Il-Cantilena of Malta: How much can a modern day Arab decipher from the oldest Maltese literature?

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Il-Cantilena of Malta: How much can a modern day Arab decipher from the oldest Maltese literature?

In a previous article on Arab heritage in Malta, I touched upon how the Maltese language (Ilsan Malti) is definitely derived from Arabic, and more specifically, from the North African dialect of Arabic.

A visitor to the site raised a nice challenge which was very interesting to me: He started on the off note and having his comment titled "Maltest are not arab", and by saying:

For those Arabs that try to find commonality with Maltese is just as
pathetic as those Maltese that try to find commonality with Europeans.

The reality is each isnow so far removed that the identity is clear
albeit very common with the mediterranean. How the language survived
and its real roots is very interesting.

Let us not confuse ethnicity and genetics with language.

Why is it "pathetic" to find commonality between Maltese and Arabic while all the evidence points to Maltese being derived from an Arabic dialect. 

They are not far removed at all.

He then adds:

I would appreciate an arabic perspective of the oldest known Maltese
verses of il Cantelina. Please do read it before looking at the actual
english translation and see how much of it you can actually understand.
The funny thing is I as a Maltese can barely understand it:

Now that is a good idea!

He then lists the modern orthography of Maltese:

Modern orthography
Maltese orthography was not standardised until the 20th century; there
were many variant spelling conventions in texts written before this
time.

here's a table with the letter equivalents of modern maltese sounds

għ = ﻉ ʻayn but silent mostly elongates the following vowel
ħ = ﺡ ḥ very brief though as in 'help'
h = silent slightly elongates the following vowel
x = ﺵ sh as in ship
z = ﺯ as in zebra
j = ﺝ as in yellow
ie = a vowel, but a long ij
ż = ﻅ tz or ts
ġ = as in george
g = as get

e.g. a’ = the ’ signifies a dropped għ

I have heard about the Cantilena before, as the first literature written in Malti.

I decided not to look it up on Wikipedia or other sources, and attempt to translate it independently and directly,
first from the modern orthography, then trying to read the old
orthography and fill in the gaps. The sole source here is my own knowledge of Arabic, and exposure to North African dialects of Arabic.

The result of this effort can be found below: First the line in the verse in modern Maltese orthography, then
my Arabic translation in Arabic letters, and then my English translation, without referring to any articles or the internet or any other reference.This is then followed by a word by word dissection of the verse.

There are a few cases where I did not stick to the orthography because the Arabic letter confirms better to what the word is.

After I hear from a few Maltese about how successful/unsuccesful the translation is, I will look up the relevant sources on the Cantilena and its English translation, in a future comment or amendment to this article.

The feminine is because Arabic and Malti has everything as either
masculine (he) and feminine (she), but no gender neutrality (it).

1. Xidew il-qada, ja ġirieni, talli nħadditkom,
شدوا القادة ? يا جيراني تاللي نحدتكم
... Oh My Neighbors, come/so-that we can tell [a story] to you

Xidew شدوا: This means "pull". Can also be from "Shadw" meaning singing or reciting poetry.

il-qada القادة:This means "the leaders, the commanders, but it is unclear what the exact meaning is in the context.

ja يا : this is an appleration in Arabic, when calling someone. Preceeds the appellant.

ġirieni جيراني : My neighbors, from singular جار and plural جيران. The -i at the end is possessive ("my...").

talli تاللي: Could be the same as slang Arabic تعالوا "come over here", otherwise, it is obscure in Arabic.

nħadditkom نحدتكم: From The n- means "we are going to ...", and the -kom prefix is "you"

 

2. Ma nsab fil-weri u la nsab f’għomorkom
ما نصاب في الوري و لا نصاب في عمركم
May I not be [punished] in [...?], nor I be punished in your life [age]
[Note: original orthography: gueri: جواري means little girls]

Ma: This is for negation of what follows.

nsab: the n- indicates plural, but that can be figurative. The "sab" part i derived from moseeba مصيبة which means "catastrophe" or calamity. nsab means "we have a calamity befall us".

fil-: is actually two things: fi menaing "in" and "il" meaning "the".

weri: was unclear until I checked the old orthography which had "gueri". This is a plural of "garia"which  means little girl as well as slave girl as well. Given the context, it must refer to little girls.

u: this is Arabic "wa-" meaning "and" and is still shortened to "u" in some present daydialects (e.g. in the Levant).

la: means "not".

nsab: same as above.

f’: is shortened form of "fi" meaning "in".

għomorkom: is a composite of "Omor" meaning "age" and also "life". The kom suffix is second person plural.

