Maltese and Italian don't belong to the same language family. Maltese (Malti in Maltese) is a Semitic language, which means that it is related to languages like Arabic and Hebrew. Italian is a Romance language derived from Latin, the same as Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Taking this into account, you won't be able to transfer much of your knowledge of Italian grammar to start learning Maltese. Despite this grammatical hurdle, Maltese and Italian do share something important: vocabulary.
Due to Malta's history and geographical location, Italian and Sicilian (a Romance language spoken on the island of Sicily) have historically influenced the Maltese language. As a result, a large proportion of words in Maltese derive from either Italian or Sicilian.
Your journey in learning Maltese will become easier when you learn how to turn an Italian word into Maltese. Just be aware that these methods don't work all the time!
An -s- between two vowels becomes -ż-: Italian: causa, presenza Maltese:kawża, preżenza English: cause, presence
This also happens when the -s- appears before a consonant: Italian:buddismo, sbaglio Maltese:buddiżmu, żball English: Buddhism, mistake
Many o's become u's: Italian:marzo, inno Maltese:Marzu, innu English: March, anthem
Many e's become i's Italian:arte, pace Maltese:arti, paċi English: art, peace
Sometimes both changes even happen within the same word: Italian:voce Maltese:vuċi English: voice
Sometimes e's and o's disappear at the end of a word Italian:punto, porto, assolutamente, studente Maltese:punt, port, assolutament, student English: point, port, absolutely, student
Soft c's become ċ's Italian:doccia, cena Maltese:doċċa, ċena English: shower, dinner
Hard c's and q's become k's: Italian:unico, qualità Maltese:uniku, kwalità English: only, quality
Intervocalic z's are always doubled: Italian:mozione, servizio Maltese:mozzjoni, servizz English: motion, servizio
If an -i- appears before or after a vowel it will become a -j- in Maltese: Italian:serie, Giamaica Maltese:serje, Ġamajka English: series, Jamaica
If a -u- appears before or after a vowel it will become a -w- in Maltese: Italian:autore, quasi Maltese:awtur, kważi English: author, nearly
-Gn- can become either -nn or -nj- and -gli- can become either -ll or -lj-. In this case, determining whether it's one ending or the other is simple. If the Maltese word drops the final consonant and you're left with a -gn- or -gli- and nothing follows it, they will become -nn and -ll:
If -gn- and -gli- are between vowels they will become -nj- and -lj- in Maltese: Italian:dignità, montagna, biglietto, luglio Maltese:dinjità, muntanja, biljett, Lulju English: dignity, mountain, ticket, July
Soft -sc- becomes -xx- between vowels and -x- at the beginning of words: Italian:disciplina, liscio, scienza, asciugamano Maltese:dixxiplina, lixx, xjenza, xugaman English: discipline, smooth, science, towel
check your endings
Taking into account the spelling changes above it would be useful for you to learn about how to turn Italian suffixes into Maltese. This will help you further increase your Maltese vocabulary.
-mente/mento becomes -ment: Italian:finalmente, veramente, momento, parlamento Maltese:finalment, verament, mument, parlament English: finally, really, moment, parliament
When it comes to making a word plural in Italian you have to follow a set of rules. Maltese also has various ways of pluralising words.
