Letters: 12 July 2015

Maltese language: What future?

Thousands of parents, pupils and students, writers and authors, translators and interpreters, journalists, broadcasters and publishers, must be grateful to the Minister of Education for his wise decision to initiate a public consultation on the future of the Maltese language, particularly in the light of so many twists and turns to which the language has been and is being subjected ‘from above’, as well as from below, lately.

For such a small people with a vernacular language which did not have a standard orthography before the 1930s, the preservation of Maltese as a recognised literary genre is of the utmost importance, nationally and internationally. Its descent into a pidgin by equating the spoken with the written should not be allowed, the more so when internalised and accepted Maltese words, expressions and forms of writing already exist.  Maltese for shower has long been ‘docca’; it is not ‘xawer’. Last week a sign at the Marsaxlokk market was advertising ‘sordfixx’ but the Maltese word has long been ‘pixxispad’.  

Any grammatical or orthographical changes to so sensitive a medium as language need a slow, mature and careful elaboration, especially if they are uncalled for. Sadly, as numerous correspondents have noted, we have had a number of  such impositions or influences, with a presumed and probably misplaced touch of officialdom, mainly by a so-called ‘Council for the Maltese Language’, which was set up in 2005 to offer ‘guidelines’ rather than brandish decrees.

There is no doubt that it is time urgently to take stock of this degenerating and confusing situation, and to seek to address it, if only in response to growing public criticism and frustration. Of course no language is static; it responds to change if and as necessary; the late Professor Aquilina, who gave us a priceless six volume dictionary, once compared it to a river. But a people’s language tradition with its etymology and semantics is not the monopoly of a handful of all-knowing ‘linguists’ from the same stable bent on re-inventing it, for purposes best known to themselves. Our language has a valuable corpus of literary expression by some of our greatest writers deserving of every respect.

I recently was with a learned lady from a culturally-driven council in Valletta who has children at school and I said casually that Maltese sometimes risked becoming ‘an object of ridicule’. No, she corrected me, ‘an object of mockery’.

All those who truly cherish Maltese certainly would not want that to happen. As a graduate in Maltese, a onetime journalist, and the author of books in the language, I am one of them. I just hope that laziness or indifference will not keep anyone from responding meaningfully to this very timely and very sincere call from the highest quarters for consultation on this vital matter. 

Wittgenstein once described language as ‘a form of life’. It is not a fiddle.

Prof. Henry Frendo, University of Malta

A question of values and faith

John Guillaumier (“Religious sideshows”) makes it abundantly clear that his sole sinister aim is to denigrate, lambast and ridicule the Catholic Church and this has been going on for at least four years. But now his sarcasm and cynical diatribes have reached absolutely boring proportions.

There are expensive and free sideshows and possessions. While the average footballer in the UK can get a salary in the range of €2 million yearly, and some of them much more, a dress worn by Princess Diana in 1997 is expected to fetch more than £52,000, Mohammed Ali’s knockout of Sonny Liston (a split-second) in a hologram goes for £2,400, even a cigar smoked by Winston Churchill was singled out and is expected to fetch thousands in an auction sale.

There are however, free sideshows as well, like visiting the famous balcony in Verona, traditionally believed to be the meeting place of Romeo and Juliet, the current exposure of the Turin Shroud and the recent sideshows of the urn of St John Bosco in Malta.

What’s wrong in displaying, contemplating, and praying on a corpse whose soul has already entered the home of the blessed and angels, the City of Light? St John is a friend of God, and as we believe, he continuously prays and intercedes for us.

One of the greatest obstacles to an unwavering experience in the interior life of a believer is the difficulty of seeing God in everything. Imagine how hard this is for Mr Guillaumier (an unbeliever) before he sheds his mudslinging and prejudice in order to see God in everything.

John Azzopardi, Zabbar

An unprincipled administration?

The Labour Party won the general election in a spectacular manner following a brilliantly planned and well-funded campaign. Muscat had put good governance, meritocracy and transparency at the forefront of all issues. Being aware of the disillusionment and disgruntlement by various sectors of society towards the Nationalist Party, he promised us an era of a new way of doing things.

Until a few months ago I was a keen Labour Party supporter and member. I was so thirsty to experience a Labour government that I consider the 10th of March, 2013 as one of the best days of my life.

With the benefit of hindsight I believe the Labour Party had promised the unimaginable to society in an attempt to win votes. Muscat and the party clearly didn’t contemplate enough the repercussions of certain promises and possible pre-electoral deals. We are now witnessing the classic boomerang effect that will clearly haunt Muscat in the years to come.

The robust economy cannot translate into the government getting away with everything.

Cabinet members engaged dozens and dozens of individuals from outside the public sector to fill in sensitive executive roles on the basis of trust more than anything else. The recent case of the 18-year-old newly appointed director is the cherry on the cake.

If this were to happen on my watch I would bury myself in shame. The Café Premier and the Gaffarena cases cannot be dissociated from the ‘c’ word.

We have individuals getting paid to locate venues ideal for a certain purpose, tailor-made jobs for the boys in Brussels, Labour Party cronies serving in the diplomatic corps, the recently demeaned ministers’ code of ethics, the apparent disregard for the environment, the amateurish way in which the citizenship scheme was introduced and later updated and re-updated, the relocation of the “monti” stalls saga which not only is immoral but is also a clear example of bad taste, the way in which the electorate got to know about Sai Mizzi’s envoy position and also her mysterious whereabouts…

The government urgently needs to pull up its socks and get its act together to first and foremost put into practice its main pledge of meritocracy, good governance and transparency. Only then can it hope to avoid losing more than half of its large majority in just five years.

As far as my family and I are concerned, we certainly will not be casting our vote irrespective of any potentially excellent economic scenario by the end of the legislature.

Needless to say, the PN is not in a position to give lectures about good governance and transparency. Joseph Muscat should thank his lucky stars for the sorry situation the Nationalists have got themselves into.  

Michael Portelli, Dingli