 

3. Qalb m’għandha ħakem, sultan u la mula
قلب ما عندها حاكم سلطان و لا موليأ
Her heart is ruler, a Sultan or a mawla

Qalb: is heart.

m’: can be possessive or negative. I lean towards the former.

għand: is "having" or "at"

ha: is feminine possessive. Unsure who it refers to, a female love interest of the poet, or the land.

ħakem: is ruler.

sultan:  Arabic term for king, ruler.

u la: this is the same as the previous verse, but can also be subtly different. The "u" can be أو which means "or". The entire "u la" can be the same as colloquial Egyptian و اللا also meaning "or".

mula: is a word with many meanings in Arabic, but "master" is what fits the context here.

 

4. Bir imgħammiq irmietni, b’turġien muħsula,
بير مغمق رميتني بترجين محصلة
A deep well you cast me in, with [?two drawers ...?]


Bir
: is the colloquial term for "well" in many dialects of today. The classical Arabic version is "bi'r"بئر

imgħammiq: is interesting. The Maltese "għ" indicates a ع but can also be غ gh as well. Either way it indicates depth, the first being closer to classical usage, and the latter from colloquial usage in Egypt and the Levant (unsure if it is North Africa too).

irmietni: is composed of the root "rmi" ("to throw, cast"), and the -ni is "me"


b’turġien
:This is an unclear term to me.


muħsula
:
This is an unclear term to me.

 

5. Fejn ħajran għall-għarqa, ninżel f’taraġ minżeli
فين حيران عالغرقى ننزل في درج منزلي
Where am I, lost/disoriented, I descend the stairs on my house


Fejn:
This is a colloquial term in Arabic in Egypt and elsewhere, meaning "Where". It is not a classical Arabic term, whereas "Ayn" is.


ħajran:
Means disoriented or lost the way.


għall-:
the suffix is identitical to colloquial Arabic in Egypt, meaning "On the".

għarqa: If we use the orthography, this would start with a ع . Not sure what it means in the context. With a  غ instead, it could mean "those who drowned"


ninżel
: "I/we go down"


f’
: is "in"

taraġ: Substituting the"t" by a "d" makes it Darag, which means stair case.

minżeli: My house.

 

6. Nitla’ u nerġa’ ninżel dejjem fil-baħar il-għoli.
نطلع و نرجع ننزل دايم في البحر العالي
We go out, and come back, and go out always in the rough sea

Nitla’: "ascend", or "go out"


u
: "and"


nerġa’
: "we come back", or "we return"


ninżel
: "go down"


dejjem
: This is a variant of the classical Arabic دائما (da'iman) meaning "always", which in Egyptian is "dayman", and in Tunisian "deema"


fil-baħar
: "In the sea"


il-għoli
:
literally means "high", with a bit of skew of the "a" sound into "o". In colloquial Arabic this means "choppy", "stormy" or "rough" when describing the sea.

 

7. Waqgħet hi, imrammti, l’ili żmien nibni,
وقعت هي مرمتي لإلي زمان نبني
Fell [? ...] my repair/restoration, I have been building for a long time


Waqgħet
:"She/it fell [down]"


hi
:"she/it"

imrammti: "my repair/restoration". Not sure what this refers to: a house that the poet is building and fell down during repairs?


l’ili
:the initial "L" is "for", the "ili" could be similar to Egyptian colloquial إللي which is used to refer to something or someone.


żmien
: Means "time".


nibni
:
"We build" or "Have been building".

 

8. Ma ħtatlix mgħallmin, ’mma qatagħli tafal merħi;
ما حطتليش معلمين إما قطعلي طفل مرحي
She did not put for me masters [builders?], or cut for me [clay?] [?]


Ma
:This is a negation in Arabic.

ħtatlix: a composite of colloquial Arabic identical to what is used in Egypt and elsewere, starting with  حط mean "put" , then  ت for feminine (she put), then   لي meaning "for me", and finally ش  for negation (she did not put for me).


mgħallmin
: plural for معلم meaning "master" or "teacher", as well as an expert in any craft.Probably refers to a master builder/mason here.


’mma
: means "or" or "either"


qatagħli
: "cut for me", but in masculine as opposed to the first part of the verse.


tafal
: given the context, this is most probably a special kind of clay used in adobe style bricks and building.


merħi
:
It is unclear what this means. If the letter is خ  instead of  ح, then it could mean "weak/soft bricks".

