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Maltese alphabet

The Maltese alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet with the addition of some letters with diacritic marks and digraphs. It is used to write the Maltese language, which evolved from the otherwise extinct Siculo-Arabic dialect, as a result of 800 years of independent development.[1][2][3] It contains 30 letters: 24 consonants and 6 vowels (a, e, i, o, u, ie).

Majuscule forms (uppercase) A B Ċ D E F Ġ G H Ħ I Ie J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Ż Z
Minuscule forms (lowercase) a b ċ d e f ġ g h ħ i ie j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x ż z

There are two types of Maltese consonants:

Samples

Letter (ittra) IPA Words (kliem) First Word (l-ewwel kelma) Last Word (l-aħħar kelma)
A a /a/, /ɐ/, /æ/ abjad (white), anġlu (Angel), aċċola (amberjack), aħjar (better), Amerika (America), azzarin (rifle), ankra (anchor) abbaku (abacus) azzjonist (shareholder)
B b /b/ ballun (ball), berquq (apricot), bellus (velvet), burò (bureau), bżar (pepper) bababa (say for nothing) bżulija (diligence)
Ċ ċ /t͡ʃ/ ċaċċiż (frame), ċarezza (clearness), ċikkulata (chocolate), ċitazzjoni (ticket), ċoff (bow), ċurkett (ring) ċabattin (cobbler) ċuwingam (chewing gum)
D d /d/ daħka (laugh), damma (dice), dawl (light), debba (mare), Dumnikan (Dominican), dura (hut) dab (he melted) dwett (duet)
E e /ɨ/, /e/, /ɛ/ elf (one thousand), ekkleżjastikament (ecclesiastically), erbgħa ( four (4), erba' (fourth), Ewropew (European), eżilju (exile) ebbanist (ebonist) eżumazzjonijiet (exhumations)
F f /f/ fallakka (plank), fehma (understanding), Franċiż (French), futbol (football), fwieħa (perfume) fabbli (affable) fwieħa (perfume)
Ġ ġ /d͡ʒ/ ġabra (collection), ġenerazzjoni (generation), ġewnaħ (wing), Ġunju (June), ġwież (walnuts) ġa (already) ġwież (pulse)
G g /ɡ/ gabarrè (tray), gejxa (geisha), grad (degree), Grieg (Greek), gżira (island) gabardin (gabardine) gżira (island)
GĦ għ /ˤː/ għada (tomorrow), għajn (eye), għamara (furniture), għemeż (he winked), Għid il-Kbir (Easter), għuda (wood) għa (hoy!) għuda (wood)
H h -- (silent) hedded (he threatened), hena (happiness), hi (she), hu (he), huma (they) ħaġra (stone) ħżunija (wickedness)
Ħ ħ /h/, /ħ/ ħabaq (basil), ħabsi (prisoner), ħajja (life), ħu (brother), ħażen (badness) ħa (take) ħuttafa (swallow)
I i /i/, /ɪ/ iben (son), idroġenu (hydrogen), induratur (gilder), Ingilterra (England), iżraq (azure) ibbies (grew hard) iżżuffjetta (to deride)
IE ie /ɪ/, /ɛ/, /ɨː/ iebes (hard), ieħor (another), ieqaf (stop) iebes (hard) ieqaf (stop)
J j /j/ jaf (knows), jarda (yard), jasar (imprisonment), jew (or), jott (yacht), jum (day) ja (oh!) jupp (hah!)
K k /k/ kabina (cabin), kaligrafija (calligraphy), Kalifornja (California), karru (wagon), kurżità (curiosity) kaballetta (cabaletta) Kżar (Czar)
L l /l/ labirint (maze), lejl (night), lejla (evening), Lhudi (Hebrew), lvant (east) la (nor) lwiża (vervain three-leaved)
M m /m/ Malti (Maltese), maternità (maternity), Mediterran (Mediterranean), mina (tunnel), mżelleġ (smudged) mama' (mother) mżużi (nasty)
N n /n/ nadif (clean), nerv (nerve), niċċa (niche), nuċċali (spectacles), nżul ix-xemx (sunset) nabba (to foretell) nżul (descending)
O o /o/, /ɔ/ oċean (ocean), opra (opera), orizzont (horizon), ors (bear), ożonu (ozone) oasi (oasis) ożmjum (osmium)
P p /p/ paċi (peace), paragrafu (paragraph), pazjent (patient), poeta (poet), pultruna (armchair) paċi (peace) pużata (cover)
Q q /ʔ/ qabar (grave), qaddis (saint), qalb (heart), qoxra (shell), qażquż (piglet) qabad (caught) qżużijat (nastiness)
R r /r/ raba' (land), raff (garret), replika (replica), riħa (smell), rvell (rebellion) ra (he saw) rżit (lean)
S s /s/ saba' (finger), safi (clear), saqaf (ceiling), serrieq (saw), suttana (gown) sa (until) swiċċ (switch)
T t /t/ tabakk (tobacco), tarġa (step), terrazzin (belvedere), Turkija (Turkey), twissija (warning), tuffieħa (apple) ta (gave) twittijat (levelling)
U u /u/, /ʊ/ udjenza (audience), uffiċċju (office), uman (human), uviera (egg-cup), użin (weight) ubbidjent (obedient) użinijiet (weights)
V v /v/ vaċċin (vaccine), vaska (pond), viċi (vice), vjaġġ (trip), vapur (ship) vaċċin (vaccine) vvumtat (vomited)
W w /w/ warda (rose), werrej (index), wied (valley), wirt (inheritance), wweldjat (welded) wadab (sling) wweldjat (welded)
X x /ʃ/, /ʒ/ xabla (sword), xandir (broadcasting), xehda (honeycomb), xoffa (lip), xxuttjat (kicked) xaba' (he had enough of) xxuttjat (kicked)
Ż ż /z/ żagħżugħ (teenager), żogħżija (youth), żaqq (stomach), żifna (dance), żunżan (wasps), żżuffjetta (he mocked) żabar (prune) żżuffjetta (he mocked)
Z z /t͡s/, /d͡z/ zalliera (salt-cellar), zalza (sauce), zalzett (sausage), zokk (trunk), zuntier (church-square) zakak (white wagtail) zzuppjat (crippled)

