As a fluent trilingual of Maltese, English and Italian, cherishing my late Italian mother's cultural legacy and keeping close ties with my relatives in Italy, I would welcome the idea that the Italian language be declared the third official language of Malta, as proposed by Ms Roberta Cauchi Santoro (The Sunday Times, June 3).
However, considering Malta's complex geographic, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, political, military and trade evolutions over the centuries, I am convinced that such a prospect is today both unnecessary, burdensome and possibly counter-productive to Maltese citizens.
Care must be taken on how the conclusions of the survey on reading habits (May 27) can be interpreted. The third paragraph states that "a mere 0.5 per cent mentioned that they read books in other languages", that includes Italian. Further down in the section subtitled "Magazines", it states that "only 11.8 per cent said they read in Italian... which is relatively low."
In the section "Books" there is no indication that any Maltese respondent has declared having read books in Italian, let alone literary works by the likes of Dante Alighieri, Alessandro Manzoni, Edmondo De Amicis, Luigi Pirandello, Carlo Levi or Umberto Eco.
Some say that the Maltese are widely fluent in Italian. This is an over-statement. When I listen to the average Maltese person in the street trying to speak Italian, I just feel sorry or amused. Few Maltese do actively practise and live Italian. How would we hope to promote Malta as an Italian-speaking destination for non-Italians wanting to supplement their Italian language knowledge here by immersing them in Maltese everyday life?
The introduction of Italian as the third official language would require approval by our MPs. What would be the legal consequences? Would our laws be in Italian as well? Would all our official notices, forms, tax returns, etc., be processed in Italian too? Would academic subjects be taught in Italian?
From some research that I carried out, I found that the core romance influence on Maltese is attributable to the original Sicilian language (not dialect), although Italian proper is playing a big role today. Probably few readers know that the present day dialects of Sicily are derived from the distinct historic language Sicilianu or Sicilian, that is dying under the pressure of the stronger modern national language of Italy.
Sicilian was not derived from Italian, but originated from a mixture of languages, namely Greek, Arabic, Catalan and Spanish, at a time when the whole of Italy was a cluster of states in perpetual conflict with one another and constantly invaded by nations from outside. Readers are advised to go through the history and culture of Sicily, concomitantly with that of Malta.
Malta must ensure that, unlike the dying Sicilian language, our vernacular Maltese language can and will continue to survive and live alongside English, which is the second official language for other reasons. The introduction of Italian as the third official language would put a further strain on the proper use of the Maltese language.
Finally, I wish to draw some significant statistics that puts Italian influence on Malta in the right perspective. In May 2006, Matsec 'O' Level students numbered as follows in these subjects: Maltese (language and literature) 5,529, English Language 6,002, English Literature 2,887, Italian 2,794, French 2,133, German 446, Spanish 277, Latin four. There is no abysmal difference in numbers between Italian and French, the latter being nowadays ever so important in the EU circles of Brussels.
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