in the field of interference, but at the same time it is unique, since the interference between the two linguistic families is the result of a precise historical and social background. I considered the grammatical traits, mainly at the semantic and morphologic level, which can be accounted as results of the interference between Semitic stratum and Romance superstratum. I did not consider the lexicon, since the lexical interference is a common event that does not necessarily involve a cultural and social influence, or the phonetic changes due to the interference, since my study is focused on the grammatical change, which occurs at a deeper level of contact between two languages and two cultures.

I analysed a total of 88 traits that can be classified under the following categories: the collective, the alteration phenomena (augmentatives and diminutives), the plural, the possessive constructions, quantifiers, finite verbs, passive construction, different object marking, noun phrase, and other general traits related to syntax and morphology. As a result, almost 46% of these categories present grammatical features which are common to both linguistic families, so they must have been reinforced by the contact (Ferrando), in over 34% of them the Semitic element still prevails over the Romance innovation, that is dominant in 17% of them. There is a small percentage of traits (3,4%) which are innovative with respect to both Semitic and Romance elements. From the point of view of an analysis that quantifies the behaviour of the single traits, the Semitic element still proves itself as the dominant one.

Considering this analysis, a Romance trait usually occurs when the Semitic stratum lacks certain categories, or when it cannot be applied to loan words. However, if we analyse the same traits to understand how the interference has been realised at a higher level, that is to say how they behave morphologically and syntactically, we can see that even Semitic traits “behave” under the rules of Romance syntax: that is the case, for example, of the possessive construction, which is realised through both the analytic strategy(for alienable possession, present in Arabic dialects) and the construct state (only for inalienable possessions, present both in Classical Arabic and Arabic dialects): despite its Arabic morphology, it obeys to Romance rules, as the use of the possessive construction for feelings (absent in Arabic, but present in Romance languages – Manzelli, Ramat, Roma 2002), and the lack of emphasis in the same construction (MANZELLI 2007).

Another example is the different object marking, whose Semitic marker lil is used more like the Romance marker in languages with this feature, since it can never be used with non animated objects, contrary to the Arabic dialects (only few oriental ones) ; moreover, it is a productive category in Maltese, even compulsory in certain cases, but it is no longer productive in modern Arabic dialects (Mifsud 2008).

There are many other similar traits that outnumber the cases in which the Semitic syntax is dominant. That is interesting, since it proves how the interference between the Arabic stratum and the Romance superstratum has taken a specific direction. Malta has the biggest natural harbour of the Mediterranean, reached by people from many European countries; moreover, it was renovated by the Knights of the Order of St. James, that stayed there for more than two centuries and also built a new city, with the help of foreign workers who worked side by side with the natives. Therefore the Maltese population has had a very “practical” encounter with the Romance language, and we can suppose that also idiomatic expressions with a foreign syntactic structure were transmitted from the foreigners’ language to the natives’ language; Brincat’s study on sailor’s language is very interesting, since it reports many idiomatic expressions from this semantic field, which are in an Italian variety purged of specific regional nuances (Brincat 1997). Moreover, since Arabic dialects and Romance languages belong to the same syntactic type, SVO, the passage from a syntactic strategy to another must have been facilitated.

Despite the grammatical perspective of this analysis, it cannot be denied that the social and historical dynamics are fundamental in the phenomenon of linguistic variation due to interference, and the case of Maltese is the proof that geographical proximity is not a sufficient condition for this variation to occur, but a deeper social and cultural involvement is needed.


Joseph Felipe Pace (Malta)Towards a classification of Maltese adverbs

The presentation is meant to suggest a classification for adverbs in Maltese . It discusses the part of speech which seems to be of a very heterogeneous nature in any language. Following a review of the various classifications of the adverb given by seven Maltese grammars, it presents the classification of adverbs in French, English and Italian, the three languages with which the Maltese are mostly conversant. Finally it suggests a pattern for the classification of Maltese adverbs.


