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Here’s Why It’s OK To Write ‘Kompjuter’ But Not ‘Erkondixiner’ In Maltese

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The Maltese language has built up an ever-increasing list of loanwords from English, and most of them remain a subject of controversy to this very day. Now, 33 years after the last deliberation on the topic, official (and specific) guidelines are set to be released to the public to help sift through the current linguistic confusion.

The last official position on the matter was the 1984 Żieda mat-Tagħrif fuq il-Kitba Maltija, which has time and time again been accused of being too wide and vague. “This has lead to a damaging situation for the harmonious development of Maltese writing, and confusion for those who want to write in Maltese,” said Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti. 

Back in 2005, the council was founded by the unanimous Parliamentary decision regarding the Law of the Maltese Language, with the aim of not only protecting the island’s native language, but also improving it. After two public seminars of consultation organised in 2008 and 2016 (not to mention a large amount of meetings and talks), the council has reached an agreement in the form of Lejn id-Deċiżjoni 2; an official report set to revise the old rules and guidelines. 

The report details 25 shortened points, with the full version extending to 30 whole pages. And while it was published back in February 2017, the report will be accepting public comments before official consultation until December 2017.

Here are some of the main points.

1. Be sure there isn’t a Maltese word which you can use before you resort to the English loanword

This might be customary for many people, but the report wants to set it out as not only an official guideline, but its very first point. They even added a helpful, slightly passive-aggressive infographic to help hammer the point home.

So if you can use biljett instead of ticket in a particular contextthen you should’t use the English loanword

Having said that, context is key, so just because the word date has the Maltese translation data, the latter should not be used if you’re talking about a romantic appointment.

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2. Multiple Maltese pronunciations of the same English loanword can coexist

If you’re deciding to write an English word in its Maltese form, different ways of pronouncing that word can translate into different ways of writing. As long as they’re consistent in their writing, anyone can choose any alternative which best expresses their linguistic preferences. 

So canteen can written as kantin or kentin in Maltese, and manager can be written as maniġer or meniġer

3. If an English loanword has been adapted to Maltese, it should follow the new language’s morphological rules

This is something which has already been put in practice with certain words, particularly verb forms. 

In other words, if a word has been adapted into Maltese, might as well continue writing it in a Maltese style for any sort of conjugation. 

So brejk becomes jibbrejkja and brejkijiet

4. You can write the plural of loanwords with an “s” if it makes sense visually and morphologically

This rule is all about being able to efficiently express yourself without confusing your readers. 

Some plural forms of words in their original structure (that is, ending with an s) have been adapted in the Maltese language more effortlessly than others, and those can be recreated in that form. However, it is up to the writer’s discretion to refrain from writing others if they feel like it might confuse readers. 

So a writer can choose to write kompjuters, but not tojlits, because readers might not be used to the latter 

5. Loanwords composed of two words should be left in their original English form

This is no doubt aimed to reduce confusion in the minds of readers who would have to adapt to two different languages for the same word, and is mostly related to compound nouns.

So it’s air conditioner, not erkondixiner

6. You don’t have to mark loanwords… but it’s recommended to do so in certain cases

Another hot topic (especially on social media sites like Facebook) is the issue of throwing in an English loanword in the midst of Maltese words. Some people feel like they need to go out of their way to acknowledge the use of this word, but the report states that this shouldn’t be the case. 

It does, however, suggest that, in the case of teaching and/or testing, these words can be marked.

Markings can be done with the use of quotation marks (virgoletti), italics (korsiv) or bold (grassett), just to make it easier. 
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7. If you’re going to phonetically adapt an English loanword to Maltese, don’t go halfway 

Again, this would only increase confusion. If you’ve decided to adapt the word and write it in a Maltese style, go all the way. 

So it’s kompjuter, and not komputer or compjuter

8. Conjugating a word should always have its zokk in mind

This might be a little confusing at first, but it’s all meant to standardise the conjugation of words by looking at their English root and applying Maltese grammatical rules to them. 

The conditions of this rule depend mainly on two things; the number of syllables and the type of vowel it ends with. 

– One-syllabled verbs which have a root ending with a long vowel or a semi-vowel (w, j) always end with one single consonant before the -ja, meaning it’s slowja and jispidja
– The above rule also applies to other words like nouns, so tim becomes timijiet (no double m)

On the other hand…

– one-syllabled verbs which have a root ending with a short vowel or semi-vowel (w, j) always end with a doble consonant before the -ja, meaning it’s iċċekkja and iġġoggja
– The above rule also applies to other words like nouns, so blog becomes bloggs and ibbloggja 

9. If you’re adding –er, -ing or -is to a loanword written in the Maltese style, double consonants become single

This is another proposed rule which might appear weird at first, but is aimed at standardising procedures in the future. 

So it’s blogg but bloger, ibbukkja but buking

10. Even if a plural of an English loanword might sound like a ż in Maltese, you should still write an s

This rule echoes others such as the compound noun one. In other words, yet again, if you’re going to be adapting a word to the Maltese language, might as well go all the way. 

So it’s klabbs and bloggs, even if they sound like klabbż and bloggż

11. If you’re adding the word extra to a loanword, write both words in their Maltese phonetic form

Another move aimed to standardise the application of English loanwords in Maltese, this will at least make sure that there isn’t code-switching within the same word.

So it’s ekstrakurrikulari, not extrakurrikulari

On the other hand, if you’re writing extra on its own, you may choose to write the Maltese or English phonetic form as you please.

12. You can freely add a Maltese article or prefix to an English loanword

This applies to various different forms and functions, and for all intents and purposes, that letter or article will become a standard part of the word. 

In the case of proper nouns, the prefix i would not be the capitalised letter since it’s merely added to help with the pronunciation of the word.

So it’s l-ispanner and l-iskateboarding, l-iSprite and l-iSplash & Fun, and Fl-iSpanish Revolution

13. Maltese articles added to loanwords should follow Maltese phonetic rules

No matter what letter the loanword might’ve originally started with in its native language, Maltese rules would apply for any preposition or article since it’s being adapted into the new language. This also applies to acronyms and initials.

So it’s ix-show, iċ-chat, is-central heating, fix-shock absorbers, is-CMTU, and  bl-SMS

This final report is not official yet, but is soon set to be following a consultation meeting. Anyone who has any comments or worries can contact the council of  [email protected]  until the end of December 2017. 

The shortened version of the report featuring all 25 main points can be accessed here, while the full, 30-paged report from February can be found here.

What do you think of these proposed rules?

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