 

9. Fejn tmajt insib il-ġebel, sibt tafal merħi;
فين تميت نسيب الجبل سبت طفل مرحي
Where have I left the mountain, left [clay?] [?]


Fejn
:"where" in colloquial Arabic.


tmajt
: "finished"?


insib
: "I/we leave/let go"


il-ġebel
: "the mountain"


sibt
: "I left/let go"


tafal
: see previous verse.


merħi
:
see previous verse.

 

10. Waqgħet hi, imrammti.
وقعت هي مرمتي
She [fell?] my repair

Explained above in verse 7.

 

11. Waqgħet hi, imrammti, niżżlet hi s-sisien,
وقعت هي مرمتي نزلت هي سسيسن
She [fell?] my repair, she went down [...?]

Waqgħet hi imrammti:
Explained above in verse 7.


niżżlet
: "She descended/went down"


hi
: She/her.


s-sisien
: Unclear to me.

 

12. Ma ħtatlix l-imgħallmin, ’mma qatagħli l-ġebel;
ما حططليش معلمين إما قطعلي للجبل
She did not put for me masters [builders?] or cutting [stones] from the mountain


Ma ħtatlix l-imgħallmin
: See verse 8. The only difference is that 


’mma qatagħli
: See verse 8.


l-ġebel
:
"the mountain".

 

13. Fejn tmajt insib il-ġebel, sibt tafal merħi;
فين تميت نسيب الجبل سبت طفل مرحي
Where have I left the mountain, left [clay?] [?]

See verses 8 and 9.

 

14. Waqgħet hi, imrammti, l’ili żmien nibni.
وقعت هي مرمتي لإلي زمان نبني
[Fell? ...] repair/restoration, I have been building for a long time

Same as verse 7.

 

15. U hekk waqgħet hi, imrammti! w erġa’ ibniha!
و هيك وقعت هي مرمتي و ارجع ابنيها
And like that she fell, my repair, and I go [back] and [re]build it


U
: "And"


hekk
: A colloquial in Levant countries for "Like so" or "like that". Not used in Egypt, nor classical Arabic.


waqgħet
:"It/She fell"


hi
: "She"


imrammti
: "my repair/restoration"


w
: "And", seems interchangeable with "u" in Maltese orthography.


erġa’
: "repeat" or "go back" and redo.


ibniha!
: "Build it"

16. Biddilha inti l-imkien illi jewtiha;
بدلها انتي المكان اللي جوتيها
You replace the place that is inside it


Biddilha
: "Replace [it]". It could also be Biddliha and not Biddilha, which would be second person feminine "You replace it".


inti
: feminine "you".


l-imkien
: "The place". The inflection deviates from both classical and Egyptian colloquial (Al Makan or El Makan), and follows North African dialects by changing the last "a" to a "ie".


illi
: Same as what is in verse 7.


jewtiha
: "Jowwa" is colloquial for "inside", and not classical Arabic. Here it is "inside it".

 

17. Min ibiddel l-imkien ibiddel il-vintura;
مين يبدل المكان يبدل الفنتورا
He who replaces the place replaces the fortune(s)


Min
: "who"


ibiddel
: "change/replace"


l-imkien
: "the place"


ibiddel
: "Change/replace"


il-vintura
:Ventura is fortune in Latin/Romance. Obviously a non-Arab word.

18. Għaliex l-iradi għal kull xiber sura:
على إيش الاراضي عال كل شبر صورة
What of the lands, on every hand-span there is a picture


Għaliex
: Literally: "On what"


l-iradi
: "The lands", plural of "ard"

għal: could be على or derivative of it meaning "on".


kull
: "every"


xiber
: a measre used in the Middle East: a hand span, about 20 cm.


sura
: "picture/image"

19. Hemm art bajda, w hemm art sewda u ħamra.
هم ارض بيضاء و هم ارض سوداء و حمراء
[...] white land, and black land, and red


Hemm
: Unclear what this is.


art
: "Land". Another example where the "d" sound is replaced with a "t" in Maltese.


bajda
: "white" feminine.


w
: "and"

hemm: Unclear, again.


art
: "Land"

sewda: "Black", feminine.


u
: "and", again interchangeable with "w".

ħamra: "red" feminine.

20. Aktar minn hedawn hemm trid minnha tmarra.
اكثر من هادون عم تريد منها تمرة
More than those [...] you want from it a fruit (or dates?)


