Leading academics threaten to boycott language council

Proposed law amendments will weaken council, they say

Leading academics will boycott the National Maltese Language Council if the government goes ahead with the proposed amendments to the Language Act.

Six entities representing Maltese language academics yesterday reiterated their protest against the government’s proposals to amend the law, which they believe will weaken the council by drastically reducing academic input.

They called on the government and the Opposition to protect the consensus brought about by the council over the past 10 years.

The Akkademja tal-Malti and the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta have worked with the council on several projects – including bilingual signage at the hospital and the publication of Agius de Soldanis’s dictionary among others.

Olvin Vella, president of the Akkademja tal-Malti, insisted that instead of competition between these entities, there was collaboration nowadays.

He was speaking with the support of the Institute of Linguistics, Għaqda tal-Malti – Università, Għaqda tal-Qarrejja tal-Provi and the departments of Maltese at the University of Malta and the junior college. They voiced their concern last week that amendments could weaken the council and consequently the language. The six entities are concerned that if the proposals go ahead, the new council will have a majority of members who are not qualified in Maltese.

The dream of a few ambitious people, trying to overcome reason and spread their own fantasies, may come true

These members would be able to nominate the heads of the council’s technical committees and take important decisions about technical language questions. “We are concerned that in the near future, the dream of a few ambitious people, who have long been trying to overcome reason and spread their own fantasies, will come true. Unfortunately, these same people were not only acknowledged by the Education Ministry, but were also given preference over the council.”

Dr Vella urged against wasting energy on time-consuming controversies and amendments that had not been publicly asked for.

“We call on the minister not to go ahead with these amendments that open the council to unnecessary controversies, threatening the end of consensus,” he added. This was scaring hundreds of teachers, translators, writers, journalists, publishers and proof readers who have found in the council the certainty and decisions on the language that they had long been asking for, he added.

“Minister, all the associations that work in the best interest of the Maltese language are strongly urging you to look after the Maltese language and to not dismantle what has been put together over the past years.”

Dr Vella said the six entities would boycott the council if the government went ahead with the current proposed amendments.

“The discussions have seen the participation of journalists, publishers, translators, teachers and education officers. The meetings have always been held within a collaborative spirit, and we are defending the procedure adopted by the council, because it has acted in a serious and discreet manner,” Dr Vella said, praising Prof. Manwel Mifsud and Prof. Ray Fabri for their unpaid work as council presidents

Ministry's reaction

The Maltese Language Council's work had not always matched people's expectations and it was time its membership was broadened to ensure more qualified people were involved in planning the language's development, the Education Ministry said today.  

While it acknowledged the hard work the Akkademja tal-Malti and other council members had done over the years, the ministry said that a "broad and long-lasting" public consultation had clearly shown that "there remains a lot of work to be done" to ensure the Maltese language progressed and was properly respected and used. 

Six academic organisations which deal with the Maltese language have said they are dead-set against proposed amendments to the Council, saying that by widening its membership base the Council could end up being run by people with no qualifications in Maltese. 

In its statement, the Education Ministry again argued that by widening membership the Council would be strengthened, not weakened.    

The broadened membership would involve "qualified people of substance", the ministry said, adding that "nowhere in the amendments is it said that the Council will include people not qualified in Maltese."    



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