John Peterson (Leipzig)Towards an RRG-based description of Maltese
In preparation


Gilbert Puech (Lyon)How contemporary Phonetic Variations reflect the dynamics of Maltese in space, time and society
In preparation


Michael Spagnol (Universität Konstanz)The diachronic (in)stability of verb alternations in Maltese

Maltese verb morphology employs two parallel, sometimes intersecting, systems: a concatenative and a non-concatenative one. From a diachronic point of view, there has been a shift from root-and-pattern morphology, where roots are associated with multiple forms or binyanim, to stem-based morphology, with one verbal interpretation for each root. In the binyanim system, a root such as √xrb appears in binyan I xorob ‘drink’, binyan II xarrab ‘wet’, binyan V xxarrab ‘get wet’, binyan VII nxtorob ‘be drunk/shrink’. In the concatenative system, on the other hand, a root such as √ver selects the verbal morpheme -ifika (vverifika), √organ selects -izza (organizza), and it never happens that √ver selects –izza (*vverizza) or vice versa.

The aim of this presentation is to discuss the issue of whether the morphosyntactic reorganization of word formation in Maltese has had an impact on transitivity alternations with particular reference to the causative-inchoative verb alternation (Haspelmath 1993, Piñón  2001, Comrie 2006, inter alia). It will be shown that the formal encoding of such an alternation has changed alongside morphological developments in the verbal inventory. From a directional profile, with causative (eg. nixef ‘dry (vi)’ – nixxef ‘dry (vt)’) and anticausative (eg. n-ħall ‘melt (vi)’ – ħall ‘melt (vt)’) alternations, Maltese is developing a non-directional profile, expressing the causative-inchoative alternation labially (eg. ffriża ‘freeze (vi)’ – ffriża ‘freeze (vt)’).

The diachronic stability of verb alternations over a period of about a millennium is here analyzed statistically, and with respect to semantically and syntactically defined verb classes. Comparisons with Arabic and other Semitic languages, Italian and other Romance languages, and English will be drawn where relevant.


Comrie, Bernard. 2006. Transitivity pairs, markedness, and diachronic stability. Linguistics 44, 303–318.

Haspelmath, Martin. 1993. More on the typology of inchoative/causative verb alternations. In Bernard Comrie & Maria Polinsky (eds.), Causatives and Transitives, 87-120. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Piñón, Christopher. 2001. A finer look at the causative-inchoative alternation. Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 11, Rachel Hastings, Brendan Jackson, and Zsofia Zvolenszky (eds.). Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications, Cornell University.


Thomas Stolz (Bremen/Germany)(Tazza) inbid aħmar vs. tazza nbid ħamra ‘a glass of red wine’: Variation of agreement patterns in Maltese mensurative phrases

In one of the many street-cafes in Valletta, I once ordered kikkra kaffè ‘a cup of coffee’ and the waitress asked back bajda? ‘a white one?’. This made the grammarian in me jump as the waitress obviously did not ask me what colour the cup should be. She wanted to know whether or not there should be milk with the coffee. The colour adjective bajda thus relates to the noun kaffè semantically. However, kaffè has masculine gender and the adjective is inflected for feminine. The only feminine noun available in our short dialogue is kikkra ‘cup’. As it were, the adjective agrees morphologically with the wrong constituent of the construction. Ray Fabri confirmed that this is a relatively wide-spread phenomenon in spoken Maltese. Moreover, since this initial encounter with seemingly “wrong agreement”, I have collected a sizable number of similar cases from written Maltese. The phenomenon occurs almost exclusively with mensurative phrases whose lexical noun is modified by an adjective. The mensurative mostly comes under the guise of a container-noun.

With “wrong agreement”, the adjective may associate morpho-syntactically with the higher head of the construction which is the mensurative although the two units are not immediately adjacent because of the intervening lexical noun.

What makes the situation especially interesting is the fact that “wrong agreement” competes with “proper agreement” such that there is variation even with one and the same author (occasionally also in one and the same sentence). In my talk I survey the phenomena I have come across in written Maltese, classify them and try to develop an explanation of the patterns of variation observed. Time permitting, I also adduce some comparative data from other languages which display similar kinds of “wrong agreement”.


