[WATCH] Trevor Zahra sounds warning on Maltese language crisis

Xtra on TVM | The award-winning author says a new generation of children is growing up with a lacking Maltese vocabulary

The Maltese language is facing a crisis, but it is largely down to children not speaking the language rather than reading it, author Trevor Zahra has warned.

During an interview on the TVM’s Xtra, Zahra said that a new generation of children is growing up with a major lack of Maltese vocabulary, speaking a mixture of English and Maltese.

“I believe that children are capable of learning languages. They are capable of learning any language you give them. What’s bad is denying them Maltese by only speaking English. I believe that if it’s possible for a family to have the father speak to them in English, and the mother in Maltese, the children can grow up speaking English and Maltese well. But this never happens,” he said.

“I think that’s the crisis. Children have such an influx of English coming from social media, their tablets, smartphones, and so on, that there’s a huge lack of vocabulary.”

Zahra also remarked on spelling mistakes written online, and how mistakes in the Maltese language are generally dismissed while English spelling mistakes generate more anger.

Earlier in the interview, Zahra said that he was always obsessed with having books for children in Maltese. He mentioned having grown up reading Enid Blyton’s books, but had questioned why none of her books were available in the Maltese language, or on the local environment.

He recalled having spent the 70s writing books tailored for children but in the Maltese language, often using what he dubbed the “formula” of Enid Blyton, with children solving mysteries or catching the villain, but always in a Maltese context and environment.

“My biggest satisfaction is meeting with adults and having them tell me that they started reading Maltese books through my own books,” he said.

Zahra mentioned his collection of stories called ‘Ħrejjef minn Wied Peprina’, saying that his aim was not just to write stories on animals but to make children aware of Malta’s local fauna.

“My aim was that – underneath the story, the plot, the characters - making the children conscious that we have our own environment. That we must first be conscious of our environment, and then appreciate it and take care of it.”

 He said he never cared for moral messages in his stories, and that if they are there, it is due to coincidence. “Literature is there to give pleasure at the end of the day,” he said.

“Whenever someone asks me what I wanted to say in my work, I tell them that all I wanted to say is already there, I have nothing to add. What I say now is superfluous.”

On whether his books were based on more personal experiences, Zahra remarked that there is no such thing as fiction writing. “Sometimes they ask me whether my characters are true, and I tell them yes and no. Without wanting to, you write about your experiences – on what you want, what you dream, what scares you, what excites you, what provokes you.”