La situació del maltès en la legislació lingüística de Malta i les conseqüències per al seu ús

Autor:Thomas Pace - Albert Borg
Càrrec:National Council for the Maltese Language - University of Malta

With a tradition of exposure to more than one language throughout the history of the Maltese islands, culminating in the dominant position first of Italian and later of English, Maltese emerged in the 1964 Independence Constitution as the national language of the Maltese people, co-official with English (sections 1-7). With accession to the European Union in 2003, Maltese became an official language of the Union. The National Council for the Maltese Language was also established at this time (sections 8-9). In order to gauge the de jure and de facto linguistic situation, this paper explores various domains. In the legislative sphere (section 12) it is found that laws should be promulgated in both Maltese and English, where the Maltese text is binding in case of conflict between the two versions, but in fact there are loopholes allowing secondary legislation to be passed in English only. In very general terms, Maltese is widely spoken while English tends to be used more in writing, a case in point being the day to day practice of government entities (section 11). In the educational sector (section 14), Maltese and English are both accorded the same level of importance but, depending on the type of school, English is more or less favoured. On the other hand, the use of Maltese is much more prevalent in the religious sphere and the media (sections 13, 15) although code-switching with English also takes place in the broadcast media. Other sectors considered include identity (section 10), citizenship (section 16), emigration (section 17), culture, literature and the arts (section 18).

Thomas Pace *
Albert Borg **
With a tradition of exposure to more than one language throughout the history of the Maltese islands, culminating in the
dominant position rst of Italian and later of English, Maltese emerged in the 1964 Independence Constitution as the
national language of the Maltese people, co-ofcial with English (sections 1-7). With accession to the European Union
in 2003, Maltese became an ofcial language of the Union. The National Council for the Maltese Language was also
established at this time (sections 8-9).
In order to gauge the de jure and de facto linguistic situation, this paper explores various domains. In the legislative
sphere (section 12) it is found that laws should be promulgated in both Maltese and English, where the Maltese text is
binding in case of conict between the two versions, but in fact there are loopholes allowing secondary legislation to be
passed in English only. In very general terms, Maltese is widely spoken while English tends to be used more in writing,
a case in point being the day to day practice of government entities (section 11). In the educational sector (section 14),
Maltese and English are both accorded the same level of importance but, depending on the type of school, English is
more or less favoured. On the other hand, the use of Maltese is much more prevalent in the religious sphere and the
media (sections 13, 15) although code-switching with English also takes place in the broadcast media. Other sectors
considered include identity (section 10), citizenship (section 16), emigration (section 17), culture, literature and the arts
(section 18).
Keywords: Maltese, bilingualism, ofcial status, ofcial language, national status, language domains.
El maltès, exposat tradicionalment a més d’una llengua al llarg de la història de les illes malteses —exposició que
va culminar amb la posició dominant primer de l’italià i després de l’anglès—, va esdevenir la llengua nacional dels
maltesos amb la coocialitat compartida amb l’anglès en la Constitució de l’any 1964 (apartats 1-7). Després de
l’accés del país a la Unió Europea el 2003, el maltès va esdevenir llengua ocial de la Unió. El Consell Nacional per
a la Llengua Maltesa també es va crear aleshores (apartats 8-9).
Per considerar la situació lingüística de iure i de facto, en aquest article s’exploren diversos dominis. En l’esfera
legislativa (apartat 12) s’explica que la legislació s’ha de promulgar tant en maltès com en anglès i que el text en
maltès és vinculant en cas de conicte entre ambdues versions, però en realitat hi ha llacunes que permeten que la
legislació secundària s’aprovi només en anglès. En termes molt generals, el maltès és una llengua molt parlada, mentre
que es tendeix a utilitzar més l’anglès en els textos escrits, com es produeix en la pràctica diària de les institucions
governamentals (apartat 11). En el sector de l’educació (apartat 14), el maltès i l’anglès reben el mateix nivell
d’importància, però, segons el tipus d’escola, l’anglès rep un tracte més o menys preferent. D’altra banda, l’ús del
maltès és molt més prevalent en l’esfera religiosa i els mitjans de comunicació (apartats 13, 15), tot i que en els mitjans
audiovisuals també es produeix un canvi de codi amb l’anglès. Altres sectors que s’han tingut en compte són la identitat
(apartat 10), la ciutadania (apartat 16), l’emigració (apartat 17), i la cultura, la literatura i les arts (apartat 18).
Paraules clau: maltès, bilingüisme, rang ocial, llengua ocial, rang nacional, dominis lingüístics.
1 The authors would like to thank their colleagues Ray Fabri and Olvin Vella for their help in the preparation of this text.
* Thomas Pace, National Council for the Maltese Language. thomas.pace@gov.m
** Albert Borg, University of Malta.
Article received: 03.02.2017. Review: 27.03.2017. Final version accepted: 25.04.2017.
Recommended citation: Pace, Thomas; Borg, Albert. «The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and
implications for its Use», Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017, p. 70-85. DOI: 10.2436/rld.
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 71
1 Languages in Malta throughout its history
2 The emergence of Italian
3 The British period
4 The Independence Constitution
5 Italian after Independence
6 Linguistic varieties of Maltese
7 English in Malta
8 The Maltese Language Act
9 Accession to the EU
10 Language and identity
11 Language in the public sphere
12 Language in the legal context
12.1 Legislation
12.2 Court Proceedings
13 Language and the Church
14 Language in education
14.1 Primary and Secondary Level
14.2 Tertiary and Higher Education – The Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS)
14.3 Tertiary and Higher Education – Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST)
14.4 Tertiary and Higher Education – The University
15 Language in the mass media
15.1 Broadcast media
15.2 Printed and digital media
15.3 Incentives
16 Citizenship
17 Maltese emigrants
18 Culture, literature and the arts
19 Conclusion
Online References
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 72
The Maltese islands, lying virtually in the geographical centre of the Mediterranean, 96 km from Southern
Sicily and 288 km from Tunisia, form a small archipelago. Malta, the larger island, has an area of 246 sq. km
and Gozo, the second largest, is 67 sq. km. (Azzopardi, 1995). The total number of inhabitants as at the end
of December 2014 stood at 429,344 (NSO 2016). This gure includes around 28,000 non-Maltese nationals
but not tourists.