Aktar
: "More"


minn
: "than"


hedawn
: "those", again a colloquialism used in the Levant and North African, but not Egyptian cities.


hemm
: unclear to me, but close to عم in Arabic, but not conforming to the orthography given.


trid
: "you want". Classical Arabic is "tureed",but "trid" is colloquial in North Africa.


minnha
: "From it"


tmarra
: "fruit" or "dates"

The North African Arabic dialect is clearer and clearer to me as I see more examples of Malti.

For example:

  • Preceeding the classical Arabic word by "I", e.g. imghamiq [would be Mughamiq in classical Arabic], i-nsib.
  • Transposing some sounds: e.g. 'Omorkom [would be 'Omrokom in classical Arabic].
  • Reducing "Al" (The) to l- as a prefix. e.g. l-iradi.
  • Arabic orthography is evident, where prefixes and suffixes are part of the word , and this carried over to Malti (e.g. f'-something, ...etc.)

Here is a detailed discussion of terms, a glossary of sorts, in the Cantilena:

How close was my translation?

Very interesting....

Innalhamdulillah wassalaat wassalaam alannabee, wa bad:
Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh,

Very interesting and beneficial article.
You beat me to it, tarjumatan! (smile)

Im always interested in squeezing out Arabic influences out of ajamee languages, yet with Maltese/Al-Malteeyah, there seems to be such a fun challenge finding the wealth of Arabic history that it contains and is based upon.

I feel that the Maltese/Arabic link should be dealt with academically and thoroughly so as to really expose the language for what it is in light of its dominant, hereditary Arabic past that so blatantly flares up.

A shame so many Arabophiles don't take too much interest in the Maltese language.

Fascinating

I am Maltese and I write poetry in both Maltese and English.

I can definitely tell you that I was extremely interested in reading your interpration after reading about the challenge.

What I would like to impart here is my disagreement with the challenger, when he said that he, as a Maltese can barely understand the poem with the old ortography. The difference is only in the way the phonemes are represented e.g. 'eu' instead of 'w', because of the Italian ortography that is to be found in the old version.

Let me list for you some of the parts that you did not get right:

Qada= a state in which one is in; a predicament (leader in Maltese is mexxej)

Nsab= to be found in something or someone

Weri= though I do not believe that is used in Modern
Maltese, I believe it derives from the word "wara" at the back, obviously in this case used as 'past', which in Modern Maltese is either "passat" or "imgħoddi"

U la= and neither

Turġien= stairs, another plural for tarġa (literally one step from a staircase), of which the other plural is taraġ

Muħsula= the closest word I can think of in Maltese is "maħsula" which means "washed", perhaps they are washed by the sea, but the wikipedia interpretation is different. Muħsula can be found in some Maltese dialects, particularly in that of my hometown Qormi, it is called "tuf" (standard Maltese being called "taf")

Imrammti= an edifice; it fell because it was built on clay.

l'ili= that I have been

Tmajt= I had hoped, from 'tama' (hope), it comes from Arabic.

ġebel= rocks; mountain in Maltese is muntanja from Sicilian; in Italian it is montagna

Sisien= the pedaments, foundations; in my money it probably derives from 'sinsla' which means spine in Italian, thus referring to the 'spine of the building'. But then again I do not know, for the only word which is supposed to be from Romance in the poem is 'vintura' which means luck.

Hemm= 'There is', in the context of the poem. Can also mean 'over there'.

Tmarra= I did smile at your interpretation of this. It is actually to 'go away from' and in this case to 'stay clear of it'. It comes from the Maltese verb 'mur', which like all Maltese verbs has the prefixes of 'n' for the first person, 't' for the second person, and 'j' for the third person. I also realize why you thought they were dates. In Maltese 'dates' are called 'tamar' and we have a sweet-pasty called 'imqaret' which is made from 'tamar'.

Your translation, I must say, was very close; of course, you were aided by the fact that this was at a time when the Arabic imprint was still fresh in Maltese. Though what I say is true, most Maltese poetry still has a generally more overt Araic influence to it as I myself can say regarding my own poetry and other Maltese poets' poetry.

This a poem of mine called "Wardija" which is an idyllic hilltop village in Malta. I would like to see you translating this one as best as you can. The name, Wardija, to start you off comes from the word "Ward", which means "Rose", 'ija' is the suffix.

