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MaltaToday Identity Survey | Language is what makes us Maltese

Find out which personality is Malta’s best export, our favourite foods, the hegemony of Kinnie, and our knowledge of Maltese history and identity.

james
James Debono
24 September 2013, 12:00am
Mikiel Anton Vassalli, lauded as the 'father' of the Maltese language
Mikiel Anton Vassalli, lauded as the 'father' of the Maltese language


FULL DATA

Our unique Semitic language, 'culture', nanna's bragioli... Joseph Calleja, the prime minister, Independence and the Republic, Kinnie, Cisk and kunserva - pretty much all you need to know about the EU's smallest Member State.

These are exciting revelations: MaltaToday's new "identity survey" has lifted the lid on the curious make-up of the Maltese. Contrary to popular misconceptions, and perhaps a strong confirmation of our earlier survey on the à la carte Catholicism of the Maltese islands, the Maltese people feel united by language, rather than religion (even though this still rates a high fourth in cultural identifiers).

Over two-thirds of respondents say the Maltese language could be the greatest signifier of national unity, but only 2.3% referred to Malta's bilingualism as a mark of their identity.

Still, 17% of respondents to this survey say they speak both Maltese and English at home, with this percentage rising to a staggering 27% where respondents were university-educated.

MaltaToday's survey on identity coincides with the 49th anniversary of Maltese independence, the last one before Malta's 'golden anniversary' as an independent nation. 

The survey reveals that 60% of respondents recall the date of independence took place in 1964, but a majority of respondents could not recall the date when Malta became a republic, in 1974, and when the British military base was closed in 1979.  But nearly half of respondents recall that the Great Siege took place in 1565.

The most obscure national feast is the one commemorating the Sette Gugnio - the 7 June of 1919 - whose date is only recalled by 30%.

The survey also indicates a slackening in national historic awareness among younger respondents. Only some 20% of under 35-year-olds recall when the British military base was closed and just over 50% know that Malta became independent in 1964.  Younger respondents were also the least likely to know that the majority of Malta's inhabitants were Muslims in the early Middle Ages. The belief that the Maltese were always Christian is especially stronger among respondents who said they had voted PN in the last general elections.

The survey shows that culture, food and religion are the other main defining aspects of Maltese identity, although younger respondents tend to be more secular in their definition of being Maltese.

The survey also suggests that Maltese national identity is more culturally defined, and is not based on racial or ethnic constructs. In fact a relative majority of Maltese tend to favour a relaxation of citizenship rules that would allow the children of migrants who have completed their schooling in Malta, to become full Maltese citizens.

But unlike Nationalist voters, Labour voters tend to be more wary of extending Maltese citizenship to foreigners.

The survey also reveals that the Maltese think that Kinnie, tomato products and beer are Malta's best products while tenor Joseph Calleja is the island's best representative in the world, curiously followed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and a number of Eurovision singers.

Absent from the list are the names of authors, songwriters and scientists which tend to dominate similar polls in other countries alongside pop star celebrities.  

Italy is still seen as a cultural reference point by a large number Maltese, and Italian influence defines Maltese culinary preferences, with pasta emerging as a favourite dish, followed by rabbit and fish.

Religion is a more important aspect of identity for elderly respondents. While one-fifth of over 55s consider religion as one of the three things which make them Maltese, less than 10% of under-34s think likewise.

Similarly 'generosity' is a more important factor for over-55s. While a tenth of this cohort consider this trait as one of the three things which make them Maltese, only 4% of under 34s say likewise.  Even feasts are more likely to be seen as an essential component of being Maltese by those aged over 34.

On the other hand, citizenship is a more important factor for those aged under 34.

Overall, the Maltese tend to emphasise cultural and environmental factors, and very few refer to physical appearance or genetic qualities. Only one-tenth refer to national pride as a factor in their definition of Maltese-ness.

But a significant number (17%) refer to specific character traits, and 9% refer specifically to Maltese 'generosity' as a defining national trait. 

Which personality is Malta's best representative in the world?

35-year-old opera singer Joseph Calleja emerges as Malta's top cultural export.

