A Three-Cornered Contest: The Language Question in Malta (1880s - 1930s)

By Brian Zammit.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

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Language was an issue that preoccupied national movements across Europe from the second half of the nineteenth century. This paper will look at the so-called Language Question in the Maltese islands in the context of the emergence and rise of the Maltese national movement and its confrontation with the British colonial authorities. It was triggered by moves to Anglicise public life in Malta, Maltese nationalists reacting to the threat of Anglicisation by springing to the defence of "their" language. However, "their" language was not, as one would reasonably expect, the local vernacular, Maltese, but Italian, for centuries the language of public life in the Maltese islands. The Language Question raged over a fifty year period from the 1880s, dominating and indeed shaping Maltese politics. Initially pitting Italian versus English, the former also came under increasing pressure from Maltese. By the time the Language Question was settled as war clouds gathered in the 1930s, Italian had largely been displaced as the language of public life, English as well as Maltese from here on entrenched as the official languages of the Maltese islands.

Keywords: Language, Nationalism, National Movements, Maltese History

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2012, pp.51-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 351.510KB).

Dr. Brian Zammit

Lecturer, BA Course Coordinator, School of Communications and the Arts, Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dr. Brian Zammit currently lectures at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. His research interests include the history of European national movements.