Maltese language policy

As a lecturer and researcher within the Department of Public Policy at the University of Malta, I could not ignore the crude denunciation expressed by Roderick Bovingdon (The Sunday Times, August 1) without bringing to light my informed opinion about the question of language policy and the Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti (KNM) as the legal mechanism responsible for its formulation and implementation.

Although I do not speak on behalf of the KNM nor am I involved in any one of its specialised committees, I had the opportunity to attend one of the programmes offered by the KNM in collaboration with the University of Malta to become a certified proofreader in Maltese.

I was also invited to present a research paper which was eventually published as part of a national and holistic consultative process to establish the long-awaited decisions on variant spelling (such as Awwissu and Awissu).

Essentially, these adjourned decisions involved an exercise to streamline the Maltese language by eliminating different written variants for the same word and so it was aimed at updating the language and providing effective tools for those using it.

Academics, linguists, translators, interpreters, writers, publishers, teachers, students, journalists, other media people, interest groups and the general public were all invited to attend a series of seminars and workshops during which the published papers were thoroughly ­discussed.

Thus, the KNM is a firm believer that, while linguistic arguments are important, so are the public’s preferences, because orthography not only has to be correct but should also be a convenient, easy and popular way for everyday writing without the fear of making mistakes.

The resulting suggestions were subsequently evaluated by a board of nine people appointed by the KNM. The members on the board, all fully qualified, included four university professors.

There is absolutely no friction between all the stakeholders including the KNM, L-Akkademja tal-Malti and the University of Malta, as Mr Bovingdon asserts. Although each of these institutions has its own distinct mission, they are interdependent in the sharing of expertise and resources to the benefit of the Maltese language.

A case in point is the proofreading programme referred to earlier, which is jointly organised by the KNM and the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta.

A good number of the programme’s lecturers are members of the Akkademja tal-Malti. In fact, it is of great satisfaction to note that today there is a plausible harmony among those who work for the Maltese language at different quarters, and this contrasts sharply with the antagonistic discourse that used to characterise the past decades.

Furthermore, as a matter of clarification, the courses in translation at the University of Malta are not organised by the KNM, as hinted by Mr Bovingdon, but by the Translation and Interpreting Department within the Faculty of Arts.

I have full respect for the genuine and compelling contribution of Mr Bovingdon and his mates who have worked hard and against all odds to promote the Maltese language in Australia, but his outrageous and unverified criticism about the operations of KNM does nobody any good.

In the challenging field of language policy there should be no time-wasting on futile condemnation of imaginative ‘monsters’ but serious talk on the creation of tangible opportunities to further develop our native and esteemed language.


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