German professor promoting study of Maltese
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German professor promoting study of Maltese

Thomas Stoltz

Thomas Stoltz

An International Linguistic Society will be set up shortly at the University of Bremen, in Germany, to encourage the study of the Maltese language.

The society, Ghaqda Internazzjonali tal-Lingwistika Maltija, is being set up on the initiative of a German professor of linguistics, Thomas Stoltz. The society will be set up following an international conference in Bremen in October, for which linguists from far-flung places including Japan, Israel, Taiwan and the US have already confirmed participation.

Prof. Stoltz romance with Maltese started during a holiday in 1995.

"It can become boring doing nothing at the beach so I bought a book aimed at teaching Maltese to tourists. I became fascinated with Maltese and I learnt how to read and write it. I can't speak it because I have no one to speak it to in Germany, but if I spend some time here, I am sure I will be able to speak it fluently. I find it amusing when I go to a shop and speak to them in Maltese, and I see that expression of joy on their faces that a tourist-looking person is speaking their language," he said.

Prof. Stoltz said he found that while there were several people interested in linguistics, there was no formal structure. "So I started working on setting up an international institute to study the Maltese language scientifically. I suggested this to my Maltese colleagues, linguists at the University of Malta, and they agreed with the idea."

The University of Bremen is not only supporting the establishment of the institute, where there will probably even be an opening for a Maltese lecturer, but is also hosting the conference.

Twenty-six papers on 20 topics ranging from the role of the Maltese language in the EU to classical grammatical studies and the study of different Maltese dialects will be discussed at the conference. "Through cooperation with the Kunsill tal-Ilsien Malti, we hope to encourage the study of Maltese," Prof. Stoltz said.

Asked about whether he considered Maltese to be in danger because of the influence of words from other languages, Prof. Stoltz said that though there is a high rate of vocabulary exchange, Maltese grammar remained essentially Semitic with some Romance influence but hardly any influence from English.

"Though many Maltese switch between English and Maltese when speaking, many still speak only Maltese and I realised that certain people who speak to their children in English turn to Maltese when the argument gets emotional and their kids don't want to listen. Funnily enough, when they speak to them in Maltese, they listen," he observed.

Prof. Stoltz said that in Germany studies show that people switched from one language to another only until a certain age. When they became established and were no longer under the influence of their peer group, they started speaking formal German. "I suspect this may be the case here too, but that's one thing that could be studied," he said.

Prof. Stoltz will tonight be delivering a lecture in the University's Centru Vassalli Hall E. The topic will be Linguistic Typology, Where Does Maltese Belong? The lecture starts at 7 p.m.

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