Malta, formerly a British colony, became an independent nation state in 1964. The Independence Constitution
states that Maltese is the national language, and that Maltese and English are ofcial languages. This is the
endpoint of a political and linguistic situation evolving over a long period of time (Borg 2011a).
1 Languages in Malta throughout its history
Owing to their strategic position, the Maltese islands have had a long history of the contemporaneous presence
of more than one language, stretching back at least to the time when the islands, previously under Punic rule,
passed peacefully under Roman rule in 218 BC and were annexed to the Roman province of Sicily (Bonanno
2005). The new masters must have introduced Latin (and to a certain extent, also Greek) although most of
the population would have spoken a form of Punic.2
The Christianization of Malta is thought to have started with the shipwreck of St Paul in 60 AD (Acts of
the Apostles, Chapters 27, 28), but the available evidence shows it was a gradual process straying to the
fourth century. Following the turmoil caused by the Vandals and later by the Ostrogoths, Malta passed under
Byzantine rule in 535 AD (Bonanno 2005) until the Arabs took over around 870 AD (Wettinger 1984, Fiorini
and Zammit 2016). During this time the islands must have had a diglossic culture with a form of Classical
Arabic as the High variety and Colloquial Arabic (probably close to Tunisian) as the Low one.
The cultural/linguistic situation continued unchanged when Count Roger the Norman established his
sovereignty in 1091, exacting tribute but leaving the Arabs very much to their own affairs. However in
1127 his son, Roger II (Dalli 2002), consolidated Norman rule in the islands, bringing over migrants from
Southern Italy and from Sicily and establishing Latin Christianity. This led to the exposure of Maltese Arabic
to Romance linguistic varieties. Sicily and Malta passed under the Hohenstaufen rule of Henry IV in 1194
and around 1248, his successor Frederick II (“Stupor Mundi”) decreed the exile of Maltese Muslims to
Lucera in Puglia (Dalli 2006).
Although many Muslims must have left the islands, the existence of Maltese up to this day shows that many
others must have converted to Christianity to avoid exile, so that diglossia based on Arabic was quickly lost,
since it was no longer possible for the Quran to be transmitted to the younger generation. This change opened
the way for Maltese Arabic to gradually turn into Old Maltese, fusing lexical and grammatical elements from
both Arabic and Romance into a single linguistic system, developing into a language in its own right. This
process continued under successive rules, that of the Angevins (from 1266) and the Aragonese (from 1283).
2 The emergence of Italian
The arrival of the Order of St John in 1530 increased the pressure of Romance on the development of Old
Maltese. The Knights came from the noble families of Europe and naturally brought their languages with them.
However, Italian soon emerged as the language of administration, the law courts, the (restricted) educational
system and the Church. Gradually more and more Maltese learnt Italian and used it for their “High” linguistic
functions while Maltese continued to thrive among the poorer, uneducated, largely monolingual classes; but
it also served the “Low” linguistic functions of the educated Maltese (Grima 2001, Freller 2010).
2 Indeed there is some archaeological evidence for the peaceful co-existence of the Phoenicians, who established a presence on the
islands around the 8th century BC with the earlier Bronze Age inhabitants whose language is unknown. This co-existence would have
included linguistic exchanges in the two respective languages.
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 73
3 The British period
Following the brief French interlude (1798-1800), Malta passed under the British crown. The colonial
authorities tried unsuccessfully to introduce English and substitute it for Italian as the sole ofcial language
(including also its use in the law courts) but the antagonism, especially of the higher, educated classes
ensured that for almost a century, Italian largely preserved its status as the language serving “High” functions.
Originally this was more a question of the survival of an embattled class used to social prestige and economic
advantage. But the continued onslaught of the colonial authorities on the status of Italian provided a rallying
point for the emergence of a nationalistic idealism.
The Royal Commission of 1836 (Austin and Cornwall-Lewis) favoured Maltese demands for the opening of
schools, access to all positions of government employment and freedom of the press. It also recognised that
Italian was the language of the Maltese, save for familiar conversation, and concluded that Italian was far
more useful to a Maltese than any other language, excepting his native tongue. In the Constitution granted
by Britain in 1849, Italian and English were both admitted as languages for discussion in the Council of
Government (Hull 1993).
With the unication of Italy, the British intensied their efforts to anglicise the islands, and the 1880s see
the start of a bitter political struggle between, on the one hand, the upholders of the status of Italian and, on
the other, those who wanted to replace it with English. Maltese was introduced as a language of instruction
in the early years of primary schooling. While not objecting to the spread of English in Malta, the upholders
of Italian vigorously opposed its imposition at the expense of Italian. However, those who were in favour
of the teaching of Maltese also supported the use of English. This political struggle, known locally as the
“Language Question”, raged for decades well into the rst half of the twentieth century.
The Constitution of 1921 granting the Maltese a form of self-government, recognised English and Italian
as the ofcial languages of Malta and laid down that “the Maltese language, as the language of popular
intercourse, shall enjoy all such facilities as are necessary to satisfy the reasonable needs of those who are
not sufciently conversant with the English or Italian language” (Hull 1993).
Following more agitation, the Letters Patent of 16th August 1934 declared English, Maltese and Italian to
be ofcial languages in Malta; English was to be the language of administration (with translations into
Maltese or Italian permitted where convenient); English and Maltese were to be given importance in the civil
service, and Maltese became the “general language” at the law courts. In the same year the orthographic rules
proposed years earlier by the Għaqda tal-Kittieba tal-Malti (the Union of Maltese Authors, founded in 1920)
were given ofcial recognition. In 1935 Maltese became a compulsory subject for employment in the civil
service and for entry into the University, and the Chair of Maltese was re-established in 1937 (Brincat 2011).