But the list of Malta's top representatives in the global stage is devoid of scientists, artists and writers. The only scientist to get a few mentions is Everester and hydrologist Marco Cremona.

Awkwardly, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is the second most mentioned personality in what could be a clear indication of the pervasiveness of partisan politics.

The only sportsman to get a mention is shooter William Chetcuti. Most of the other names mentioned are Eurovision aspirants, as well as past prime ministers and Presidents of the Republic.

The language question

Although respondents tend to associate their nationality with their language, almost one-fifth are bilingual in their homes (17%), while some 5% exclusively speak English.

Significantly, among the university-educated respondents, the percentage of those who speak both English and Maltese at home rises to 27%. A further 17% of this category only speaks English at home.

But among those with a lower level of education, bilingualism at home decreases to just 13% among the secondary-educated and 9% among those with a primary education.

Nationalist voters are also more likely to be bilingual at home. Interestingly the middle age group (34-54), which is the most likely to have children, is also the one most likely to use English at home.



History, identity and citizenship

Maltese fail exam in history, feel closer to the Italians, and approve of citizenship for migrants' children who complete schooling

1964, the year when Malta became independent, is the only date among the five commemorated each year as Malta's national feasts to be known to a majority of respondents.

Surprisingly 1565, the year of the Great Siege, is more known than 1974 (Republic day), 1979 (the closure of the military base) and 1919 (the Sette Gugnio). 

Surprisingly Labour voters are more likely to know the year of independence, whose celebration was banned by Dom Mintoff's government, than the year in which Malta achieved full freedom by closing down the British military base.

Unsurprisingly Labour voters are more likely to get the correct date of Republic Day and Freedom Day. But Nationalist voters were more likely to guess the year of the Great Siege and the year of independence.

University-educated respondents are, as expected, the most knowledgeable all round. But even among this category the majority do not know the year in which Malta became a republic and when the military base was closed.

Although these dates are thought at school, knowledge of these historical dates is lowest among under-34s. Among this category nearly half do not know when Malta became independent, and only one-fifth know when Malta ceased to be a military base.

Curiously among this age group respondents were more likely to know the year of the Sette Giugno riots, than the day when British troops left Malta.

On the other hand, over-55s, who have living memory of some of these dates, are the most likely to get the dates right for Independence Day, Republic Day and Freedom Day. The cohort aged 34-54 were the most likely to get the Great Siege date right.

Muslim roots

Historian Prof. Godfrey Wettinger, whose historical research established the inconvenient truth that the Maltese were Muslims for a number of centuries sometime between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries, is vindicated by the survey.

Historical research suggests that Malta was actually repopulated by Muslims from Sicily during this period, possibly after a period during which the island was practically left empty.

63% of the Maltese accept this historical fact, proven by the absence of any Christian remains during the early Middle Ages, the survival of Arabic surnames and place names, and Goffredo Malaterra's account of Count Roger's attack on Malta, which suggests that the only Christians living in Malta at that time were Greek slaves.

Surprisingly, knowledge of this historical fact, which is supposedly thought in schools, is lowest among 18-34s and among respondents with a post-secondary education. In an indication that the question is still somewhat ideologically loaded, Labour voters were more likely than PN voters to know (or admit) this historical fact.

Italy remains Malta's cultural reference point

In what appears as a vindication of early Maltese nationalism shaped around the concept of italianità, which saw Malta as an integral part of the Italian motherland, Italy emerges as the favourite cultural influence on the Maltese.

But probably this can be attributed to the geographic proximity, the influence of television and Italy's reputation as a cultural destination. Former colonial ruler Britain is only a distant second.

What is most surprising is that 7% of respondents admire Australia, a country which hosts the largest Maltese community outside the archipelago but which is not normally admired for its culture.

In a reflection of past historical patterns, Italy is viewed more favourably among Nationalist voters. But defying past trends, Labour voters also tend to look up more to Italy than to the UK when it comes to culture.

On the other hand, Labour voters are more likely to look Down Under for their cultural inspiration. The Maltese remain largely Eurocentric in their cultural reference points, although a small number refer to the US and even China. Francophones emerge as a very small minority.