Adam Ussishkin (Tucson/USA) Maltese language documentation, database creation and corpora
In preparation


Adam Ussishkin et. al. (Tucson/USA) Results from a study on Maltese verb familiarity
In preparation


Adam Ussishkin et. al. (Tucson/USA) The PsyCol Maltese corpus and its application
In preparation


Olvin Vella (Malta)The old documents of Maltese

Up to a few years ago only a very few old documents in Maltese were known, consisting mainly of two old poems (1530, 1670), two word lists by foreign visitors (1588, 1664), some dictionaries (1760, 1796) and grammars (1750, 1760, 1791, 1827). This lack of documentation compelled historical linguists to compare Modern Maltese directly to Classical Arabic. Thus interesting features resulting from language change across the centuries were ignored unless they continued to appear in modern times.

The documents being presented here cover the period between the 15th and the 19th century. Some of these are complete texts and rather lengthy ones — such as 18th century sermons and poems; others are made up of short phrases — such as 15th century field names and 16th century swearwords and superstitious formulas transcribed by public notaries and the chancellors of the Inquisition.

These documents, apart from revealing some aspects of the linguistic evolution of Maltese, might help historical linguists in comparing different phases of the history of Maltese.


Alexandra Vella (Luxemburg)Flavia Chetcuti (Malta)Sarah Grech (Malta)Michael Spagnol (Malta) Interspeaker variation in the type and prosody of filled pauses in Maltese

Spontaneous speech, unlike read speech, typically contains phenomena sometimes referred to as “normal disfluencies”, phenomena including, amongst others, “repetitions”, “repairs” and “filled pauses”. Research on spontaneous speech has shown that disfluencies of various kinds often serve different sorts of functions (see, e.g. Cruttenden 1997). It has also shown that such disfluencies often have their own specific characteristics, phonetic, including prosodic, as well as otherwise (see, e.g. Schriberg 1999). Describing disfluencies can therefore be useful in the context of work in the area of the design of speech technology tools having a more natural sounding interface as well as in improving accuracy in speech recognition applications.

Research on spontaneous speech in Maltese is extremely limited. Recent compilation of a small corpus of spoken Maltese in the context of the MalToBI project, together with annotation of data from this corpus being carried out in the context of SPAN,  have however made it possible for issues in this area to begin to be addressed. This paper in fact seeks to provide a preliminary characterisation of “filled pauses” (henceforward FPs) in Maltese. FPs in four of the 8 Map Tasks (quasi-conversational, rather than fully spontaneous, data) contained in the MalToBI corpus have been analysed with a view to:

  • determining both the type and function of FPs used in the data; and
  • characterising the prosodic characteristics of different types of FPs – the focus in this study is on the duration and intonation of FPs.

An attempt will also be made to look at patterns of variation across the FPs of the four speakers analysed.

Cruttenden, A. 1997. Intonation. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schriberg, Elizabeth E. 1999. Consequences of speech disfluency. In Proceedings of ICPhS 1999, San Francisco.

Vella, A. and Farrugia, P-J. 2006. MalToBI – building an annotated corpus of spoken Maltese. In Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden.

Vella, A., Chetcuti, F., Grech, S. and Spagnol, M. 2008. Paper given at the 1st Conference on Maltese Linguistics, Bremen.


Alexandra Vella (Luxemburg)Towards a description of Maltese English: an exploratory workshop

Like other varieties of English, Maltese English has been, and still is, the subject of a reasonable amount of interest amongst researchers. Research in this area however suffers from an element of bitiness and of researchers working in isolation of each other. This workshop is intended to bring together researchers with an interest in Maltese English in an attempt at establishing a base for better networking as well as for reaching out to others in the research community interested in working in the area. A brief introduction which will include a brief outline of sociolinguistic factors of relevance, will be followed by discussion of the following:

  • Defining Maltese English: the variationist (and other) perspective(s)
  • The ICE corpus
  • Aspects of the grammar of Maltese English
  • Aspects of phonetic and phonological influence from Maltese
  • Aspects of influence at the level of prosody

It is hoped that the discussion will throw light on the matter of: When is a variety a variety? The brief presentations should also help researchers in this area gain an understanding of what research has already been carried out and what the interesting issues still needing to be addressed are. The workshop will conclude with consideration of the question: Quo vadis Maltese English?