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It's 'fire extinguisher' not 'fajerekstingwixer' - Maltese language proposals finally unveiled

Updated 8pm - Civil society organisations welcome proposals

The words "fajerestingwixer", "xater" and "erkondixiner" drew collective gasps from the seminar audience, who could hardly decipher them as the Maltese spelling for fire extinguisher, shutter and air conditioner.

But the word ħelikopter (helicopter) did not look as bad. So which is the right way and which is the wrong way to spell such words? We might now finally have the answer.

The National Council for the Maltese Language this morning unveiled its final proposals for the spelling of English loan words, which have been drafted after seven years of extensive research and consultation.

The council is basing its proposals on the following basic principles:

  • An English word or expression should only be used if a Maltese one does not exist.
  • Not every word which, at first sight, might appear to be superfluous is necessarily so.
  • There are differences in the acceptability between the spoken word and the written language.
  • A word is considered integrated in the Maltese language because it is accepted by Maltese speakers. Therefore, orthography must find a way of writing it.
  • A word borrowed from English can be pronounced in Maltese in more ways than one.
  • A person who writes in Maltese should not need to refer to a long list of words that have to be continually updated. This means that the writer must exert a mature choice and be consistent in his writing.

The final proposals presented by the council are the following:

  • Words that have been assimilated in to the Maltese grammatical form should be written in Maltese. (for example: ċansijiet, kejkijiet, jikklikkja).
  • All the forms of the same noun or verb should, as far as possible, keep the same orthographic stem - both in Maltese and in English. So it's either brejk - brejkijiet/brejks or brake - brakes if the original English orthographic all form is to be retained.
  • The choice of whether to write a word in English or in Maltese is in the writer's hands when it comes to the spelling of nouns. So the word 'computer' may be spelt as kompjuter or computer (but not komputer). This does not mean that a verb stem written in Maltese has to be the same as a noun. So we may write skenja, niskenja and skenjajt in Maltese but, when it comes to the related noun, there is a choice: scanner or skener, scanning or skening.
  • Many writers are used to the English written form of loan words and resist spelling them in Maltese, since they feel that the Maltese spelling distracts them and slows them down when reading or writing. Words whose Maltese orthography is very unlike the English spelling should be written in English: so it's fire extinguisher not fajerekstingwixer.

Members of the public can express their opinion about the proposals presented by writing an e-mail to [email protected] by July 2.

 

'Well done, we've worked together', says organisations

In a statement issued this evening, six civil society organisations praised the National Council for its work and recommendations. 

The organisations thanked the Council for its professionalism and its willingness to listen to all points of view. 

"In spite of the widely differing opinions on this complex subject, we appreciate the sense of collegiality and cooperation which exists among all those involved in the use and development of Maltese," the statement read. 

The organisations urged all those interested to get involved in the final phase of consultation, before the Council announced its final decisions. 

The Akkademja tal-Malti, Għaqda tal-Malti – Universita', Għaqda tal-Qarrejja tal-Provi, Maltese department at UOM Junior College and the University of Malta's Maltese department and Linguistic Institute all signed the statement. 

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