If a Maltese word derives from Italian, you just change the last vowel to an -i, add an -i or -ijiet if the word ends in a consonant. Let's see some examples: Italian: quadro → quadri, utente → utenti Maltese: kwadru → quadri, utent → utenti English: square → squares, user → users
In Italian, words that end in an accented vowel stay the same in the plural form. In Maltese, you add -jiet: Italian:età → età Maltese:età → etajiet English: age → ages
Some words change completely, becoming what is known as a broken plural, a common feature found in Semitic languages: Italian: giornata → giornate, scuola → scuole Maltese:ġurnata → ġranet, skola → skejjel English: day → days, school → schools
conjugate your verbs
Maltese has also borrowed many verbs from Italian. Still, conjugating a verb in Maltese is very different from Italian. In Maltese, you keep the stem of the verb, which is the verb in the past and the 3rd person. Then you add a prefix and/or suffix to the verb: n-, t-, j-, t-, n- -u (or w if the verb ends in a vowel), t- -u (or w if the verb ends in a vowel), j- -u (or w if the verb ends in a vowel)
Taking this into account, let's learn how to conjugate a verb in the present tense:
Step 1: Take a verb (in Italian) in the 3rd person singular form (lui/lei) canta (he sings)
Step 2: Add conjugations nkanta (io canto, I sing) tkanta (tu canti, you sing) jkanta (lui canta, he sings) tkanta (lei canta, she sings) nkantaw (noi cantiamo, we sing) tkantaw (voi cantate, you plural sing) jkantaw (loro cantano, they sing)
If you want to express the future you just add se before the verb in the present:
nkanta (io canterò, I will sing) tkanta (tu canterai, you will sing) jkanta (lui canterà, he will sing) tkanta (lei canterà, she will sings) nkantaw (noi canteremo, we will sing) tkantaw (voi canterete, you plural will sing) jkantaw (loro canteranno, they will sing)
The verb in the past will take the following verb endings: -jt, -jt, -, -t, -jna, -jtu, -w
So the process of conjugating the verb in the past is as follows. Step 1: Take a verb (in Italian) in the 3rd person singular form (lui/lei) canta (he sings)
Step 2: Add conjugations kantajt (io cantai,I sang) kantajt (tu cantasti, you sang) kanta (lui cantò, he sang) kantat (lei cantò, she sang) kantajna (noi cantammo, we sang) kantajtu (voi cantaste, you plural sang) kantaw (loro cantarono, they sang)
vocabulary is key
Maltese vocabulary is composed of words from different origins. The three main components are Semitic (words derived from Arabic), Romance (words derived from Italian, Sicilian and French) and Germanic (derived from English). Each of these lexical components of Maltese is more prominent in different areas of the spoken and written language.
You will notice that Romance vocabulary features more prominently in words belonging to politics, economy and society. Many terms are reminiscent of those used in Standard Italian:
For example in the field of politics you can find, politiku (Italian: politiko English: politician), gvern (Italian: governo English: government) or il-Ministero għall-Ġustizzja (Italian: ministero della giustizia English: Ministry of Justice).
When it comes to the economy you can find, Bank Ċentrali (Italian: banco centrale English: central bank), ekonomija (Italian: economia English: economy) and importazzjoni (Italian: importazione English: importation).
In terms of society you can find, università (Italian: università English: university), mediċina (Italian: medicina English: medicine) or letteratura (Italian: letteratura English: literature).
Names of continents, countries and cities are usually derived directly from Italian as you can see below:
Ewropa, Italja, Ruma (Europa, Italia, Roma) (Europe, Italy, Rome) Asja, Libanu, Bejrut (Asia, Libano, Beirut) (Asia, Lebanon, Beirut) Afrika, Marokk, Rabat (Africa, Marocco, Rabat) (Africa, Morocco, Rabat) Oċeanja, Awstralja, Canberra (Oceania, Australia, Canberra) (Australasia, Australia, Canberra) Amerika t'Isfel*, Urugwaj, Montevideo (America del Sud, Uruguay, Montevideo) (South America, Uruguay, Montevideo) Amerika ta' Fuq*, Stati Uniti, Washington DC (America del Nord, Stati Uniti, Washington DC) (North America, United States, Washington DC) *cardinal points in Maltese are Semitic in origin
The same occurs with the periodic table which takes Italian as its linguistic reference: Here are the first ten elements: Maltese: idroġenu, elju, litju, berillju, karbonju, ażotu, ossiġenu, fluworu, neon Italian: idrogeno, elio, litio, berillio, boro, carbonio, azoto, ossigeno, fluoro, neon English: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon
Due to the richness of Maltese vocabulary, you can at times find that certain terms have different synonyms coming from different linguistic origins. Here are some examples:
Semitic Maltese: jum, ħieles, imma Romance Maltese: ġurnata, liberu, però Italian:giorno, libero, ma/però English: day, free, but/however
Romance Maltese:televiżjoni Germanic (English) Maltese:televixin Italian:televisione English: television
immerse yourself in linguistic history
Maltese is a language with a rich history and is most certainly a clear reflection of its position between Europe and North Africa. Despite their differences, you can still pick out specific linguistic patterns to be able to transfer your knowledge of Italian to start developing your Maltese language skills. Learn Maltese to immerse yourself and experience the history of the Mediterranean!
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