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

Also known as Il-Kantilena ...

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?

Notes

  • Kamal Chaouachi, a Tunisian author mentions the Cantilena as evidence of the proximity of Tunisian and Maltese, in this Malta Independent Article.
  • A recitation of the Cantilena poem bu Dr Martin Zammit on Youtube.
  • An interview with Professor Manwel Mifsud on Il-Kantilena.

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Comments

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.

Respnses

While I'm working on your reply on 'la Cantilena' I cannot but answer your comment here:

Allow me to start by setting our lines of delineation if you please ... I am not looking for confrontation but to share ideas and knowledge as these two are wealth for the soul.

>> 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.

hmmm ... "emotionally charged rhetoric" ... that's a bit rich coming from a hot blooded southerner like myself. I have lived in North America as well as the UK and quite well acquainted with the supposedly objective and unemotional attitude of a reasoned argument ... sorry mate, don't like that attitude yet I still do not see the emotion in my statement. I do find white dudes that swing to rap as ridiculous. There is no rhetoric here, please do note we as Maltese never came up with a classification, neither Italian nor Arabic, just Maltese ... you are the one trying to classify us with yourselves and generically speaking for that matter even! I find the rhetoric to be from the other side if anything.

>> 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?

Charles Dalli again ... if you wish to send me offline an address I can mail you a copy.

>> 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.)

Hah my friend, you keep thinking of your country, this is no Goa in India with Portuguese names, large enough to carry its own weight. Roughly the 400K of today were a mere 20K in those times. I'm currently travelling and do not have access to my books so can give you more precise numbers later. For example it is written by Arab scholars that to ward off a Byzantine attack the local slaves where promised freedom if they fought on their side because the number of slaves was greater than their masters (Charles Dalli again). The slaves by the way quite diligently obliged.

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

Would require a large sample to be convincing...

>> 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.

Totally wrong here ... most of the nobility are able to trace descent directly except of course in the case of emancipated slaves but in these cases as well they are quite clearly recorded. Please do note that following 1450 we do have very detailed records.

>> 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.

You keep focusing on the Arabic but ignoring the Italian and Portuguese ... quite convenient

>> 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.

Why not say "a breaker of things" .... come on please do give it a rest

>> 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.

The destruction by the Arabs was absolute ... a contemporary Arab historian of the time actually boasts that the main city was dismantled stone by stone and shipped to Tunisia. So beauty is in the eye of the beholder ...

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

I have to agree with you here, but please do make some self analysis to be fair ...

>> 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.

The numbers are recorded, for Gozo the sister Island they are very clear, for Malta some confusion remains.

>> 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 neighbouring states, >> including North Africa, Sicily and even Spain.

Again, quite wrong and trying too hard. This did not happen for Malta. The local government was called 'universita' and had nothing to do with the Arabic equivalent.

>> 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.

Sorry to disappoint again. While Arabic fragments have been found on tombs, yet nothing else that would show a highly organised society. whether this was all destroyed ... that is possible but seriously doubt it. A few fragments showing the name of a ruler would have been enough and there are no traces of such an organisation even in the detailed descriptions of contemporary Arab historians.

>> Actually not so. Yes, luck and fortune as alternate "powers" to God's will is contrary >> to Islamic belief.

Here you agree ....

>> 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,

here you try not to ...

>> under the will of God.

and here you agree again with a proviso ...

>> 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 religion says.

not the same ... reading the fortune from a card is one thing, believing in symbols and non divine intervention is another.

>> 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.