Majority favour citizenship for migrants' children

Despite the increase in xenophobia highlighted with widespread hostility towards migrants, a relative majority of respondents agree with granting citizenship to the children of migrants who have completed their school cycle in Malta. 

This suggests that Maltese sense of national identity, which is largely culturally, than racially defined, is rather inclusive, and reflects Malta's history as an island which absorbed people from different ethnic backgrounds.

But in a reflection of a widening ideological divide on migration issues, while 61% of Nationalist voters in the last general election favour granting citizenship to children of migrants, only 41% of Labour voters agree.  

But 54% of voters who did not disclose their vote in the last election favour granting citizenship, which suggests that people with weaker political loyalties are more, open to migration.

Significantly while university educated respondents are the most likely to agree with granting citizenship to migrant's children, post-secondary educated (all those who have followed a post-secondary vocational or academic course short of university) are the most hostile to the idea of granting citizenship.

Malta presently practices a very restrictive policy on granting citizenship to people who have worked and lived in Malta for years. Naturalisation is the only avenue to citizenship for foreign residents without Maltese ancestry. Only 2,401 persons have acquired citizenship through naturalisation since 1991. A report by the European Union Democracy Observatory (EUDO) citizenship observatory states that the acquisition of citizenship by naturalisation in Malta is overshadowed by the "singular non-reviewable discretion" which the home affairs minister enjoys in decisions on each case.

Pride in Kinnie

Kinnie, a bitter-sweet soft drink which owes its taste to Maltese bitter oranges, first produced in 1952 by Simonds Farsons and now viewed as the most successful national product by 15% of respondents.

Kinnie's main rival is the tomato in both its processed form and natural form. But the third place goes to another Simonds Farsons product - Cisk Lager and other Maltese beers. Clearly Maltese beer is valued more than Maltese wine, which is mentioned by just 6% of respondents as Malta's best produce.

Twistees, the iconic cheesy snack produced by Darrell Lee products, is mentioned by 7%.

Surprisingly only 3% mention staples like Maltese bread and pastizzi as being Malta's best produce. On the other hand 17% mentioned some form of agricultural product, like potatoes.

Pasta-crazy nation

In a clear indication of Italian culinary influence, Malta's favourite dish is pasta.  In fact 60% of respondents mentioned a pasta dish, either pasta in general or baked macaroni or lasagne.

Rabbit - a Maltese traditional dish - comes a distant second followed by fish, which is preferred to meat dishes.

Despite the proliferation of ethnic cuisine restaurants, most respondents expressed a preference to traditional Mediterranean fare.

Another casualty are vegetables and salads, although a sizeable 8% consider minestra, a traditional vegetable soup, as their favourite dish.

Pizza, another Italian influence is a favourite for 11%. And despite the popularity of junk food, both in the form of big macs and cheesecakes, a small minority of respondents only mentioned this kind of food.



Methodology The survey was conducted between Monday 26 August and Thursday 29 August. 652 respondents were contacted by telephone. 400 accepted to be interviewed. The results were weighed to reflect the age and sex balance in the general population. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.9%.
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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Winston John Sawyer
F'liema post giet l intoleranza ghax ma naqbilx ma l idejat ta haddiehor!ma naccettawx l idejat ta haddiehor,li hu tajjeb ghalija hazin ghalik!Qaddissin iktar mil papa imma ipokriti ghal l ahhar!kieku dan il pajjiz LIVE AND LET LIVE, genna ta la art!!!
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Yanika Chetcuti
"The belief that the Maltese were always Christian is especially stronger among respondents who said they had voted PN in the last general elections." This is now official confirmation of which section of the Maltese population is the most gullible, and brain washed by the powerful catholic lobby within the partit tal-Maduma.
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Stefan Cassar
Fejn qied id dagha fis survey? Ghax nisma min kullimkien inkluzi il-puliti u l gradwati.
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Pierre Sciberras
You know what makes us Maltese... our blatant disregard for law and selfishness. Our disregard for the environment, litter and loudness... yeah proud to be Maltese.
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emanuel spiteri
So, English is what makes us bastards. hohohoho!