Losing tongues

There is a contradictory trend in the growing discussion about the Maltese language. It is leading to differences that could misdirect and waste energy. Presently these are ensconced in one question: should Malta adopt the EU majority spelling for the euro, or go for "ewro", as recommended by Il-Kunsill tal-Malti? One single word is being projected as the epitome of our identity. In the House of Representatives it was implied as a test of Malta's sovereignty.

Il-Kunsill tal-Malti is working very earnestly to promote good and proper use of the Maltese language. It has made its ewro recommendation to the government and discusses it in sober terms. It argues the point strongly regarding phonetic expression of imported words. It found interesting criticism in a letter-writer's observation that Maltese words do not end with an "o" so, if anything, we should use "ewru" not ewro.

The ultimate choice belongs to the government. Where the contradiction arises is that the friendly conflict can spill over - is spilling - into contrasting English and Maltese. That will contradict our efforts to play a more meaningful role on the global stage. It will deprecate an important resource - command of the English language - completely unnecessarily.

We should be proud that, small though we are, we have our own, fully developed spoken and written language. It is a healthy medium for us to communicate with each other, and with those Maltese of the Diaspora who continue to use it, alongside the language of their new home. The language is alive, but it should not assimilate foreign words unnecessarily, where it has its own applicable and well understood forms.

Such adoption is evident (such as bongu, or good morning, to replace the beautiful Maltese term l-ghodwa t-tajba). Much worse than that is the way the language is stunted and rendered ridiculous through unnecessary interspersing of English in Maltese speech as well its misuse.

Those who prefer to converse with fellow Maltese in English (or in any other foreign tongue) are free to do so, if they can communicate thereby and provided they show regard to others who do not share their preference. The sad thing is that the level of spoken and written English in Malta is deteriorating. Thereby, a major instrument with which to communicate with much of the rest of the world is being blunted.

That gives no advantage to our Maltese language or to us as a people. The use of Maltese, in fact, continues to deteriorate too, as so many who should know better butcher the mother tongue at will, while others have an insufficient grasp of its basics.

Il-Kunsill tal-Malti has an uphill task. It is tackling it with great vigour and it would be an insult to it were anyone to get the impression that the euro/ewro choice was its main preoccupation.

The broader priority need is for the Maltese people to recognise our language as part of our identity, and an effective one at that. We can communicate through it very extensively. Well deployed it yields first-class literature, as well as clear technical text, as evidenced by the Civil Code. That is why the Maltese language should be taught well in schools, and used properly, particularly in the media.

Il-Kunsill tal-Malti is addressing that priority. In time it could also help to standardise the use of Maltese, introducing uniformity rather than leave choice where there are correct alternatives, such as in some vowel use.

A parallel priority need is better to appreciate how much value we can exact from good use of the English language. That language too should be taught properly, certainly better than it is being done at present throughout the State-Church-independent tripod of our school network.

The two priorities have to be encapsulated within sense and sensibility. We can communicate beautifully and completely with each other in Maltese, but absolutely not at all with non-Maltese. English is the language within our widespread command for that purpose.

Which is why we would be mad to lose correct command of either of the two tongues.


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