Or that he was not Arabic at all ...

hi guys, i am sorry but luck

hi guys, i am sorry but luck and fortune are not contrary to islamic belief, what we see or call or believe or perceive as luck or bonna fortuna is our interpretation of Gods will.the only difference between the muslim belief and any other is that we link luck ( and anything else for that matter) to God as the source, and since we believe that he is "the creator" logically speaking, he created everything.So it is normal to say : thank God the cop didnt see me run the red light, i was lucky.lol
I know it may sound silly and confusing but hey, we are only humans.
Good Luck to u all.lol

Maltese language

This might shock, but there is no language called Arabic spoken anywhere in the Arab world. What you are talking about is a fossil language, the language of some Arabians in the 6th century C.E, supposedly spoken by Muhammad and his tribe. In reality Qoranic Arabic is a composite of the myriad of dialects of Semitic languages spoken by Arabians. This fossil language is like Latin and is used the same way as Latin was by Europeans, as a religious language. Day to day discourse was in some unwritten local language that had some Qoranic Arabic incorporated into it. You can travel from Morocco to Algeria to Yemen and not understand the "Arabics" spoken there. Egypt has a number of Arabics. You lot call them dialects but in reality they are the true languages of those people not Qoranic Arabic.

The Maltese language, Malti, was introduced by Siculo-Berbers after they defeated the Byzantines in Malta, and was the language used in Sicily and Southern Italy for some generations previously. So, Malti is totally foreign but derived from European sources, Sicily and Southern Italy. It shows its hybrid origins, Semitic and Romance, and in fact the introduced language was not taken up properly by the Maltese people. Example, water in Maltese is ilma, which is like saying THE WATER in Arab countries, the locals incorporated the definite article along with the Semitic word for water as the meaning of the word water. There was a male transmission of language to females: the use of inti by Maltese for both sexes. Tunisian urban dialects of Tunisian have the same trend but not in the rural areas of Tunisia. Female relatives have Semitic words but not male relatives, example Omm = mother, Missier = father. Other relatives use the Sicilian form, Aunt/Uncle = Zia/Ziu, Cousin = cugin/cugina. Many words for domestic things are straight from Sicilian Italian. Maltese does use a Berber word, Fekruna = tortoise. Only 50% of Maltese is Semitic. Saying that the grammar is mostly Semitic, but common to all Semitic languages. I listen to MSA, the modern version of Qoranic Arabic that Arab countries are trying to get Arabs to use instead of their true languages. Don't understand anything except the word for new which crops up a lot. Maltese changes the pronunciation of words that are equivalent to Qoranic Arabic. Dog is Kalb in Qoranic Arabic, in Maltese it is Kelb pronounced kelp. Similarly war = Harb in Qoranic Arabic, in Maltese it is the same Harb but pronounced as harp. The Maltese don't use all those gutturals found in Arabic, only learnt to pronounce the TH sounds in thick and thin after the British came. The Maltese were saying t or d for the th sounds. That tells me they were not natural Afro-Asiatic speakers as those sounds are common to that family. War by the way is never said as harb in Maltese but as Gwerra. Maltese people tend to use Romance synonyms in place of Semitic ones.

I am Maltese myself, born of Maltese born people but I don't use Maltese at all. Even if Maltese derived from Punic, another Semitic language, I would not use the language. English is the language of the world, and the one used most in Malta after Maltese and with which there exists a diglossia. When new words are needed, the Maltese use English or Italian words not Semitic ones. Like it or not, eventually the Maltese people through immigration and mixing with other Europeans will end up English speaking and Malti will just be another of the languages Maltese people have used in their history: Phoenician, Punic, Latin, Greek, Sicilian Italian, Siculo-Arabic, Italian. Then there will no reason to pour over the Maltese language to find its Qoranic Arabic roots.

Contrary to all reaseasch

Your claim about Quranic Arabic are not only false, but shows much prejudice.

Classical or Quranic Arabic is far from a fossil language. It is used daily all over the Arab world, such as newscasts on radio and TV, internet news sites, official business communication, and the like (of course, with some modern terminology for things like cars, computers, ...etc.)

You try to cling onto Europe as if admitting the historical root of a language is some sort of plague.

That same prejudice and misinformation was described in my article on Arab heritage in Malta, and shown by some Maltese in the comments. Fortunately, other people from Malta have confronted this prejudice from their compatriots.

water in Maltese is ilma, which is like saying THE WATER in Arab countries, the locals incorporated the definite article along with the Semitic word for water as the meaning of the word water.