The Language Question was nally settled with the Second World War. Feelings had already been running
high with the Fascist claim on Malta as “terra irredenta”. Symptomatically, Ganado (1974-76) narrates that
when the rst Italian bombs were dropped over Malta, the Italian version of some street names were painted
4 The Independence Constitution
In the colonial Constitution of 1961 English and Maltese are both declared ofcial languages, whereas
the 1964 Independence Constitution, as previously mentioned, accords ofcial status to both Maltese and
English, but also establishes Maltese as the national language. This position is reafrmed in the republican
Constitution of 1974 (Brincat 2011).
There is no attempt to dene “national” and “ofcial” and the list of “ofcial” languages is, in principle,
open-ended (“... and such other language as may be prescribed by Parliament...”), possibly in an attempt to
placate the remnants of the supporters of Italian (cf. Hull 1993). This open-endedness was exploited recently
when the Maltese Sign Language Recognition Act of 2016 declared Maltese Sign Language to be another
ofcial language of Malta and the Government is bound to promote its widest use through all possible means.
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 74
It is worth pointing out that neither the Constitution nor any language law obliges the Administration to
communicate bilingually, nor is Maltese given preference over English. However, the Constitution requires
the Administration to reply in the ofcial language chosen by any person to address it but does not enforce the
use of both languages when government entities initiate their written communication with the public through
press releases, publications, and public campaigns. In 1989 the Ofce of the Prime Minister recommended
that Maltese be used in government departments and ministries, a recommendation repeated in 1996 through
a Directive, urging the more frequent and careful use of Maltese in ofcial correspondence (Brincat 2011).
The Constitution also specically proclaims Maltese to be the language of the Courts, the former stronghold
par excellence of Italian. Parliament, in regulating its own procedure, is allowed by the Constitution to
determine the ofcial language to be used in its proceedings and records.
5 Italian after Independence
It may be said that the ousting of Italian from the public sphere was completed in the 1964 Independence
Constitution. However, beyond any legal framework, it must be noted that Italian enjoyed a resurgence
of popularity from the late 1950s with the introduction of television and the reception in Malta of Italian
TV stations. As a result, many Maltese were conversant with Italian and for many it was a natural choice
in school as a third language. The introduction of cable television in the early 1990s and the popularity of
English, and especially American language programmes, drastically reversed this trend.
6 Linguistic varieties of Maltese
In all legal texts Maltese is misleadingly presented as a monolithic language whereas, in fact, it is realised
in many different varieties, popularly called “dialects”. Indeed these different linguistic realisations are not
merely different “accents” but varieties in their own right with systematic differences on the phonological,
morphological, syntactic, semantic and lexical levels. Practically every village core has a particular variety
associated with it, and it forms an important component of the self-awareness and identity of many speakers,
in particular those from the sister island, Gozo (Borg 2011b).
7 English in Malta
A word is also in order about the term “English” applied to the Maltese context. As might be expected, the
English spoken by Maltese speakers is inuenced by their degree of competence in English and Maltese
respectively and this varies greatly from speaker to speaker. Linguists use the term “Maltese English” to
refer to the spectrum of possibilities, ranging from an English minimally inuenced by Maltese intonation,
phonology, grammar, etc., to one heavily marked by all of these to varying degrees (Borg 1988, Grech 2015,
Azzopardi-Alexander: forthcoming).
An added complication is the ever growing extent of code-switching and code-mixing between (spoken)
Maltese and English. This occurs not only in the context of child-directed speech but is also widespread in
adult interaction, including also on the Maltese language media (Borg 2011b).
8 The Maltese Language Act
While there have not been any Constitutional amendments subsequent to 1964 regarding language, in the
years preceding Malta’s accession to the EU, there was lobbying by a small group of academics at the
University of Malta (the Department of Maltese at the Faculty of Arts and the Institute of Linguistics),
together with the voluntary Maltese language associations, for the authorities to prepare for this important
milestone in the nation’s history also in the eld of language. The Maltese Language Board was set up
in 1995 to make recommendations to government regarding the setting up of a National Council for the
Maltese Language. The Board, with the same members, was reconstituted three times by different parties in
government until it completed its work and submitted its report in 2001. The Maltese Language Act setting
up the National Council for the Maltese Language was passed unanimously by Parliament in 2004.
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 75
The Law spells out the status of Maltese in more detail than is done in the Constitution, calling it “a
fundamental element of the national identity of the Maltese people”, “an essential component of the national
heritage” and “a strong expression of the nationality of the Maltese”. It also lays down (however not in an
enforceable way) that the State should make provision for the study of the Maltese language to be given
primary importance in both State and other schools, in its linguistic, literary and cultural manifestations;
and that it should promote through all possible means the widest use of the Maltese language in education,
broadcasting and the media, at the law courts, and in political, administrative, economic, social and cultural
life. However, there is no further elaboration on what is meant by “ofcial” language.
9 Accession to the EU
Seeing Maltese being accorded the status of one of the ofcial languages of the European Union, on Malta’s
accession in 2004, was a source of great pride for many Maltese. Unfortunately, however, there were some
who tended to see this as an unnecessary complication, in view of the perceived viability of English in Malta.
While there is an adequate supply of translators within EU institutions, there is a lack of qualied interpreters.
