We are not shy from the various conquerors who took over the islands of Malta in the past… Whether it was the French, the British, or the Knights of St John, we’ve seen a lot of settlers making the Pearl of the Mediterranean their home.
Along with them, they had brought changes to our unique language, shaping it into this quite intriguing mix of latin and semitic concoction.
We’ve compiled a list of 7 words which were once foreign to the Maltese language and in turn, ended up as part of the vocabulary which forms it…
Coming from the English word ‘Fire’... Sounds familiar? This English verb (to fire), made itself part of the everyday Maltese language and morphed into a seemingly native semitic verb (fajjar).
Its origin in Maltese is owed to the times when locals were getting skilled in British Military schools. (Lingwa u Lingwistika, Karl Borg. p. 288.)
Since they would have had little to no exposure to the English language, the term ‘fire’ spoken in a British English accent might have been absorbed as ‘fajjar’... In fact if you say ‘fajjar’ out loud, with a softer accent, it kind of sounds like the British English ‘fire’.
Yes, you may have heard this term used in the construction industry often referring to parts pertaining to the heavy construction machinery used.
However, this term lent itself, yet again from the English word ‘Boiler’. The roots of this term seem to hint at the time when the drydocks were quite popular, locally.
Again, here one needs to read this term in their best British English accent to hear the resemblance between the two terms.
Useful maybe when taking a bath, or making yourself a cup of tea (spoiler), this term is considered a corrupted version of the Arabic words ‘ma’ (water) and ‘sħun’ (hot) = ‘(Ma)+sħun’, which then morphed into ‘Misħun’.
Afterall, ‘misħun’ is at the end of the day, ‘ilma sħun’ (hot water), no?
Spoiler from number 3, we have yet another English word which made it into the Maltese language.
‘Kitla’ is derived from ‘Kettle’, an instrument used to boil water for various purposes such as making a cup of tea.
Once again, this term seems to originate from the drydocks period.
Not a nice compliment if given to describe someone’s intelligence/wittiness and is then often considered as an insult.
This time, we’re witnessing a word which is coming from the Italian language, or more specifically, the Neapolitan dialect.
The Napoletan term would be ‘ciuccio’. In Maltese, another synonym would be ‘ħmar’... “U ajma, x’int ħmar/ċuċ!”
This is quite a hybrid term in Maltese…
The first part ‘qaws’ might be referring to the English term ‘bow’ in ‘rainbow’ or the Italian ‘arco’ in ‘arcobaleno’ - both making reference to an instrument through which one shoots an arrow.
However, as you might have deduced by now ‘alla’ is connoted to the Biblical reference of ‘God’. A literal translation of ‘Qawsalla’ would be ‘God’s Bow’.
Finally, we conclude this article with a term coming from the Neapolitan dialect within the Italian language. ‘Maktur’ comes from ‘muccaturo’ which is a handkerchief, predominantly used by males.
It’s definitely interesting to see how the word reinvented itself – ‘mucc’ becoming ‘mak’ and ‘tur’ retaining its form, with the vowels ‘a’ in the middle, and ‘o’ at the end disappearing from the Maltese variant.
Were you aware of these terms?
Did we miss out on a very important one?
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