Much like the crowd watching a football game in 1945 reacting angrily when the national anthem was not played, an incident immortalised in Rużar Briffa’s epic poem Jum ir-Rebħ, there was widespread concern at proposed changes to the curriculum for the teaching of the Maltese language.
Ironically, this time the protesting ‘crowd’ was not exclusively made of Maltese nationals who could not bear hearing the Yugoslav national anthem and the God Save but not the Innu Malti. In this case, the protestors include foreign linguists who fear that the “proposed measures risk damaging a crucial part of the country’s complex linguistic landscape” and warn that it was a price no community should be asked to pay.
The Education Ministry insists the aim is to strengthen the Maltese language, adding that if Maltese had to grow during the technology era, all parties should come together to help students learn according to their needs.
One cannot disagree that globalisation has contributed to accelerate a trend in cultural uniformity and also the extinction of minority languages. Yet, this reality should not be allowed to be the death knoll of minority languages in Europe.
The effects of globalisation on minority languages can be mitigated if young people, business and the government actively see the value of strengthening the learning of Maltese as a commitment to our national culture.
Those trained in the established ways of academia will insist on preserving the traditional methods of teaching and learning Maltese. But it would be wrong to underestimate how commerce and new technologies have increased the importance of a common language as a means of communication, especially among the younger generations.
There are at least 40,000 foreign workers engaged in the local economy and when one adds their family members, the number of non-Maltese speaking people in the community is even higher. There are also many thousands of Maltese for whom English and not Maltese is the primary language of communication. There is no harm discussing how the teaching of Maltese can address these realities.
The pressures of globalisation on minority languages like Maltese are undeniable and are unlikely to disappear. Every effort must therefore be made to manage such pressures and protect the language. But that does not mean we should not also look for and implement better ways of making the use of the language easier for both our bilingual society and foreigners who live here.
With the support of the government, linguistic academics, ITC experts and those genuinely interested in Maltese culture, the teaching of Maltese can be improved to serve the present linguistic needs of our community while ensuring nothing is done that would in any way weaken the Maltese language.
It may have been within this context that the Education Ministry launched the public consultation on alternative methods of teaching the Maltese language. But that is not the message many, even academics, got and, thankfully, it seems the powers that be have decided not to rush and think deeper.
They should take the advice of the linguists who made their voice heard about the matter. Maltese being a “small” language with a limited number of speakers, they urged the authorities to consider their role in protecting its future. “Maltese has a vibrant community of users and a rich literary heritage,” they noted.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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