10 Language and identity
The Maltese in general think of Maltese as a strong element of their identity. This is borne out, for instance,
by a series of surveys carried out by one of the local newspapers, MaltaToday. The rst survey, dating back to
2013, found that around 68% of the Maltese regard their language as one of the top markers of their identity
(along with culture, religion and food). A subsequent survey (2014) carried out by the same newspaper in
the following year found practically the same results. However, the fact is that many Maltese think that their
Maltese/English bilingualism is also a very important element of their identity, and this tendency is carried to
an extreme by a minority when they tend to shun, or at least look down on, monolingual speakers of Maltese,
or speakers with a poor knowledge of English. This situation evolved over many years, starting with the rst
attempts at anglicisation by the colonial government, when a working knowledge of English was made a
compulsory requirement for entry into the civil service, at the time one of the most secure and well-paid jobs
This made knowledge of English highly desirable and gave rise to a trend, still going strong today, for
families with the required knowledge to use English at home, or at least to code-switch, in order to expose
their children to English from an early age. Apart from cartoons transmitted solely in English on local
television channels, parents can also nd an endless number of animated nursery rhymes and children’s
songs on YouTube, as well as many digital apps in English. In contrast, digital resources in Maltese are
still very limited due to the small local market and limited funds and human resources. The end result is a
reinforcement of English in child-directed speech.
Today many educated Maltese actually boast that they “think” in English and that their English is better than
their Maltese. Some even use this as the justication for writing (especially) and reading only in English.
11 Language in the public sphere
Although Maltese has come a long way from the time Italian was regarded as the language of culture in
Malta, as well as from the early post-Independence days, when the use of English was still very prominent
in most spheres of public life, still the ofcial status of both Maltese and English provides an alibi for
the continued widespread use of English, either where Maltese could easily gure, or at least, where both
languages could be used side by side, as in public signage.
In practice, Maltese tends to be the dominant spoken language while English is the dominant written language.
Many civil servants, in fact, write emails and circulars only in English and the convenient excuse is that we
still do not have a viable spell-checker and a fully-edged online dictionary; hence the necessary reminder
by the Ofce of the Prime Minister, referred to above, of the Constitutional obligation to reply to persons
writing in Maltese in the same language. It is convenient to mention here the Maltese Language Resource
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 76
Server (MLRS), an ongoing project by the Institute of Linguistics at the University of Malta, which includes
corpora, electronic lexicons and natural language processing tools for Maltese as well as for Maltese English
and Maltese Sign Language.
It is a commonplace that ofcial documents are often rst drafted in English and then translated into Maltese
where applicable. This practice leads very often to poor Maltese since the same people who write the original
version also often translate it. As their Maltese is generally not of the best, the resultant text is riddled with
literal translations and often incomprehensible strings of words. Native idioms are being progressively lost
and re-lexication of the language is on the increase as loan words from English (often unnecessarily)
replace native ones.
To give some examples, public consultation documents, ministry websites, communication between
government departments and ministries, public procurement documents, Planning Authority documents and
notices, texts from the Central Bank and the Malta Financial Services Authority and a host of others are often
only in English. Catchy phrases in advertising and publicity campaigns are also mostly in English, though
the rest of the text could be bilingual or only in Maltese. Similarly names of departments and of new entities
as well as their acronyms are usually in English.3 The same applies for names given to public initiatives and
awareness campaigns.
Tellingly, the annual tax return sent to every wage earner by the Department of Inland Revenue, water and
electricity bills, and bills sent by private companies operating in the communications industry are in both
Maltese and English. However, it is fair to say that mentalities are slowly changing and becoming more
amenable to the promotion of Maltese or at least to Maltese and English together. A case in point is provided
by some of the larger banks whose automated machines (ATMs) have bilingual interfaces. In addition, their
annual reports, published in English, include some sections in Maltese. This practice is adopted also by
some larger private companies. For public-private projects, part-nanced by EU funds and by the European
Economic Area and Norwegian Financial Mechanisms, the Manuals of Procedures contemplate the use of
both ofcial languages in the activities “depending on the target audience and the nature of the publicity
action” but “the use of the national language is encouraged to reach a wider audience”.
To this end, moreover, the National Council for the Maltese Language is doing its utmost to raise awareness
among public administration employees and directors to increase the use of bilingual communication and
signage in public spaces (Fabri: forthcoming). This would make written Maltese more visible as bets an
ofcially bilingual country. The Council works jointly with different entities, including local councils, health
centres, schools and parks, on various public and infrastructural projects, as well as on their printed material
aimed for public dissemination. This collaboration involves establishing linguistic guidelines and providing
terminology, translation and proofreading services.
The Council also offers a small range of courses in Maltese writing to civil servants attending on a voluntary
basis. These courses are also extended to other specic audiences. It also offers a successful and well attended
university part-time course in proofreading Maltese in collaboration with the Department of Maltese at the
Faculty of Arts now running in its twelfth edition.
12 Language in the legal context
12.1 Legislation
Article 74 of the Constitution lays down that “Save as otherwise provided by Parliament, every law shall be
enacted in both the Maltese and English languages4 and, if there is any conict between the Maltese and the
English texts of any law, the Maltese text shall prevail5.”
3 A case in point is Identity Malta, a government agency established in 2013 to cater for citizenship and all matters relating to the
identity of the individual. Ironically it is known only by its English name.
4 Notwithstanding the ofcially privileged position of Maltese in such provisions, it is well known that the drafting of laws is carried
out in English, and the Maltese text is often prepared later.
5 We nd a recent example in the Public Service Commission Appointments Regulations (2016), which state that “where a call for applications
is published in Maltese and in any other language, the Maltese text of the call shall prevail in the event of any conicts between the texts.”
Thomas Pace; Albert Borg
The Status of Maltese in National Language-Related Legislation and Implications for its Use
Revista de Llengua i Dret, Journal of Language and Law, núm. 67, 2017 77
The possibility allowing Parliament to enact “in whole or in part” any bill in either language, as provided by
the Interpretation Act (1975), is leading to a situation where even though the main act is in both languages,
some of the subsidiary legislation (legal notices and regulations proceeding from it) may be in English only.
This is especially the case where abundant use is made of technical terminology. In fact, the Civil Aviation
Act (1972) had already included a provision whereby, because of the highly technical language involved, the
subsidiary legislation was to be in English only.
