A Semitic language, closely related to Arabic, but with a considerable admixture of Italian vocabulary and some English. Malta was under Arab rule until the eleventh century.

It is written in the Latin alphabet. (The present form was finalized in 1924.) The following letters require comment.

  • C: there is no C in Maltese
  • Ċ (C-dot): but there is a C with a dot over it, pronounced CH as in church
  • Ġ (G-dot): as in gentle
  • H: silent
  • Ħ (H-bar, as in the symbol for Planck's constant over 2π): a voiceless pharyngeal fricative.
  • J: a Y sound as in German ja
  • Għ (G followed by H-bar): silent, and the combination comes between N and O in the alphabet1
  • Q: a glottal stop
  • R: rolled
  • X: like English SH
  • Z: like TS
  • Ż (Z-dot): like English Z
H and Gh are now silent, and cause lengthening of the neighbouring vowel, but the old value of Gh was the voiced pharyngeal fricative ain of Arabic, or the voiced velar fricative, and it retains this value in some remote villages in Gozo (the Maltese name of which is Ghawdex).

Here are the Unicode numbers for the special letters, extracted from my Using Unicode on E2:

Ċ  Ċ   ċ  ċ   C-dot-above
Ġ  Ġ   ġ  ġ   G-dot-above
Ħ  Ħ   ħ  ħ   H-bar
Ż  Ż   ż  ż   Z-dot-above

As with Arabic, the definite article il- assimilates to some consonants, such as X, but not to others, such as Q. These are mnemonically called Xemxin (sun letters) and Qamrin (moon letters) because of xemx 'sun' and qamar 'moon'. Examples with Xemxin are ir-raġel 'the man' (Arabic ar-rajul) and is-sema 'the sky'.

The personal pronouns are: jien 'I', int 'you', hu 'he', hi 'she', ahna 'we', intom 'you (plural)', and huma 'they'. This is simplified compared to the Arabic system.

These are used in sentences without 'to be':
jien marid = I am sick
hu Malti = he is Maltese

The negative forms of this circumfix ma...x:
m'iniex = I am not
m'intix = you are not
mhux = he is not
mhix = she is not
m'ahniex = we are not
m'intomx = you are not
m'humiex = they are not

My favourite Maltese word is qroqqa 'brooding hen'.

1. Possibly, as Cletus the Foetus points out, because it corresponds to ayin in the Arabic alphabet, which gave rise to O.

Mal*tese" (?), a.

Of or pertaining to Malta or to its inhabitants.


n. sing. & pl.

A native or inhabitant of Malta; the people of Malta.

Maltese cat Zool., a mouse-colored variety of the domestic cat. -- Maltese cross. See Illust. 5, of Cross. -- Maltese dog Zool., a breed of small terriers, having long silky white hair. The breed originated in Malta.


© Webster 1913.

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