Maltese (Maltese: Malti, also L-Ilsien Malti or Lingwa Maltija), is a Semitic language derived from late medieval Sicilian Arabic with Romance superstrata spoken by the Maltese people. It is the national language of Malta and the only official Semitic and Afro-Asiatic language of the European Union. Maltese is a latinised variety of spoken historical Arabic through its descent from Siculo-Arabic, which developed as a Maghrebi Arabic dialect in the Emirate of Sicily between 831 and 1091. As a result of the Norman invasion of Malta and the subsequent re-Christianisation of the islands, Maltese evolved independently of Classical Arabic in a gradual process of latinisation. It is therefore exceptional as a variety of historical Arabic that has no diglossic relationship with Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. Maltese is thus classified separately from the 30 varieties constituting the modern Arabic macrolanguage. Maltese is also distinguished from Arabic and other Semitic languages since its morphology has been deeply influenced by Romance languages, namely Italian and Sicilian.
|Latin (Maltese alphabet)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||National Council for the Maltese Language|
Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti
The original Arabic base 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 2016 study shows that, in terms of basic everyday language, speakers of Maltese are able to understand around a third of what is said to them in Tunisian Arabic, which is a Maghrebi Arabic related to Siculo-Arabic, whereas speakers of Tunisian Arabic 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 other varieties of Arabic.
Maltese has always been written in the Latin script, the earliest surviving example dating from the late Middle Ages. It is the only standardised Semitic language written exclusively in the Latin script.