The Product Safety Act (2001), clearly intended for the transposition of EU directives, provides for all
subsidiary legislation under this act to be in English only, doing away with the bilingual structure of our
legislation (Bruno 2013). It is ironic that since Malta’s accession, the EU devotes considerable expense
to the translation of EU legislation into Maltese, thousands of pages of such legislation have already been
translated and already there is now available an appreciable bank of Maltese terminology from many different
specialised elds.6
The resultant situation has led to tension between the parent bilingual text and subsidiary legislation in one
language. For instance, Article 54 (3) of the Environment Protection Act (2016) allows certain schedules
annexed to it to be published “in the Maltese language only, the English language only or both.” Article
21 of the Building Regulation Act (2011) has a similar but extended provision, making it possible for any
technical guidance document or methodology issued in connection with it to be “issued in either the Maltese
or English language only, or both.” Similarly, the Medicinal Products (Package Leaets and Labelling)
Regulations (2006) provide for any authorised medicinal product to be placed on the market in Malta “if the
packaging and package leaet, as approved, are either in the English or Maltese language or both.” Another
case is Article 9 (9) of the Lifts Regulations - Subsidiary Legislation (2016), which state that lifts shall be
accompanied by safety instructions “in at least the Maltese or English language”.
In the preceding cases the possibility is left open for subsidiary legislation in both languages but there
are other instances where the provision is for English only. Some of the sectors involved include banking
(Central Bank of Malta Act, 1968), accountancy (Accountancy Profession Act, 1980), nancial services
(Malta Financial Services Authority Act, 1989, and Financial Institutions Act, 1994), communications
(Electronic Communications (Regulations) Act, 1997), standards (Malta Standards Authority Act, 2000),
insurance (Insurance Intermediaries Act, 2006), and the business sector (Company Service Providers Act,
Moreover, there are instances where the normal constitutional trend is reversed and the English text is
deemed to be binding. Article 68 of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority Act (2011), for
example, allows provisions to be made in the English language only “where the use of the Maltese language
would be difcult due to the technical terminology adopted” but then goes on to state that “in the event of
conict or incompatibility between the Maltese and English texts of any regulations made under this act, the
English language version shall prevail.” Other examples are the Banking Act (1994) and the Lotteries and
Other Games Act (2002) with identical provisions.
In spite of all these instances the Statute Law Revision Act (1980) in Article 3 (1) provides for
the purpose of preparing, from time to time at intervals of not less than ten years, a revised edition of the
statute laws of Malta, and for the purpose of preparing a Maltese text of all statute laws enacted or published
without a Maltese text, the Minister may appoint a Commissioner, or a body of Commissioners consisting
of such number of Commissioners as may for the time being be in ofce, to be known in either case as the
Law Commission.
Still, this provision may not be as forceful as it seems because the Article goes on to state that
where Parliament has provided that a law may be enacted or made in either the Maltese or the English
language only, and is so enacted or made, the Commission may prepare the revised text of that law in that
language only.
6 However, it is difcult to replace English terminology already widely used by new Maltese coinages.
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12.2 Court Proceedings
The Criminal Code, as amended in 1932, declares Maltese to be the language of the court. The Judicial
Proceedings (Use of English Language) Act (1965) subsequently laid down the procedure to be followed for
non-Maltese speakers of English, allowing the use of English in this case. In the case of other non-Maltese
speakers, Maltese is to be the language used in court but provisions are to be made for interpretation. Similar
arrangements are in place for civil procedures (Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure).
Notarial acts are regulated by the Notarial Profession and Notarial Archives Act and they can “be drawn up
in the Maltese or in the English language as the appearers desire”. In the case of speakers of neither language,
the provisions of the Judicial Proceedings (Use of English Language) Act, mentioned above, apply.
13 Language and the Church
Traditionally the Catholic Church has played a major role in public and private life in the Maltese islands
going back to the time before the arrival of the Order of St John. This position is enshrined in the Constitutional
declaration that “the religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion”. Although the local clergy
have always been in their majority Maltese, higher ofcials and the bishop were always foreigners. The pre-
eminence of Italian in the daily dealings of the Church, including the activities of the Inquisition, followed
naturally from this fact, coupled also with the presence of the Order in Malta.
At the same time there was an awareness that communication with the lower classes could not take place in
Italian and there were early attempts, for instance, to translate the Catechism into Maltese (Vella 1964). In
the British period Protestant missionaries even commissioned Maltese translations of parts of the Bible (Sant
1992). Still the bishop’s pastoral letters, for instance, were promulgated in Italian. However, the growing
importance of Maltese from the early 20th century saw a progressive consolidation of the people’s language
in the life of the Church. This was the time when a determined young priest, Rev. Ġorġ Preca, recently
canonised, introduced the systematic teaching of the catechism in Maltese to young people by his association
of lay men and women.
A monumental and literary translation of the Bible, the work of one notable Maltese scholar, Msgr P.P.
Saydon, was also started in the early 1930s and nished by the late 1950s. The late 1960s saw the start of a
new, more popular translation of the Bible published a few years later. These developments culminated in
the reforms of Vatican Council II through which Maltese became virtually the only language of the liturgy
(Manicaro 2004).
14 Language in education
14.1 Primary and Secondary Level
The National Curriculum Framework for All - NCF (2012) aims at “ensuring that, in the context of the
holistic entitlement of the Learning Areas, young people in compulsory education have as an indispensible
prerequisite mastery in Maltese and English, Mathematics, a Science subject and Digital Literacy.”
In Malta school education is obligatory up to the age of 16. There are 56 State primary schools and 23
secondary schools, grouped in nine colleges in Malta. Gozo State schools are grouped in a tenth college
including 11 primary schools and 2 secondary schools. Besides these State schools, one also nds 23 primary
and 20 secondary Church schools, as well as 10 primary and 13 secondary Independent schools in Malta. In
Gozo there are 4 primary and 2 secondary Church schools and no Independent schools (School Populations
– 2016-2017). The overwhelming majority of children (57%) goes to State schools. 29% attend Church-run
schools and 14% go to Independent schools. Parents are at liberty to choose sending their children to either
a State, Church or Independent school (Schools Data – 2016).
