Pompous prattle raised heckles
Our language generates much passion, and it is understandable. People want to safeguard their heritage and many have expressed their love of their mother tongue by responding to a very provocative, pompous, ignorant and absurd letter - 'The right and duty to speak English' from Mario Schembri Wismayer, in The Times, on August 31.
Since when is it a duty to speak any language whatsoever? Of course, it was not just Maltese people who reacted. The editor of The Times was so inundated with letters responding to the offending missive that he had to publish the following note: "Due to the large number of letters we have received about this subject, some of them quite long, we are publishing edited excerpts from some of the letters."
The offensive attitude and vocabulary Mr SW used were bound to raise heckles. "Maltese is ugly - it is harsh, guttural, and resonates with nasty, Semitic-sounding noises, which we wouldn't be caught dead burping on a regular basis.
"We use it only when necessity dictates that we communicate with those who haven't been blessed with the gift of choice and attendant ability to code-switch."
Following the barrage of letters in response to his ostentatious nonsense, Mr SW, on Tuesday, tried to defend the claptrap in his first letter.
"I purposely indulged in some attention-attracting hyperbole in my original letter," he claimed.
He witters on and on, demonstrating that he is indeed an attention seeker and must lead a rather sad life. What he indulged in was hyperbolic sophistry.
He, unfortunately, shows little understanding of cultural heritage and, being a snob, wants us to ditch our language completely. Or at least he did; he has since apparently changed his mind.
Maltese does not only sound Semitic, it is a Semitic language we should be proud of. It is unique in that it is the only Semitic language written in Roman script.
It also lacks the harsh guttural sounds that Mr SW finds so "ugly" and "nasty". Of course the fundamentalists, who try to make Maltese the only language used, are wrong. But Mr SW is just as fundamentalist as the ones he berates.
I for one do not find Maltese ugly. I love its sounds and regret that I am not a fluent writer in my own language. I can be found using it (not "burping" it) on a regular basis. And not out of necessity. I find it makes more sense to speak to Maltese people in our own language, and besides it can be much more expressive.
Take translating "int gej bid-dghajsa?" Literally, it translates "Are you travelling by boat?" but it means "Haven't you got anything better to do?" when you think someone is pulling your leg. The English translation just does not have the same badinage.
Maltese has its own style, which lends itself brilliantly to witty minds. It is telling to note that the people proficient in Maltese, who could have done a much better job than I at pointing out the charm and expressiveness of our language, obviously ignored Mr SW's twaddle.
He did not only attack Maltese but also any other language that has "nasty, Semitic-sounding noises", which smacks of racism.
He called Maltese "a quaint, museum-piece code, which requires so many foreign fixes and props to keep it alive in today's world", and he thinks we should "drop it".
That statement alone is contradictory. And it is not surprising that he is back-pedalling. A language that uses "fixes and props", to keep it functional shows that it is alive and not an immobile museum piece.
Maltese is not the only language that has integrated foreign and new words. That is precisely what is needed to keep a language alive. Language is not static.
Being a communicative tool for creative writing and dialogue, it has, like all creative arts, to grow and develop. It is Mr SW who seems to be stuck in a time warp. I am afraid that he is the museum piece.
He is also incredibly arrogant. Because he finds it easier to speak and read English, he had the audacity to expect us to drop an important element of our heritage.
I find it much easier to write and read English, but I feel deprived that I cannot produce good prose in my mother tongue. Rather than wanting to get rid of it, I want to read more written Maltese.
Mr SW whines about people who don't like him speaking English, which sounds like paranoia to me, because everybody speaks English these days, not only tal-pepè.
I don't know which circles Mr SW moves in, but I have never come across "antagonism towards English and those who choose to speak it", which he claims "is often displayed in Malta" and I have also never seen "English-speaking Maltese insulted or mocked". The only recent dissimilar incident involving the use of English, which took place at a MEPA public consultation, was a rare occurrence. The insults and general bad behaviour were directed at the anti-development lobby, whichever language they spoke, as far as I am aware.
That authority was misguided in letting a situation arise where an English-speaking contingent were excluded from the proceedings, and it was unacceptable, but the situation is nowhere near the general scenario Mr SW describes.
The time when speaking English denoted privilege is long gone. Mr SW acknowledges this in his last letter "Class distinction might have been a factor a number of decades ago," but he still thinks, "Maltese-speaking people should stop assuming that English-speaking Maltese look down on, or feel superior to the rest of the population."
I think it is Mr SW who should stop assuming what Maltese-speaking people assume. And whom does he qualify as "Maltese-speaking"? Not himself, I assume.
There are many times when I start a conversation in Maltese and have to flip to English because the Maltese person (from all walks of life) I am talking to keeps responding in English, so I switch.
I am obviously "blessed with the gift of choice and attendant ability to code-switch", although I do not do this patronisingly "when necessity dictates" that I communicate with people in English.
Many Maltese, who insist on speaking English to other Maltese people, have an atrocious grasp of the English language and can communicate a lot better in their mother tongue.
So the superiority element is a joke. I think that it is Mr SW who has a problem with "code-switching". He only wanted to speak one language and wanted to drop Maltese.
Language is a communication tool and the person I converse with can choose whichever language they like, provided I can understand them.
Getting rid of the Maltese language will not improve people's English. People, who speak nothing else, speak it badly.
We should be concentrating on improving our command of both languages and as many others as possible.
We have neglected the potential of learning Arabic, which is an increasing important communicative tool. But anyway, Mr SW has changed his mind about dropping Maltese! He now claims: "I did say that we are lucky enough to have a choice." He did, but it was one of many of his contradictions. His main gist was that we should not have the choice of using the Maltese language.
In his last letter, Mr SW tries to excuse his calling Maltese a "dear old scullery language", by saying "not my invention, by the way - it has been called il-lingwa tal-kcina before".
So even his English is not that hot. A scullery is not exactly a kitchen. It was a small room, off the kitchen, of very large houses, where plates were washed and stored by a scullery maid. An archaic word, further demonstrating who is stuck in a snobbish time warp. An "upstairs, downstairs" mentality.
"Il-lingwa tal-kcina" was an expression used to describe how privileged Maltese people only spoke Maltese to their servants, trades people and people they considered socially inferior. Because like Mr SW they found Maltese "ugly and nasty".
But as Mr SW himself acknowledges, those days are gone. He ends his last letter in as contradictory a fashion as his first.
"After all, most of us can communicate effectively in both languages. At the end of the day, that is what matters."
So what was the point of his first letter in that case?
I suppose the attention he got!