There was a male transmission of language to females: the use of inti by Maltese for both sexes. Tunisian urban dialects of Tunisian have the same trend but not in the rural areas of Tunisia.

Female relatives have Semitic words but not male relatives, example Omm = mother, Missier = father. Other relatives use the Sicilian form, Aunt/Uncle = Zia/Ziu, Cousin = cugin/cugina. Many words for domestic things are straight from Sicilian Italian.

Maltese changes the pronunciation of words that are equivalent to Qoranic Arabic. Dog is Kalb in Qoranic Arabic, in Maltese it is Kelb pronounced kelp. Similarly war = Harb in Qoranic Arabic, in Maltese it is the same Harb but pronounced as harp.

There is no denying that languages borrow from many sources, and you will find many languages influence in any given one.

Maltese does use a Berber word, Fekruna = tortoise. Only 50% of Maltese is Semitic. Saying that the grammar is mostly Semitic, but common to all Semitic languages.

Yes. Same word in Libya too.

The Maltese don't use all those gutturals found in Arabic, only learnt to pronounce the TH sounds in thick and thin after the British came. The Maltese were saying t or d for the th sounds. That tells me they were not natural Afro-Asiatic speakers as those sounds are common to that family. War by the way is never said as harb in Maltese but as Gwerra. Maltese people tend to use Romance synonyms in place of Semitic ones.

The "hard to pronounce" sounds are the first to disappear over time. In Egypt, the TH is pronounced as S, or T. In some Arab countries (e.g. in the Gulf and in Bedouin dialects), the QAF is pronounced as G.

This is a common occurence not exclusive to Malta and does not preclude a Semitic origin of the language.

I would not use the language. English is the language of the world, and the one used most in Malta after Maltese and with which there exists a diglossia.

That is a different discussion. We are talking about history and origins, not what the world is like now.

Like it or not, eventually the Maltese people through immigration and mixing with other Europeans will end up English speaking and Malti will just be another of the languages Maltese people have used in their history: Phoenician, Punic, Latin, Greek, Sicilian Italian, Siculo-Arabic, Italian. Then there will no reason to pour over the Maltese language to find its Qoranic Arabic roots.

That will be for generations to come to study and marvel over ...

Some remarks

"The Maltese don't use all those gutturals found in Arabic, only learnt to pronounce the TH sounds in thick and thin after the British came. The Maltese were saying t or d for the th sounds. That tells me they were not natural Afro-Asiatic speakers as those sounds are common to that family. War by the way is never said as harb in Maltese but as Gwerra. Maltese people tend to use Romance synonyms in place of Semitic ones."

The user Ponto is mistaken; Maltese did pronounce 'th' sounds before the British came here, and it was actually during their dominion over Malta that the Maltese lost several phonemes. During the last one hundred fifty years or so, Maltese has lost 7 or 8 sounds, mainly the emphatic consonants, the guttural 'r', called 'hrien' in Maltese, and the 'th' phoneme. For example, in modern day Maltese we say "deheb" for gold, but up to one hundred fifty years ago one would have heard "thehiyieb", with the 'th' sound.

Ponto is right though in pointing out that war is not 'harba' in Maltese but 'Gwerra', but we do use the word 'ħerba' which means 'total destruction', so what happened was that the word's possible number of meanings was narrowed over time due to the influence of Romance languages.

"Like it or not, eventually the Maltese people through immigration and mixing with other Europeans will end up English speaking and Malti will just be another of the languages Maltese people have used in their history"

If Maltese people had the same attitude as you towards their current mother tongue, that is Maltese, it would surely become like Punic and all the other 'former languages' of Malta. Fortunately I hope, their are others who believe that to be able to speak English and Maltese, that is, to be bilingual, does not mean that one sheds his identity by not speaking Maltese; and your point about immigration and mixing with other Europeans is null. We have been mixing with Europeans for thousdands of years, and a thousand years after the Arab conquest to be precise. When the Romans were here, we had a Punic tongue; St.Paul in the Bible said that we were 'barbarians' meaning we neither spoke Latin or Greek i.e. we spoke Punic. Language is the choice of the people, and I hope that Maltese people are able to recognize the unique qualities of their languages while being able to speak other languages besides Maltese, especially the English language for its worldwide uses.