Wardija

U morna darba kaħlana fuq l-għolja tal-Wardija
b’sidirna mġemmda fix-xemx musulmana
ta’ nofsinhar,— torbot u tagħmlek ilsir għal waqt,
għaliex il-gawwi jofroq ix-xefaq bi ġwienħajh.

Kullimkien mgħotti bil-velu umbgħad mill-Wardija
qalb in-namra ta’l-għasafar u ż-żgħażagħ,
kollha kemm’huma b’wiċċhom ħerqan għall-għajnejn
il-maħbub ħadrani w ikħal maqtugħ mis-sema.

U hu beda jrażżnilha lsiena w xuftejh bdew jerqgħu
ma’kull ħarsa li hi tagħtu; l-għasfura sfat
fix-xejn tal-waqt imbiegħed, u n-nifs, ħadu nifs.

Kollox waqa’ f’ħemda fuq il-għolja tal-Wardija,
għaliex kien wasal il-poeta w dan kien diġà
sfa, ‘mma m’hux bħall-għasfura, iżda bħan-namrati.

Thanks a lot for the interpration and keep up the good work!!

Ġakbu (James in Maltese)

Thanks, translated here

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on Il-Cantilena.

Here are comments on your comments:

Qada= "state".

Can't get the Arabic equivalent of "state" that looks similar to Qada.

Nsab= "found in someone or something".

The second part of the verse does not fit with your description. I read it as an appellation "May we not be tested/get-a-catastrophe

Weri

The word Wara in Arabic has no plural form. It is used to describe something relative to something else (behind, back). The use of a G in the old orthography made it look like Gawari (little girls) is meant.

U la= "neither"

This is the same as in classical Arabic and modern day Egyptin "Wa La"

Turġien= stairs.

Arabic is "Daraja" for one step, and "Darag" for stair case. The "Durjin" is not a valid form. "Darjaat" is though. The muthanna (two) form would be "Darajatain", and the form you mentioned could be derived from that.

Muħsula= "maħsula" which means "washed".

I find it interesting that ħ can mean two different Arabic sounds, the ح and غ. In Arabic the root gh-s-l is used for washing as in cleaning. Not washed in the sea as in "swept".

Muħsula can be found in some Maltese dialects, particularly in that of my hometown Qormi, it is called "tuf" (standard Maltese being called "taf")

I did not initially understand this sentence and what tuf/taf refers to. But, I later found Qormi dialect, and understood what it is.

Tmajt= I had hoped, from 'tama' (hope), it comes from Arabic.

This word is not used in Arabic for that meaning. Hope is Amal, Ya'mal, Mota'amel.

ġebel= rocks; mountain in Maltese is muntanja from Sicilian; in Italian it is montagna.

Very interesting. Jabal means mountain in Arabic and of course, it is a source of rocks for building and such.

Sisien= the pedaments, foundations; in my money it probably derives from 'sinsla' which means spine in Italian, thus referring to the 'spine of the building'.

Arabic Silsila is "chain". Also used for "spine" in colloquial Arabic such as in Egypt.

Hemm= 'There is', in the context of the poem. Can also mean 'over there'.

This is probably similar to "filler words" in some dialects عم such as Lebanese.

Tmarra= I did smile at your interpretation of this. It is actually to 'go away from' and in this case to 'stay clear of it'. It comes from the Maltese verb 'mur'

Yes, in Arabic: Marr means "pass by". It seems that over the centuries Maltese has developed a simpler conjugation system. See below.

which like all Maltese verbs has the prefixes of 'n' for the first person, 't' for the second person, and 'j' for the third person.

It is similar to Arabic, but simpler.

In Arabic, the n- prefix is plural first person (nebni, "We build"). For singular first person, it is a- (abni, "I build"). There is also a difference for feminine (t-, tebni, "she builds") and masculine (y- yebni, "he builds"). There are also suffixes for tense and a lot more complexity in Arabic.

As for your poem, here is an attempt to translate it: Wardija: Arabic translation modern Maltese poem.

North African Arabic

It's very exciting to see how closely related to Arabic Maltese is! It's like discovering this whole new people who speak a language so close to ours, that it could be somewhat understood by us, that we never knew of! And all because of religious/political reasons. What a shame!

Anyway, I'd just like to say that, as an Algerian, I've noticed a few similarities between Maltese and North African Arabic that Khalid may have missed.

First of all, there's the prefix "n'", which in Classical Arabic does in fact denote "we", but in the North African dialects of Arabic, it means "I". So "Nektob" is "I write", not the Classical Arabic "We write".

