Language Contact and Loan Vocabulary in the Maltese Language from Arabic and English

Published: 2022-03-01
Language Contact and Loan Vocabulary in the Maltese Language from Arabic and English
Type of paper:  Research proposal
Categories:  Languages
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1808 words
16 min read


For the last two decades, the Maltese language has been exposed to large-scale contact with Arabic and later English. Today, modern Maltese languages incorporate a high mass of borrowed words. Severed from its parent language, it is quite apparent that living languages are increasingly changing and developing even more rapidly. These changes not only occur in the language morphology but also in its semantics. This study is a description of the processes by which Arabic and English language contact and loan vocabulary have been integrated to some extent into the Maltese language morphology. The language contact explored here is of particular interest and benefits to Maltin and linguistics with interest in loan vocabulary and language contact. This comparative study examines links between loan vocabulary and language contact in the Maltese language from English and Arabic. The study looks at semantic changes which have occurred in Maltese language morphology by exploring the difference between the meanings of corresponding words in Arabic and English. A language of semantic origin, Maltese is written in the Latin script. However, for the last two centuries, it has incorporated multiple words derived from Arabic and English. When spoken, Maltese language often sounds like Arabic with a sprinkling of English phrases. Malta's language is therefore as a result of extensive cultural mingling. Although language and identity are closely linked, the increased level of bilingualism in Malta has led to a rife in code-switching of Maltese. This paper, therefore, elaborates the processes and relates loan vocabulary and language contact from Arabic and English and its impacts on the Maltese language.

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Purpose of the Study

The primary purpose of this study is to compare loan vocabulary and language contact in the Maltese language from Arabic and English.

Problem Statement

The two primary official languages of Malta, a South Central Semitic language of Arabic origin, are Maltese and English. Further, Maltese is the national spoken language. Mixing and code switching of English and Maltese language is common as most of Maltese are bilingual to a varying degree. As the scientific research study of the Maltese language has been ignored for one intention or another, the fields of a thorough etymological research that are still incompetently studied offer rich resource material for a comparative study of English and Arabic languages in the light of Maltese language which though essentially Semitic is morphological mixed due to language contact and loan vocabulary. Today, a complete review of Maltese language still demands the attention of more polyglots and a larger division of focused study on how loan vocabulary and language contact from Arabic and English impacts on Maltese language.

Research Questions

The research study attempts to answers the following questions:

  • What effect does language contact and loan vocabulary influence have on the Maltese language?
  • To what extent should the Maltese language be allowed to assimilate both Arabic and English linguistic?
  • How important is code-switching and borrowing of English and Arabic linguistic to Maltese language?
  • Which words of Arabic and English semantic that characterize Maltese language?

Literature Review

This section provides a literature review about previous work. Considering the language contact and loan vocabulary in Maltese language from English and Arabic, several published works have been analyzed and are summarized. According to Wintner (2014), Maltese like modern-day languages discloses several of loan vocabulary. The facts are apparently evident in the case of lexical, pure, simple loans or the occurrence of specific morphologic processes or phonemes (Mori, 2009). Similarly, some of these types of loans or borrowing are often profoundly set making them difficult to note. Although, it is not clear that these types of borrowing are less prolific in language change. Therefore, to understand and see these types of loans or borrowing, one has to differentiate and separate three types of these loans. Kheder (2011) analyzes the first type of these loans referring them to a borrowing in which an element of the source or primary language is naturalized by basically translating it to the source language. He further claims that the occurrence manifests itself in all the Semitic words because of their ability to alter a foreign form to a single lexemic pattern that is acceptable by the language, ultimately establishing the source for derivation while producing the consonantal root. On the other hand, this phenomenon can be demonstrated through etymology of the noun for 'Il-gabra' which is Arabic form and translated as the collection (Wintner, 2014). Further, the phrase 'sheikh meet' which denotes royalty is etymologically related to xih.'. Moreover, all these types reveal hidden loans which are only available through an etymological analysis. The second type involves translating an original scheme into a foreign scheme. In the case of Maltese, there exists uniqueness which over a half a century changed resulting in the loss of the Semitic and Arabic emphatic consonants as well as incorporating the vowel o and e. Versteegh (2014), argues that one characteristic of this type of loan is that it is more common than is mostly thought.