Although the NCF provides for mastery in both Maltese and English, the bias in favour of English in terms
of its overriding utilitarian perception is clear: “The learning and teaching of the second language (generally
English, which is one of the two ofcial languages in Malta), provides [sic.] access to near universal
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knowledge and culture.” In contrast, and very interestingly, the recently published policy document entitled
A Language Policy for the Early Years in Malta and Gozo (2016) develops the idea of Maltese not only as
a language of identity but also as a means to “help children develop age-appropriate world knowledge and
vocabulary”. This is a rare instance where Maltese is consciously allowed to share with English the task of
enabling access to knowledge.
Recognising the increasing diversity in student intake even in the earliest stages of schooling, the NCF goes
on to say that there is “quasi universal agreement that Malta has become a multi-cultural society and that all
schools should be in a position to provide children and their parents with language support in Maltese and
English so that they achieve a basic working knowledge of these languages at the earliest possible moment
in order to allow them to integrate quickly.”
For the secondary level, the NCF stresses the role of Maltese in fostering a sense of identity in the student
but emphasises the utility of English as a language of wider communication:
The teaching and learning of the mother tongue (generally Maltese) at secondary level strengthens the
learners’ sense of identity and conceptual development. The teaching and learning of the second language
(generally English) at secondary level reinforce the acquisition of an important international language of
communication. For both Maltese and English, the exposure to language learning is to be interpreted in the
broader sense and thus incorporates both language and literature with at least a minimum of half the lessons
being devoted to the development of the different language skills in both English and Maltese.
To this end, the NCF sets up a scheme whereby a minimum time allocation is proposed for each learning
area, assigning a “minimum entitlement” of 30% of school time for the Language Area. This translates into
approximately an equal number of hours dedicated to Maltese and English at the Primary level. At Secondary
level this entitlement also includes a foreign language but there is, in general, some more time dedicated to
English than to Maltese. It is important to underline that this scheme is proposed for State schools. Church
and Independent schools are invited to consider their adoption within their respective establishments. It has
to be said, however, that there is a tendency for Independent schools “to place more emphasis on the use of
English, sometimes neglecting Maltese completely. State schools tend to give more importance to Maltese,
especially in the rst years of school, introducing English more gradually. The situation in Church schools
varies a great deal, with some having a tradition of placing stress on English, while others focus on Maltese”
(Fabri: forthcoming).
Although the NCF mentions the importance of the language of instruction in schools and the need for clear
direction in this regard, it does not in fact come up with specic recommendations, resting on the work of
an ad hoc board set up by the Ministry of Education to examine this and other related issues. Interestingly,
Camilleri (1995) examines teacher-student interaction in different classes by subject and nds that a case may
be made for the claim that code-switching between Maltese and English is in itself a valuable pedagogical
tool, helping to establish a link between the Maltese competence of certain groups of students and the
English textbook. In fact, there is a tendency at Secondary level to prefer English as medium for instruction
in scientic and technical subjects (e.g. mathematics and physics) and Maltese for “humanistic” areas of the
curriculum (e.g. religion studies and social studies).
14.2 Tertiary and Higher Education – The Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS)
In view of the crucial importance of tourism for the Maltese economy, the Institute of Tourism Studies was
set up in 1987 to provide the travel, hospitality and tourism industry with professional personnel. According
to its Rules and Regulations (2016-2017), both ofcial languages are general entrance requirements but
some courses specically require English (ITS website). The medium of instruction is English and most of
the course programmes include a component in ‘Hospitality and Tourism English’ at different levels (EQF
1-5). Foreign students may be required to take an English prociency test. In addition, foreigners residing
in Malta can take a part-time course in ‘Maltese for Foreigners Working in the Hospitality Industry’. Such a
course answers the need which has arisen in recent years following an inux of unskilled young EU citizens
seeking work opportunities in Malta in this sector.
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14.3 Tertiary and Higher Education – Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST)
The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology was established in 2001 as a vocational, educational and
training institution. It met with immediate success in terms of recruitment of students, responding as it did to
a long-felt need. It prepares students for careers in different sectors of the economy or for higher education,
and works closely with industry, both to ensure the College’s continued relevance to its needs and to provide
placements for student training (MCAST website).
The College has recently been restructured into three colleges: Foundation, Technical and University, catering
for students at different levels from EQF 1, 2 and 3 at Foundation Level to EQF 5, 6 and 7 at University
Level. Maltese and English are both ofcial languages of the College although the administration may use
either for ofcial purposes (Education Act, Part VIII, 2006).
While the University College Programme Regulations (October 2016) recognise Maltese and English as
“key skills” among others, English or Maltese are set as languages of instruction “as appropriate for the
students concerned.” The prescribed language of assessment is English, “except for areas of study involving
use of the Maltese language.” In addition, students may be allowed to present assessment work written in
Maltese “for a just and sufcient reason”.
These provisions seem to tacitly imply that students oriented to vocational courses might not, in reality, have
the full competence to operate with English alone as medium.
14.4 Tertiary and Higher Education – The University
Maltese and English are obligatory university entrance requirements for all Maltese citizens (Education
Act - Statutes and General Regulations 1988), but Senate may allow other subjects in special cases. In the
case of Maltese, a recent amendment (Admission Regulations 2016) species that “a Maltese applicant who,
for reasons of residence or education abroad over a signicant period during the previous four years, has
not received adequate teaching in Maltese, may be allowed to offer another language instead of Maltese.”7
However, a non-Maltese applicant is not obliged to present a qualication in Maltese.
The language of instruction at University is English, except for language departments where, depending on
the case, the language of instruction is the language of the subject matter. In the context of the drive to recruit
more international students, the university has recently had to remind lecturers not to code-switch since
international students often complain that they cannot follow lectures properly.
