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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Language

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Language

Maltese LanguageThe constitution states that Maltese is the country’s national language and that both Maltese and English are official languages in Malta. Not surprisingly, most natives prefer to use the mother tongue for everyday verbal exchange. A small, yet significant subset of the population, notably residents of Sliema and St. Julians may converse largely, or perhaps exclusively in English – these are often frowned upon by others, and labeled as “tal-pepe’” – hinting snobbery and arrogance.

Most residents have a satisfactory command of English, so if you are an English speaker (which you probably are, since you are reading this), you should have no problem communicating with the locals. Italian is also widely understood, although the typical Maltese would struggle to converse in this language.

If you listen closely to Maltese discourse, you may be amused to catch the locals – especially younger, middle class people – engaging in what linguists call code switching – switching between Maltese and English, sometimes within a single sentence.

Like Hebrew and Arabic, Maltese belongs to the Semitic family of Languages. Maltese is derived from Siculo-Arabic – a variant of Arabic that was spoken in Sicily up to seven centuries ago. It is the only Semitic language to be written in Latin script, with a number of diacritical marks for additional letters.