In the alphabetic sequence c is identical either to k (in front of a, o, u or consonant or as the last letter of the word) or to z (in front of e or i). The letter y is identical to i.

Older versions of the alphabet

Perez de Ayala's version of Lord Prayer in Spanish and Andalusian Arabic (1556), compare to Maltese:
ħobżna ta' kuljum agħtihulna llum.
Vassalli's alphabet (1788)
Panzavecchia’s alphabet (1845)

Before the standardisation of the Maltese alphabet, there were several ways of writing the sounds peculiar to Maltese, namely ⟨ċ⟩, ⟨ġ⟩, ⟨għ⟩, ⟨ħ⟩, ⟨w⟩, ⟨x⟩, and ⟨ż⟩.

/t͡ʃ/ was formerly written as c (in front of ⟨e⟩ and ⟨i⟩, in Italian fashion). Vella used ç for /t͡ʃ/. ⟨ç⟩ was used in other books during the 19th century. Rather than using a c with a cedilla, ⟨ç⟩, Panzavecchia used a c with ogonek ⟨c̨⟩. A Short Grammar of the Maltese Language used ⟨ch⟩ for /t͡ʃ/, in English fashion. It was not until 1866 that ⟨ċ⟩ came to be used.

/d͡ʒ/ and /g/, now written with ⟨ġ⟩ and ⟨g⟩ respectively, were formerly confused. When they were differentiated, /g/ was written as ⟨gk⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨gh⟩ and (by Vassalli) as a mirrored Arabic/Syriac gimel resembling a sideways V. On the other hand, /d͡ʒ/ was more commonly written as ⟨g⟩ or ⟨j⟩ in English fashion. Vella used a ⟨g⟩ with diaeresis, ⟨g̈⟩, but in 1843 reduced it to one dot, instituting the modern ⟨ġ⟩.

Until the middle of the 19th century, two sounds which would merge into /ˤː/ were differentiated in Maltese. These were variously represented as ⟨gh⟩, ⟨ġh⟩, ⟨gh´⟩, ⟨gh˙⟩ and with two letters not represented in Unicode (they resembled an upside down U). Panzavecchia used a specially designed font with a curly ⟨gh⟩. A Short Grammar of the Maltese Language used ⟨a⟩ with a superscript Arabic ʿayn (⟨ع⟩) to represent /ˤː/. ⟨għ⟩ itself was first used in Nuova guida alla conversazione italiana, inglese e maltese.

