The Constitution of the Republic of Malta recognises Maltese as the national language, but identifies both Maltese and English as languages for official communication.
The Maltese language is the most important factor determining the identity of the people. The influence of globalisation and the rapidly developing information technology has introduced a growing number of new elements to the language itself, which has necessitated the careful evaluation of its current status. In 2005, on the initiative of the Ministry of Education, a National Council was created to cater for the current needs and the development of the Maltese language. The National Council for the Maltese Language (NCML), based in Valletta, is responsible for producing strategic positions on the protection, enhancement and development of the national language, including the promotion of Maltese literature.
According to an in-depth report carried in the media in March 2006, the NML considers that the official position of Maltese is strong, with “a firm hold in important fields of cultural life and religion.” However, the Council acknowledges that the Maltese language has been “traditionally absent” from areas such as the civil service, the sciences, economy, higher education and youth entertainment, which are of great importance in the minds of the people. The Council believes that “much remains to be done when it comes to people’s linguistic self-confidence and their attitudes towards their own language.”
The recognition of the Maltese language by the European Union in May 2002 was enthusiastically received by writers, academics and the intelligentsia, also in view of the overseas employment possibilities for Maltese authors, translators, editors and proof readers to work in EU programmes and organisations. The first official translations of EU material in 2003 created a stir in that they were not of the required standard, a problem that was not perceived as urgent. Such new circumstances have prompted the government to accelerate legislative provisions for the protection and development of the native language and to install university programmes to provide training for translation/interpreters (the first graduates were accredited in 2006-2007).
In January 2007, the National Council for Language launched an initiative which will determine the standard use of orthographic variants in the national language. The first national seminar involved writers, editors, journalists, translators, educators and examiners. The issue has become pressing, given the heavy influx of foreign words, particularly from the English and Italian languages which have been embedded in the Maltese language, the only Semitic language spoken and written in Europe. Meanwhile, Maltese translators working at the European Union’s institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg were expecting an increase in their workload after EU derogation was lifted in May 2007. The Maltese government had been awarded three-year derogation on translating EU documents into Maltese, so as to prepare translators professionally for the job, after Malta joined the European Union on 1 May 2004.
The Broadcasting Authority is monitoring the use of the Maltese language, an issue which is often charged with emotions. This function has required training in Maltese speaking and writing among media/broadcasting personnel. The Malta Board of Standards has always been working intensely to harmonise the Maltese language with the requirements of new information technologies. However, there is a serious bone of contention relating to the use of Maltese on broadcasting stations, even on the national channel (Radio Malta and Malta Television). Most of the criticism is directed at poorly prepared presenters, entertainers and sports commentators. There is also criticism about the technical quality of presentation, including poor diction and garbled speech, which is detrimental to the national language.
One area that is receiving particular attention involves the Maltese language and its use in ICT. The two institutions dealing with the issue are the Technical Committee for Maltese in ICT, operating within the Council for the Maltese Language (2005) and the Malta Standards Authority. The use of Maltese in ICT was greatly enhanced in April 2006, with the launch of Microsoft Windows XP in Maltese.