Maria Grima wrote on September 5 about the ear hurting pronunciation of the Maltese language. I wrote the same day about the evolution of language.

I worry that any excess of vigour might well stunt the evolution of the language.

Minority languages are very delicate flowers which need careful pruning. Charles De Gaulle sought to refrigerate the French language from alien influence. Keep the Anglo Saxons at bay. Or so he thought. The language did manage to survive. Just.

Consider Fred Astaire’s lyrics to the song Let’s call the whole thing off: “You say potato and I say Patarta. I say ‘urster’ and you say ‘oyster’.”

Many have sung this song. Louis Armstrong and Harry Connick Junior are among them.

This is an American reflection of the use of the English language. The song concludes by suggesting that the intolerance of peoples’ differing pronunciations and spellings can just cause harm “...Then we must part and oh... if we ever part – that would break my heart”.

Yes, I agree with Grima that the Maltese language should be taught with rigour. However, surrounded by good humour and tolerance too. Inside and outside of schools and universities.

The idea that some language dictatorship should impose fines on the media for simply using the vernacular of the ‘common’ people is not only reprehensible. It would force a damming wedge into the very fabric of Maltese language education, alienating those young people who need to be encouraged to maintain and develop the very language itself.

In their own way. At their own pace. But not with the fear of punitive retribution behind them should they happen to make an occasional faux pas. (This is another word that we have borrowed from the French language which has always served to strengthen and simplify my own native English language.)

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