The language of assessment and dissertations is also English, with the exception mentioned earlier. In special
cases Senate may allow assessment work or dissertations to be written in another language. However, in
the case of a dissertation, an abstract in English has to be provided but in no case is an abstract in Maltese
These language choices are perpetuating an injustice with Maltese clients of professionals emerging from
many of the university’s courses, since many Maltese cannot communicate effectively in English. Doctors
in State hospitals are often incapable of refraining from code-switching especially when they explain a
particular condition to patients, since all their technical knowledge has been mediated through English. The
same is true for other health care professionals, pharmacists, lawyers, notaries, social workers, among others.
In the case of foreign medical students, at least, the university has recognised the problem and in an effort
to mitigate some of its effects has engaged the Department of Maltese to run specialised courses in medical
Maltese for them and for some other classes of foreign health care professionals.
15 Language in the mass media
15.1 Broadcast media
The colonial government had made arrangements for relaying BBC broadcasts in Malta through cable radio
as early as 1935 with the setting up of the company Broadcast Relay (Service) Malta Ltd. The company
7 This amendment is applicable also to the ITS University College.
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extended its services to include popular locally produced programmes in Maltese. The Broadcasting Authority
was set up by the Broadcasting Ordinance (1961) to ensure impartiality and balance in radio and television
broadcasts (but not including the printed media). This Ordinance was repealed by the Broadcasting Act
(1991) introducing pluralism in broadcasting. This development saw the dramatic multiplication of radio
stations and television channels (Broadcasting Authority website).8
Both on State and private TV channels documentaries, lms, cartoons and adverts in English are very
common. On the other hand, drama productions, magazine (entertainment/lifestyle, information and
education), cooking, sport, current affairs and discussion programmes in Maltese are also very popular on all
local channels. In such programmes many Maltese professionals talking about their specialisation frequently
cannot express themselves without constantly code-switching between Maltese and English. Moreover, it
often happens that in the course of current affairs and other programmes, foreign interviewees use English
or Italian. In such cases there is no obligation for any kind of interpretation to be provided (but cf. below,
discussion of Requirements as to Standards and Practice in the Use of Maltese in the Broadcasting Media
– Draft). Furthermore, it is now common for certain journalists attending ofcial press conferences where
all the proceedings are in Maltese to ask questions in English and to be replied to in Maltese by the person
giving the press conference.
Radio and television adverts are broadcast in English or in Maltese. It is a common practice for TV adverts
to include spoken Maltese and written English. Some imported advertisements, typically about certain foods
and detergents, are even relayed in Italian.9
Almost all national and community radio stations transmit their scheduled programmes solely in Maltese
but their playlists include Maltese, English and Italian music, although the music playlists of a few are only
in English. This is possible because there are no legal provisions on quantied quotas regulating the balance
between broadcast content in Maltese and English.10
In view of this uid linguistic situation, the Broadcasting Authority, working with the National Council
for the Maltese Language, has produced the Code on the Correct Use of the Maltese Language on the
Broadcasting Media Regulations (2010). This Code lays down the duties of broadcasters and obligations of
stations that broadcast television and radio programmes in Maltese. It also spells out the responsibilities of
the Broadcasting Authority itself “to ensure that broadcasting stations and broadcasters comply with their
duties in terms of this Code and the rules and guidelines on the safeguard and proper use of the Maltese
Each local broadcaster, above all, is bound to ensure “a good command of all the aspects of the Maltese
language so that the nal result will be a unied one, well linked and comprehensible.” Broadcasting
stations are also obliged to have their own Maltese language consultant with a recognised university degree
in Maltese or who is approved by the National Council for the Maltese Language and the Broadcasting
Authority. Furthermore, the Broadcasting Authority is to engage monitoring personnel to “compile and
publish, from time to time, reports on the situation of the Maltese language in the broadcasting media” and
“assist representative organisations in the broadcasting sector to achieve their aim of self-regulation in so far
as language is concerned.”
In order to respond to recent developments and trends in this sector, the Broadcasting Authority, once again
in conjunction with the National Council for the Maltese Language, has drawn up a new legal notice, which
is still to be implemented, amending the 2010 Code (Requirements as to Standards and Practice in the Use
of Maltese in the Broadcasting Media – Draft). Some of the proposals include revising the initial ne for the
misuse of Maltese to an amount which makes it more feasible for it to be applied. The obligation for each
8 There are about 15 radio stations broadcasting on a national level and a number of community radio stations with a more localised
audience. There are also around 10 TV stations. Of these, 3 TV and 3 radio stations are funded publically.
9 The Labelling, Presentation and Advertising of Foodstuffs Regulations (2004) allow labelling of food products “in at least one of
the following languages: Maltese, English, Italian”. Health warnings associated with such products, however, are allowed in Maltese
or English. But the Manufacture, Presentation and Sale of Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (2016) lay down that the health
warnings on the packaging of a tobacco product should be in both Maltese and English.
10 Interestingly, each station is required to “broadcast at least one programme over a period of three consecutive months intended to
advance the Maltese language”. However, what this implies is not further specied.
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station to have its own linguistic consultant has not been found practicable and so the requirement has been
modied so that each station can now nd its own mechanism in this regard.
In addition, the “correct use” of Maltese in programmes produced in-house or sourced-out has been spelt out
in more detail to include correct orthography, including the use of Maltese fonts, a more contemporary idiom
with correct grammar and pronunciation, as well as the avoidance of the use of unnecessary English words
and phrases in spoken and written Maltese. Stations have also to ensure the appropriate use of Maltese for
numbers (in dates, sizes, prices, contact details, etc.), colour terms and toponyms. Stations are encouraged
to come up with creative names in Maltese for their programmes. There is also an obligation to provide
a Maltese version of what is said in English or in another language in the course of television and radio
programmes. This can be done either by providing a voice-over translation, through subtitling, or through
the provision of a summary by the programme presenter. The content of the programme intended “to advance
the Maltese language” is now further spelt out and includes information about the orthography and grammar
and other aids for the appreciation and better use of Maltese.