"Qada" is derived from the Arabic "Qadaa'", I suppose.

There's also "Nsab", which sounds very similar to Tunisian "Nsib", which is "I find", which comes from "'Asaaba", Classical Arabic for "He struck".

"Turġien", being the plural form of "tarġa", as you pointed out, apparently comes from Arabic "Daraj", which also means "stairs".

"Sisien= the pedaments, foundations; in my money it probably derives from 'sinsla' which means spine in Italian, thus referring to the 'spine of the building'."

"Sinsla" is the North African pronunciation of "Silsila", Classical Arabic for "chain". Perhaps it's the same word?

It's really astonishing how similar our languages are! And it's really fantastic how a language so similar to my native language, Algerian Arabic, has standardized orthography and is recognized as a proper language! I must go to Malta sometime, learn more about their culture and language, as I plan to study for a PhD in Arabic.

I'd like to read more of your poetry and learn more about your language, could you possibly email some of your poems to me? My address is sofiankrt (at) gmail (dot) com

So anyway, saħħa!

i appreciate thsi surely a

i appreciate thsi surely a great job the above article is as informative as the previous article was i like this decipher :)

Qada

There are a number of things with which I do not agree in this challenger's interpretation but I believe he has the right interpretation for qada. A state (as in a situation) would be qagħda in modern Maltese (قاعد meaning a base in Arabic), which clearly has an għ in there. This would've been represented as an "h" in old Maltese. It'd be strange for Caxaro to have left it out, given that it was pronounced and written in other words like homorcom (għomorkom) and haliex (għaliex).

my friend i am algerian and i

my friend i am algerian and i can read the poem and understand 99% of it.
N.B. sisien means foundations in arabic, mainly in algerian , it is the plural form of sasse which also means the principle. it is also derived from the classical word Assass which means the fundamental.
algerian dialect is the old maltesse language, which also may includ tunisian and morrocan influences as do the algerian dialect.
in addition a lot of folklore songs in algerian have the same rhyme and rhythm. we call them eksayed plural for ksseeda which means a poem.they are sung in gaadat plural for gaada like in the poem above qada which means a sit-down, gaada or qada means to sit from the verb to sit uguud .
i think the only problem with all this is that the spoken language will differ from one to another when we try to write it down, and i bet you if we have a conversation you will be amazed with how we will understand each other.
keep up the good work.

In Arabic

I have now reviewed the Arabic version published on the Arabic Wikipedia here. So, I am no longer neutral.

It is very similar to what I have came up with as a translation, but still has differences. Those need a future article/comment.

il cantilena

Apologies for not getting back earlier ... I'm quite taken aback and encouraged by the interest shown. Thank you very much for the effort. I still have to study all that has been posted here and will get back to you in due course.

Let me first set the record straight. I find our Arabic past an extremely fascinating subject mostly because it is still a mystery for us. All those that followed in the name of religion destroyed practically any material links and the Catholic Church gave the coup de grace to what was left. Fair enough that is history unto itself and defines us.

Now for my comment at finding genetic or cultural similarities .... sorry my appellation of pathetic still stands. To me it is tantamount to those white dudes that walk around in rap wear.

Malta has seen so many different nationalities that is neither one nor the other and this is coming from a Sammut. (There are records of a Hal Sammut that existed from before the 14th Century. Also an Arab poet Sammut brought up in Malta is recorded in Arabic Spain)

The majority of us cannot trace with any certainty our origins because at some point we could all be descendants of emancipated slaves that obtained their owners surnames. So I could easily be descendant from a Serbian family as much as an Arabic or Berber for that matter. Some are certainly descendants of Sub Saharan types because the characteristics are quite clear. Nobody has ever done an actual feature map of large samples of Maltese and many DNA reports I have read sounded biased to me. Keep in mind this is not some land locked or out of the way large mass of land but a rock in the middle of an extremely busy and strategic trade route.

Main reason for this mixture is that we had made it a career to pinch the slaves of our arch enemy the Ottomans and vice versa. They in turn used anybody that came under their wing from the fringes of Vienna to the Persian border. Sometimes these raids reaped hundreds and even thousands in a single raid. Contrary to popular belief the Maltese gave as much as they recieved. In the meantime The Knights of St John (at least 8 languages) and the nobility had for hundreds of years sown their seeds in secrecy among the poor and willing for a good 300 years. Not to mention all the Spanish, Sicilians, Portuguese, English (even a recent King of England is said to have left a couple of siblings) and so on that came over settled or otherwise mixed with the rest. It should be noted here that we are only some 400,000 or 1 million if you include those around the globe who nowadays can barely speak the language itself anyways.

