The Malta Independent 1 March 2021, Monday

Three-pronged dilemma

Charles Flores Sunday, 21 February 2021, 10:32 Last update: about 7 days ago

I don’t know about you, but I am seriously concerned over this sudden cultural change that is occurring among us. It is an Italian trait, particularly from nearby Sicily, which historically takes these islands back by a century or so to what was known as The Language Question. A time when the Maltese, among the Maltese, harshly debated whether or not the nation should adopt English as its working language, in place of Italian which, for centuries, had been our official lingua franca.


Maltese was then the kitchen language, as the upper crust protagonists of that epoch called it, so better left among the onions and the cockroaches. It eventually surprised both sides in that awfully humiliating national debate by wickedly winning the race, becoming an official language at shoulder level with the coloniser’s own. The “Italian” side, not exactly subliminal in its fascist leanings, had conceded to the adage that fra le due litiganti, il terzo gode while the British governor and his splendidly-uniformed cohorts congratulated themselves on a magificent feat.

The third outsiders, made up of a few academics, writers and poets, knew they had to accept this unique parallel existence for Maltese to become the everyday language in schools, the law courts and many other official domains. In the homes of Maltese and Gozitan families and in the streets of towns and villages, however, it had long been the established vernacular. Nothing changed there. After all, the Maltese had also long shown a predilection for bilingualism so necessary to meet the challenges posed by the various imperial powers that had previously occupied their land.

Fast forward to the current situation where we are seeing the names of too many shops and restaurants, and even the vast majority of supermarket products solely in Italian, most of them illegally so, according to EU directives, since Maltese consumers should have product details in Maltese, an official EU language. No one seems bothered by this, neither the national nor the European consumer authorities. In this case, the subliminal is horrifically explicit.

But I also detect a much less visible process among individuals; those setting a trend by changing their names, the Joes metamorphosing into Giuseppes, and families opting to give their babies Italian names rather than English ones. The few that go for Maltese names, like Xandru, Wenzu and Peppi, are more of a charming oddity. I am sure some readers are having a good, judgemental look at the irony of my own name. There was some metamorphosing there too, from Carmel and Ċali’ to Charles in unexplained mutation, confoundingly reflected also in my final school certificates and academic credentials. So there you have it. No vestal virgins.

There used to be a British Culture Association. Does it still exist? The last social post I have found from them is dated 29 November 2010, about an illustrated talk on David Lean’s film versions of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist to be held at St James Cavalier! It would be interesting to know whether its members or ex-members, anyway, do get the feeling there is this linguistic juxtapositioning taking place in front of our noses. Do they feel like we’re going back to a more Mediterranean cultural texture, that very same old argument used during the turbulent days of the Language Question?

We have a reality here that is more of a three-pronged dilemma. Maltese – English – Italian. Should we just laugh out loudly, celebrating this bizarre linguistic streak or should we be concerned that, in a very worrying opposite transition, this time Maltese would most likely be the victim rather than the winner it had been a century ago? Mario Xuereb’s highly acclaimed three-part documentary on TVM recently unbolted an enormous space for discussion but not many seem to have offered themselves, alas.

Only this week in Valletta, however, a most interesting seminar was organised on the initiative of the Minister within the Prime Minister’s Office, Carmelo Abela, about the state of the Maltese Language in broadcasting. An old bone to chew for many of us. There has been, over the decades, so much neglect on the part of broadcasters, journalists and station masters that there really seems to be no way out of the quagmire.

Why, for example, have the broadcasting brass hats, the Broadcasting Authority in particular, let the numbers in Maltese being practically replaced by those in English? Telephone numbers, dress sizes, age and prices are mostly delivered in English by teleshopping presenters, DJs, advertisers and interviewees. Have they just given up, arguing that most people in the street do that, anyway, so why should they interfere?

Some of our linguists sanctimoniously subscribe to that. If this is the accepted rationale, than we really have forsaken our national language and no amount of seminars, books, authors and literary events can salvage what should still be our pride and paragon.


Unique event

Oh, I see, Harry and Meghan are set to have another child. Unique event. Isn’t it exciting? This has never happened in the history of humanity. Tigers and monkeys, elephants and hippos have them, but not humans. With this one exception. The royal and media pimps are saying this offspring will have his or her path laid out in gold – he or she, in fact, can become king or queen of Great Britain and even president of the United States.

This is because birth in America, which is considered most probable, will confer citizenship upon the child, who will also be eighth in line of succession to the UK throne and its residue of 15 ex-colonies.

There is precedent for a foreign national becoming a king in Great Britain: in 1714 when Queen Anne died with no living heir, the Elector of Hanover became King George 1st.

Interestingly, the infant could potentially qualify to be both a sovereign, by accession, and also be free to run for the presidency of the United States.

I can’t wait.         



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