15.2 Printed and digital media
Turning to the printed media, there are four daily and eight weekly newspapers, two of which have also a
mid-week edition. Seven of these newspapers are in Maltese and ve are in English. Five of the Maltese
language newspapers are associated with political parties. This goes to show that politicians have a keen
awareness of the efcacy of Maltese in reaching out to the largest possible number of people. In fact, political
advertising (in newspapers and on billboards) is predominantly in Maltese. Newspapers have also branched
out into the digital media and there are at least nine online news portals. Of these four are in Maltese and four
in English, while one is bilingual.
15.3 Incentives
From time to time the National Council for the Maltese Language, together with the Broadcasting Authority,
organises education and awareness-raising seminars related to the use of the Maltese language for different
sectors of the media industry, such as for sports journalists and producers, and news journalists. Moreover,
the Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) each year organises the Malta Journalism Awards which honours
those journalists who have distinguished themselves and contributed to improving the standard of journalism
in Malta through their writing or broadcasting. Two of these awards recognise the ‘Best Use of Maltese
Language in Print and Digital Media’ and the ‘Best Use of Maltese Language in Broadcast Media’. Both
categories are sponsored by the National Council for the Maltese Language.
16 Citizenship
The Malta Citizenship Act (1964) provides for an “alien or a stateless person” to become a citizen of Malta by
naturalisation under a number of conditions, including the requirement “that he has an adequate knowledge
of the Maltese or the English language.” Moreover, although the Immigration Regulations (2004) do not
mention any language requirement for people seeking refuge in Malta, the Family Reunication Regulations
(2007) stipulate that the family members coming to reside in Malta to be reunited with their relatives “may
be required to attend, and successfully complete, courses in the Maltese language” whatever this may mean.
On the other hand, the Individual Investor Programme of the Republic of Malta Regulations (2014), through
which foreigners may apply to become Maltese citizens through a specied form of investment, do not
provide for any linguistic requirement.
17 Maltese emigrants
During the early part of the twentieth century, there was a steady stream of Maltese migration to North
African countries, mainly Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. In general, these Maltese emigrants kept up a sense of
identity, also through Maltese language newspapers of limited local circulation. Following the upheavals of
the 1950s, in the context of the struggle for independence of these countries, many of these Maltese expatriates
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either returned to Malta or re-settled mostly in France. Their descendants in this country still retain a measure
of Maltese identity and some are active in the Council for Maltese Living Abroad established by law in 2011.
After the Second World War, when employment possibilities were scarce, thousands of Maltese emigrated
to English-speaking countries, chiey to Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Although there are a number of migrant associations promoting links with the mother country, many second
generation individuals lost their Maltese. In fact, one of the aims of the Council previously mentioned is to
“facilitate the maintenance of the cultural and linguistic identity of Maltese communities abroad and promote
Maltese culture abroad, in particular the teaching of the Maltese language”.
Following Malta’s accession to the European Union, there is now an appreciable number of Maltese working
with EU institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg. There are limited opportunities in school for their children
to study Maltese as one of the EU ofcial languages.
18 Culture, literature and the arts
The National Council for the Maltese Language is a government entity, falling under the Ministry for
Education, but it works closely with four local language voluntary non-governmental associations that all
have Maltese language and literature as their focus of interest. The oldest one, established in 1920, is the
Għaqda tal-Kittieba tal-Malti (Union of Maltese Authors), known today as the Akkademja tal-Malti (Academy
of Maltese). This is a prestigious association which in many respects fullled some of the functions which
today are part of the remit of the National Council for the Maltese Language. Today it is mostly active in the
literary eld. The other organisations are the Għaqda tal-Malti - Università (Maltese Language Association
for university students) set up in 1931, the Għaqda Poeti Maltin (Association of Maltese Poets) established
in 1975, and the Għaqda tal-Qarrejja tal-Provi tal-Malti (Association for Proofreaders of Maltese) which was
founded in 2010.
Another public entity working in this sector is the Malta Arts Council established by the Arts Council Malta
Act (2015). One of its duties is to “safeguard the dynamic development of those cultural characteristics,
including intellectual, linguistic, traditional and folkloric, which identify the Maltese people.”
An initiative, rst set up in 1971, involves the ‘Literary Prize’ for books in Maltese published during the
preceding year in order to encourage Maltese literature and to reward the year’s best authors. In 2001 the
organisation of this Prize passed into the remit of the National Book Council which extended it to various
sub-categories in Maltese and English. Interestingly, the winner of the Literary Work in the novel category
receives a nancial grant, courtesy of the Malta Arts Council’s Cultural Export Fund, for the translation of
the winning text into a foreign language. There is yet another incentive involving a prize for authors who
write in Maltese or English and publish in Malta literary works for children and adolescents (ages 0 to 16).
Translations into Maltese from a number of European languages are also accepted for the purposes of this
prize. Another interesting initiative involves various free bilingual literacy programmes in different localities
in Malta and Gozo offered by the National Literacy Agency.
19 Conclusion
This overview has shown that although the status of Maltese as the national language of the Maltese islands
is clearly dened in the Constitution, this still leaves much to be desired, because of the tension between
the de jure and the de facto realities. Much still remains to be done to give Maltese its rightful place in
the life of the island nation, living as it does under the shadow of English as the language of international
communication. Indeed, the shared ofcial status with English often makes it possible for Maltese to be
sidelined as a language valid only locally for spoken, and limited written, communication.
At the same time, its position would have been much worse without its accorded national status and ofcial
recognition, enhanced by the provisions of the Maltese Language Act and its status as one of the ofcial
languages of the European Union.
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Online references
(last consulted on 15 Nov 2016)
Broadcasting Authority website:
ITS website:
Laws of Malta:
MaltaToday – Identity Surveys:
MCAST website:
Ministry for Education and Employment – Lists of State, Church and Independent Schools:
Schools Data – 2016 (Times of Malta online):
School Populations – 2016-2017 (EU Affairs, International Relations, Research and Policy Development