Over the centuries, Maltese has massive borrowings from Arabic and English languages due to the long history of language contact. The paper examines a linguistic corpus of vocabulary loans with the aim of establishing the influence and impacts of language contact on the types of loan adaptation between these two dialects. The effects of loan vocabulary and language contact on Maltese from Arabic and English will be better observed through a comparison of the two sample languages Arabic and English. Next, the study of the morphological transformation and phonological change each dialect has undertaken about the Maltese language. The study will seek to throw new light on the influence of both the English loan vocabulary and Arabic loan vocabulary in Maltese. The study will focus on the definite article, numbers (both singular and plural form) and gender as a way of identifying and outlining the loan vocabulary. The study investigation intends to show that Maltese has adapted the loans vocabulary phonologically by borrowing foreign phonemes from both English and Arabic. However, the loan vocabulary on genders will mostly be morphologically preserved. Further, the loans used the indigenous orthography to make them plural, definite and the article-il in case of Maltese (Kheder, 2011). Consequently, Maltese will apply the broken plural and native /-jiet/ contrary to English and Arabic which used / a:t/ and /e/ respectively (Wintner,2014).

Data Collection

This comparative study used both qualitative and quantitative data in seeking to throw new light on the impacts of both the English and Arabic language contact and loan vocabulary in the Maltese Language. The whole body of non-Semitic Maltese verbs is examined and categorized into four primary types, reflecting multiple degrees of integration, starting with types indicating full naturalization. Next, a scale of effects is formulated which shows full grammatical integration and a complete non-adaptation of a word. In this case, the inverse order of the magnitude has been considered more appropriate due to the persistence of both Arabic and English morphological features in all the levels of Maltese loan vocabulary and contact. On the syntactic integration of loan words in Maltese from Arabic and English perspective, the typical linguistic features of each type are selected and analyzed in separate sections. With each linguistic element defined as it appears in Maltese and its dissemination outlined. Further, the semantic morphology is examined and discussed as a creation of chronological contact between the native language and language of origin into which it is adopted and integrated.

Data Analysis

Today, the success of a language lies in its ability to adjust in the face of ever-changing certainties. On the other hand, there exist various literatures on the adaptability of Maltese in the aspect of different formation. Currently, Maltese has created successful morphological approaches for adapting with loans from Arabic and English. According to Versteegh (2014), the type of loan that occurs and the process of occurrence have occasioned more alteration of Maltese from its indigenous Semitic dialect. This notion is apparently presented in several Maltese vocabulary and noun especially from both Arabic and English, which in my opinion, created a real etymological turning point in the Maltese language. Further, the slow development of morphological research studies is credited to the fact that in the field of dialect contact and loan study, morphology has often been taken as the less penetrable of the multiple language levels.

Moreover, Malta's language has loan English plural patterns generating erratic loan plural patterns. The linguistic effects of language contact and noun borrowing from these languages (Arabic and English) have made Maltese situation to be that of diffusion and loss while both the Arabic and English a case of diffusion only (Lucas, 2014). For example, through the language contact and loan vocabulary Maltese has loan new phonemes; however, losing a few original ones such as the velar fricative and emphatic sounds which are still used in the Arabic language. Although one cannot ignore the impact of borrowing of phonemes as the only factor that eventually made Maltese not to be considered the Arabic language anymore, it has strengthened it. Lastly, language contact with foreign dialects such as English and a loss of dialect contact with the original Arabic language is another primary factor that contributed Maltese to be considered a special and rare Semitic non-native even to the closest Arabic dialect

In more recent times, English contact and loans are included as part of the Maltese lexis without a clear predisposition or etymological distinction from the indigenous Maltese language (Haspelmath, 2009). However, this fixed state of morphology is more strengthened both by the wrong concept that any acceptable loan vocabulary is fully integrated into the Semitic Maltese syntax and the existing bias against the English language in general, hence, not contributing towards the morphological but lexical part of the target language which in this case is Maltese.

The difficulty experienced by Malta's in certain phonating words in Arabic sounds brought changes in orthography to occur as they adopted the language. However, after some period of severance, the primary language steadily developed into a distinctive style. Further, the etymological entries of words of Arabic origin often derive the Maltese form from its infinitive. In the case of English origin verb, the Maltese has to preserve the reference to the English infinitive. Moreover, constructing of loan nouns and verb on Maltese pattern than the verbs in English were classified as the 3rd person Maltese singular which derived its original consonant or euphonic vowel from the loan verbs of Arabic origin (Kheder, 2011). The Maltese language doesn't include Arabic letters but some words you can say about it. On the other hand, about a third of Maltese vocabulary is still Arabic with the remaining vocabulary of English origin, making Arabic the syntax and grammar in Maltese. It is because of this reason that Maltese is still mainly considered as a Semitic language. Finally, the most significant effects of Arabic are the...

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Language Contact and Loan Vocabulary in the Maltese Language from Arabic and English. (2022, Mar 01). Retrieved from

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