Erosion of English

To begin with, may I declare myself to be thoroughly Maltese, and to use Maltese as my preferred conversational language. But, like the majority of the human race, I am pragmatic and will speak any language that enables me to better put my point across - outer Mongolian, if it became more convenient, and if I knew it!

The letter by Carmelo Pace (Emoting Maltese, August 14) makes alarming reading to all educated Maltese, and one or two points need to be made. It so happens that the person about whom Mr Pace was so scathing happens to be married to an American lady, and has spent practically the whole of his working life in the United Kingdom, with a distinguished career first in the British Army and then as a high-ranking British Civil Servant representing his department in international fora. Rather than sitting back and enjoying a well-earned retirement, he returned to Malta and gives a valuable contribution to various Maltese voluntary organisations.

He is very Maltese indeed, but it is perhaps not surprising that, having spoken Maltese only rarely in the then-Anglophone Malta of the 1940s and 1950s, and hardly ever in the last 40 or 50 years, he feels that English makes it easier for him to get his point across. Letters such as Mr Pace's strike me as rather churlish ingratitude to a public spirited and valuable Maltese gentleman.

But there is a wider-reaching point to be made. Due, in a large part, to the no-doubt well meaning efforts of the Maltese language talibans, we have today two or perhaps even three generations of Maltese who, as Mr Pace himself says, do not understand English, who have been brought up to believe that it is somehow tal-pepe, unpatriotic and demeaning to speak English. These illiterate or barely literate, completely misguided souls cannot read a work handbook or textbook in English or any other language, and are unlikely ever to be able to hold down any job other than in the most menial unskilled labour.

Sadly, today, we are losing our once wide-spread bilingualism, and are facing a situation where even university students find difficulty with expressing themselves in English, sometimes so badly that they are unable to pass their examinations. Further down the line, the situation is even more tragic. There are illiterate secondary-school leavers, and so - ever more depressingly - on.

This is not what the Malta of the future needs. We need young people who are fluent in as many languages as possible, who are able to absorb knowledge from the best sources available. Of course there will be those who will answer me by pointing out that textbooks can be written in Maltese, but I challenge anyone to find me any Maltese language word-standard texts on any of the arts, sciences, music, theology, industry, commerce, computer sciences - even linguistics!

To conclude, of course we must make every effort to protect the Maltese language. It is one of the important aspects of the Maltese national identity of which we should all be proud. But we must not lose the multi-lingualism that once also used to be a feature of our identity and is so important to our national well-being. The aggressive Maltese language fundamentalism of recent years has gained nothing for Malta - it has rather seriously eroded one of our few important national assets, the use of the English language, one of Malta's two national languages.


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