The letter ⟨ħ⟩ had the most variations before being standardised in 1866. It was variously written as ⟨ch⟩, and as a ⟨h⟩ with various diacritics or curly modifications. Some of these symbols were used for [ħ] and some for [x]. None of these are present in Unicode. The letter ⟨ħ⟩ was first used for Maltese in 1822 in the first Maltese written gospel by Martin Cannolo, although the capital ⟨Ħ⟩ was used later on (in 1845), where its lower case counterpart was a dotted h. It appeared earlier for this sound in the 1556 work of Pérez de Ayala.[4]

/w/ was written as ⟨w⟩, ⟨u⟩ or as a modified u (not present in Unicode).

The sounds /ʃ/, /ʒ/ (now represented with ⟨x⟩) were traditionally written as ⟨sc⟩ or ⟨x⟩. Vassalli invented a special character similar to Ɯ, just wider, and Panzavecchia used an ⟨sc⟩ ligature to represent /ʃ/ and /ʒ/, in the Italian fashion. Interestingly, the first ever use of ⟨x⟩ for /ʃ/ was in the first ever Maltese document (that we know of) Il-Kantilena by Pietru Caxaro, which makes sense as he was of spanish descent (hence the surname) and the Spanish language also used to use the same letter for that sound at the time.

/t͡s/ and /d͡z/ (now represented with ⟨z⟩) were formerly confused with, /z/ (now represented with ⟨ż⟩). When they were differentiated, /t͡s/ and /d͡z/ were written as ⟨ts⟩, ⟨z⟩, ʒ or even ⟨ż⟩. On the other hand, /z/ was written as ⟨ż⟩, ⟨ds⟩, ⟨ts⟩, ⟨ʒ⟩ and ⟨z⟩.

Prior to 1900, /k/ was written as ⟨k⟩, as well as ⟨c⟩, ⟨ch⟩ and q (in words derived from Italian and Latin).

Vassalli's 1796 work contained several new letters to represent the sounds of the Maltese language, which included the invention of several ad-hoc letters as well as the importation of Cyrillic ge, che, sha, and ze. His alphabet is set out in full with modern-day equivalents where known:

A, a = a

B, b = b

T, t = t

D, d = d

E, e = e

F, f = f

[V, or a Syriac/Arabic gimel open to the right] = g

[Ч], ɥ = ċ

H, h = h

ȣ

Ө, ө

Y, y = j

Г = ġ

З, з

U = ħ

I, i = i

J, j = j

K, k = k

[I with a small c superimposed on it]

L, l = l

M, m = m

N, n = n

O, o = o

P, p = p

R, r = r

S, s = s

Ɯ, ɯ = x

V, v = v

U, u = u

W, w = w

Z, z = z

Ʒ, ʒ = ż

Æ, æ = final e

Five grave accented vowels are also used to indicate which syllable should be stressed: Àà, Èè, Ìì, Òò, and Ùù.

Notes

  1. ^ Borg, Albert; Azzopardi-Alexander, Marie (1997). Maltese. Routledge. p. xiii. ISBN 0-415-02243-6. In fact, Maltese displays some areal traits typical of Maghrebine Arabic, although over the past 800 years of independent evolution it has drifted apart from Tunisian Arabic
  2. ^ Brincat, Joseph M. Maltese - an unusual formula. Originally Maltese was an Arabic dialect but it was immediately exposed to Latinisation because the Normans conquered the islands in 1090, while Christianisation, which was complete by 1250, cut off the dialect from contact with Classical Arabic. Consequently Maltese developed on its own, slowly but steadily absorbing new words from Sicilian and Italian according to the needs of the developing community.
  3. ^ So who are the 'real' Maltese. 14 September 2014. The kind of Arabic used in the Maltese language is most likely derived from the language spoken by those that repopulated the island from Sicily in the early second millennium; it is known as Siculo-Arab. The Maltese are mostly descendants of these people.
  4. ^ Pérez de Ayala, Martín (1556). Christian doctrine in the Arabic-Spanish language. Valencia.

References

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Maltese alphabet
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