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Discord on the Maltese language

The 90 years of the Akkademja tal-Malti – founded as Għaqda tal-Kittieba tal-Malti on November 23, 1920 – were celebrated on November 23 by the Akkademja’s council members, members and established authors, together with the President of Malta, George Abela, with a musico-literary evening hosted at San Anton Palace in Attard.

The evening was compered by Marlene Abela who stated that San Anton Palace had a connection with Mikiel Anton Vassalli, “the father of the Maltese language”.

During his speech, Carmel Azzopardi, president of the Akkademja, stated that the body’s involvement in language affairs has now been passed on to the National Council for Maltese. He thanked President Abela for hosting the evening and expressed his joy that the meeting was a memorable one because it was the first time ever that the highest authority of the state was meeting Maltese authors.

Having reported this, I would like to make some observations:

It has long been pointed out that Mikiel Anton Vassalli was called “father of the Maltese nation” (not “of the Maltese language”) because of his preface Alla Nazione Maltese to his 1796 Lexicon. I had written about this, backed by quotations from poems by Ġorġ Pisani and Dun Karm, in The Times (April 24, 1996 and May 21, 1996).

Pietru Caxaro, Ignazio Saverio Mifsud, and De Soldanis wrote in Maltese before Vassalli published any of his grammars and dictionary. None of them was ever honoured as “father of the Maltese language”.

The late President of Malta, Anton Buttigieg, had several meetings with members of the Akkademja tal-Malti (vide Il-Malti, Year 62, Malta, 1986, pp. 33 and 49). He had also once invited Maltese authors to an official meeting and a reception at San Anton Palace. He did this with the appropriate ceremonial procedure. I remember the major-domo greeting me and my wife, then banging a staff on the floor to draw the attention of President Buttigieg before calling out our names to introduce us. This was the first official meeting of Maltese authors with the highest authority: the President of Malta.

I feel that young authors are unfortunately ignoring the past. I am afraid that this is the malady that is creating confusion and discord among Maltese authors, a malady among some academics who, since the passing away of Prof. Ġużè Aquilina, have made themselves the “executive” or rather the “undisputed” experts who can reshape our language and disrupt what had been established between 1924 and 2000, without taking into consideration what harm they are doing to the Maltese language and publications. This has brought about disagreement and disgruntlement between established mature Maltese authors and the young and not-so-young emerging, some even “presumptuous” scholars who believe they can bridle the language for one and all, but especially those who have been using it for these last 60 years at least.

The Akkademja tal-Malti did not pass on the “management” of the language to the National Council for Maltese; it was taken away from her by the legal establishment of the National Council for Maltese. What the Akkademja seems to have surrendered is its autonomy. I have a strong feeling that instead of serving as watchdog for what the National Council for Maltese may be planning to “decide”, the Akkademja council is seeing to it that no member ever criticises the council’s “decisions” (deċiż­jonijiet). I know that the idea of a National Council for Maltese as conceived by the then Minister of Education Ugo Mifsud Bonnici was different.

I suggest that the Akkademja re-adopts its historical name, Għaqda tal-Kittieba tal-Malti. That is what it has been reduced to.

In the meantime Ad multos annos...

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