The only socio economic group that can ... maybe ... ascertain their origins with some certainty would be the nobility or what’s left of it other than that, we are literally a bit of everything.

I find the Cantilena an excellent example of this. For starters it was written in a Latin orthography by a prominent Notaio (notary) of the time. The language used then was Latin but I’m certain this person spoke all three languages. Maltese, the Sicilian vernacular of the time and Latin. His name is Pietro Caxaro. Caxaro is of Portuguese origin … Cassar today?

I do believe that even in Arabic times (apologies I still automatically call it occupation ... its all the brainwashing I got in school) the situation would not have changed. Records show that there was a Jewish group that actually had their own laws and privileges up to late 14th century (Charles Dalli Malta: The Medieval Millennium (Malta's Living Heritage)) and according to some 1 in 3 families were Jewish. Now we all know how pure the Jewish are. Almost certainly some Greeks and Sicilians/Portuguese/Spanish would have also been on the Island as slaves or otherwise.

In fact my theory is that this is the very reason why Maltese survived and I would appreciate any criticism on this. Picture this. For a very long time the Greeks and Romans where capable of understanding each other, the Phoenicians did not have much choice on the matter by the end of all the wars. Then came along the Arabic language itself already spoken by many on the Mediterranean rim, what would be the most natural thing for all those coming to the Island to do if they need shelter, food and water? Use their version of the Arabic dialects. So much so that only common and agricultural language is Arabic in Maltese. Anything to do with academia and administration is practically pure Italian, as evidence of the Cantilena. The poem was written using Latin script in an Arabic dialect by an individual who is clearly not of Arabic descent.

Fascinating is the use of the word Vintura (luck) in this poem. Correct me if I’m wrong but in the Muslim religion there is no such correlation as our life is determined by God and chance is ill superstition. There is a lot that can be gleaned from just this one word but most of all it shows the birth of a different culture from both the one in the north and the one from the south … or south-east.

Responses

Now for my comment at finding genetic or cultural similarities sorry my appellation of pathetic still stands. To me it is tantamount to those white dudes that walk around in rap wear.

This looks to me like emotionally charged rhetoric. I still need to see substance. I don't know the politics of identity in Malta in detail, but judging from many articles on the internet and posts on my web site, there is a lot of negative stigma associated with anything Arab or Muslim, and therefore a lot of people just go on the defensive and deny any such link contrary to historical and literary evidence out of that stigma.

Malta has seen so many different nationalities that is neither one nor the other and this is coming from a Sammut. (There are records of a Hal Sammut that existed from before the 14th Century. Also an Arab poet Sammut brought up in Malta is recorded in Arabic Spain)

I cannot make up what Sammut is. It could be derived from Arabic. Can you please give any references of that poet so I can read more about him?

The majority of us cannot trace with any certainty our origins because at some point we could all be descendants of emancipated slaves that obtained their owners surnames. So I could easily be descendant from a Serbian family as much as an Arabic or Berber for that matter. Some are certainly descendants of Sub Saharan types because the characteristics are quite clear. Nobody has ever done an actual feature map of large samples of Maltese and many DNA reports I have read
sounded biased to me. Keep in mind this is not some land locked or out of the way large mass of land but a rock in the middle of an extremely busy and strategic trade route.

Theslave hypothesis is interesting, but it would be unrealistic to assume that all Maltese are descendents of these hypothesized slaves. There are lots of cases where locals have taken up the names of settlers/invaders who became the ruling elite. For example, a large portion of Filipinos have Spanish last names, despite them being ethnic Filipinos. The same is true with Catholic Indians who have Spanish and Portuguese names as well (De Souza, Tauro, ...etc.)

I hope a DNA study would be done. I am sure it will find some Phoenecian, some Berber, some Arab blood in the mix, and would probably include Italian and French as well.

Main reason for this mixture is that we had made it a career to pinch the slaves of our arch enemy the Ottomans and vice versa. They in turn used anybody that came under their wing from the fringes of Vienna to the Persian border. Sometimes these raids reaped hundreds and even thousands in a single raid. Contrary to popular belief the Maltese gave as much as they recieved. In the meantime The Knights of St John (at least 8 languages) and the nobility had for hundreds of years sown their seeds in secrecy among the poor and willing for a good 300 years. Not to mention all the Spanish, Sicilians, Portuguese, English (even a recent King of England is said to have left a couple of siblings) and so on that came over settled or otherwise mixed with the rest. It should be noted here that we are only some 400,000 or 1 million if you
include those around the globe who nowadays can barely speak the language itself anyways.

