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Census reveals characteristics of Maltese speakers in Australia

The results of a recent Australian census show us the pattern of change within the Maltese-speaking community in this large continent. In an age when interest about the Maltese diaspora has seen a considerable increase, it would be of interest to those in the home country to have some idea of these findings.

Being born outside Malta is not an irrevocable sentence leading to loss of language maintenance
- Maurice Cauchi

To start with, and to the surprise of many living in Malta, there are still over 34,000 people in Australia who speak Maltese as their main language at home.

In some suburbs like Greystanes in New South Wales, 3.4 per cent of the population speak Maltese.

It is to be expected that most of these people were born in Malta and are over 60.

What is more surprising is that 27 per cent were actually born in Australia, indicating that being born outside Malta is not an irrevocable sentence leading to loss of language maintenance.

Another interesting aspect is that most Maltese speakers (86.6 per cent) had Australian citizenship, a proportion which is actually slightly higher than that of the Australian population as a whole (84.9 per cent).

Where Maltese speakers differ from the average population is in their stated average income as well as their educational achievement. In effect, this reflects the level of these characteristics in post-war Malta, seeing that the vast majority of Maltese speakers are Malta-born.

Other sociological characteristics include marital status, which shows a considerable difference between Maltese speakers and Australian-born.

The number of Maltese-speaking people recorded as being “married in a registered marriage” was 67 per cent, compared with the Australian average of 49 per cent.

This could possibly be due to the fact the Maltese speakers are, on average, much older than the average Australian population, with mores they brought with them from home.

More difficult to explain is the fact the one-third of Maltese speakers (30 per cent) are not married.

Over one-third of Maltese-speaking families (38 per cent) were childless. Of those with children, the majority (53 per cent) had only one child, with another third (31 per cent) having two children. This is not significantly different from the average Australian family.

One outstanding difference between Maltese and Australian families is the proportion of Maltese-speaking households who own their own home outright, which, at 68 per cent, is double that of the corresponding Australian average (32 per cent).

Again, one can explain this on the proportion of older people speaking Maltese, but also on the tendency of the average Maltese household to put so much effort and significance on owning their own home.

Interpreting statistics is always a hazardous occupation. One has to realise that analysing parameters using characteristics such as language spoken can introduce certain distortions which have to be kept in mind.

Most important of all is that removing the vast majority of children from the group, because most of them do not speak Maltese, results in obvious skewing of the population.

The vast majority of Maltese in Australia today were not born in Malta, and do not speak Maltese, and would therefore be excluded from these statistics.

However, this data is important in giving us a picture of the current status of those who left Malta a generation or two ago, as well as a picture of what will happen to the Maltese language in the next couple of decades.

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