Languages dies: either through the imposition of another language above them and the subjucation of it; or through apathy. Let us hope that not all Maltese are as apathetic as yourself towards Maltese.

Insightful as always

Gakbu, thank you for insightful comments, as always.

The user Ponto is mistaken; Maltese did pronounce 'th' sounds before the British came here, and it was actually during their dominion over Malta that the Maltese lost several phonemes. During the last one hundred fifty years or so, Maltese has lost 7 or 8 sounds, mainly the emphatic consonants, the guttural 'r', called 'hrien' in Maltese, and the 'th' phoneme. For example, in modern day Maltese we say "deheb" for gold, but up to one hundred fifty years ago one would have heard "thehiyieb", with the 'th' sound.

This is very interesting. The classical Arabic for gold is THAHAB ذهب with TH sounding like "that" in English.

In colloquial Egyptian today, that word and the TH sound like it has been simplified to DAHAB دهب in every day use.

Similarly, for simplification, the QAF is pronounced as 'A (HAMZA in Arabic)

Ponto is right though in pointing out that war is not 'harba' in Maltese but 'Gwerra', but we do use the word 'ħerba' which means 'total destruction', so what happened was that the word's possible number of meanings was narrowed over time due to the influence of Romance languages.

As I said, languages change. If I watch black and white Egyptian movies from the 30s, then movies from the 60s, then the 90s, you notice a shift in terms and expressions. That is in one or two generation.

One can only deduce that given more time, changes will be more, and that is part of the story of Maltese.

The Maltese "cantilena"

The Maltese "cantilena" written by Pietru Caxaro (obviously a Jewish-Sicilian surname found in medieval Malta) is actually a zajal in the Ibn Quzman school of azjal. Most of the vocabulary are medieval Maltese very akin to Siculo-Arabic AND Andalusi Arabic. These two forms of neo-Arabic were killed off by Philip II of Spain who prohibited his subjects from speaking them any longer in 1568. Fortunately by that time Malta had squeezed itself out of Spanish rule since in 1530 Carlos Primero (or Quinto outside Spain) had given Malta to the Knights of St John in order to stem Turkish hegemonism and their push to the West aimed at taking Rome or The Apple as they called it. Most of the translation above is totally wrong as are all efforts to understand medieval Maltese through Classical Arabic (Fusha). For instance, "gebel" is not "mountain" but the mixture of lime, sand and water that produces a solid "brick". In Maltese, hajar is the old form for "stone" (as in Fusha) but it changed into "gebel" through the easy semantic process that from "mixture" goes to "stone". In Malta we still have "Gebel Ciantar" which is a small "mountain" ( a mount really) and we still use the word "Hagar" (Hajar) for the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim (Erect Boulders)and the verb "haggar" - "to stone". The method to find the meaning of the words in this zajal is not through Fusha but through neo-Arabic. Now that Arabs or Arabic-speaking peoples do not study neo-Arabic is their problem, not ours. Maltese is a variant of neo-Arabic and we are proud of it because it is solely ours. We made it into a language, and a national language. And today it is one of the official languages of the European Union. It does not mean it can compete with Classical Arabic, only a madman would think that. But I repeat it is our language, L-Ilsien Malti, and we cherish it for the national identity it alone gives us. As a nation we are bilingual (we speak, write and use English with the same confidence that the Anglo-Saxon world does)and Maltese, and some of us are trilingual, tetralingual etc. For instance, some of us, like yours truly, is also a graduate of Arabic (Fusha) apart from mastering another five language ... like it was nobody's business, if you allow some slang English as well.

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