Quite plausible when a country is on the crossroads. Remains to be proven though.

The only socio economic group that can ... maybe ... ascertain their origins with some certainty would be the nobility or what’s left of it other than that, we are literally a bit of everything.

I have seen examples of those nobility denying their Arab language and downplaying the influence of Arab names. I liked to them in a previous article. Again, it would be a stigma, hence better deny it.

Let us forget the ethnic discussion, since it awaits DNA evidence and focus on the literary side.

I find the Cantilena an excellent example of this. For starters it was written in a Latin orthography by a prominent Notaio (notary) of the time. The language used then was Latin but I’m certain this person spoke all three languages. Maltese, the Sicilian vernacular of the time and Latin. His name is Pietro Caxaro. Caxaro is of Portuguese origin …
Cassar today?

While it is very likely he knew these languages, the translation I was able to come up with using only my knowledge of Arabic is evidence that the language was 90% Arabic derived at one point. I don't see how his knowledge of other languages diminish that.

As for Caxaro, yes, it is similar to Cassar. Cassar can be the Arabic قصار which means "Clothes pleater or dyer" or in modern day parlance, it would be someone who operates a dry cleaning shop.

I do believe that even in Arabic times (apologies I still automatically call it occupation ... its all the brainwashing I got in school)

You can call it that. However, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. If the Arabs had not left, it would not be called occupation. Also, there is a difference between a destructive occupation that aims to loot and pillage and oppress, and an occupation that is inclusive and integrates the different ethnicities and religious in one big whole that is richer than any one component.

Again, this depends on how you read history and what your inclination is ...

the situation would not have changed. Records show that there was a Jewish group that actually had their own laws and privileges up to late 14th century (Charles Dalli Malta: The Medieval Millennium (Malta's Living Heritage)) and according to some 1 in 3 families were Jewish. Now we all know how pure the Jewish are. Almost certainly some Greeks and Sicilians/Portuguese/Spanish would have also been on the Island as slaves or otherwise.

Can't comment on that due to lack of information. The presence of Jews under Muslim/Arab rule is known throughout history from Spain to China, so it is not a surprise. But 1 in 3 seems like too high a percentage though.

In fact my theory is that this is the very reason why Maltese survived and I would appreciate any criticism on this. Picture this. For a very long time the Greeks and Romans where capable of understanding each other, the Phoenicians did not have much choice on the matter by the end of all the wars. Then came along the Arabic language itself already spoken by many on the Mediterranean rim, what would be the most natural thing for all those coming to the Island to do if they need shelter, food and water? Use their version of the Arabic dialects. So much so that only common and agricultural language is Arabic in Maltese. Anything to do with academia and administration is practically pure Italian, as evidence of the Cantilena. The poem was written using Latin script in an Arabic dialect by an individual who is clearly not of Arabic descent.

This would be plausible only if Arabs did not rule Malta for over two centuries, making the language of government, business and literature the same as the neighboring states, including North Africa, Sicily and even Spain.

The Cantilena was after Arab rule was over, and even after the period of mixed Arab/Latin era under the Normans in Sicily. So, it would be more likely that the Arabic script has been phased out, and Latin letters was used to pronounce the Arabic Maltese language, and it is still decipherable 500 years on.

Fascinating is the use of the word Vintura (luck) in this poem. Correct me if I’m wrong but in the Muslim religion there is no such correlation as our life is determined by God and chance is ill superstition. There is a lot that can be gleaned from just this one word but most of all it shows the birth of a different culture from both the one in the north and the one from the south … or south-east.

Actually not so. Yes, luck and fortune as alternate "powers" to God's will is contrary to Islamic belief. However, in contemporary Muslim countries there are lots of terms that mean luck, and could be translated as fortune, and interpreted as wishing someone good things to happen, under the will of God. Not to mention that un-Islamic practices are present in Muslim countries such as reading the future from cards or coffee cups and the like. People do not always follow what their religon says.

But the Cantilena was written after the Maltese have been Catholic for several centuries, so Islam is not a factor at all. The fact that Caxaro used a Latin word can be interpreted that he did not find an Arabic equivalent to use, or that Latin has crept in.