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Malta: Language, Literacy and Identity in a Mediterranean Island Society

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Available documentation for the early modern period indicates that the Malta harbour towns achieved literacy earlier than the countryside. The Maltese townsmen lived on a trading route, and it was necessary for them to learn the lingua franca, as the language of trade in the Mediterranean. The educated élite were able to acquire fluent speaking knowledge, as well as the ability to write, Tuscan (a dialect then in the process of becoming standard Italian), while continuing to employ their local Maltese 'dialect' on numerous occasions. By and large, the erosion of the position of Maltese as the subordinate language was an inevitable by-product of this development. The Maltese language was able to attain the function of a literary language in the nineteenth century but it had no standard orthography until 1931 and was only adopted as Malta's official language in 1964.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2001

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