The Maltese (Maltese: Maltin) are an ethnic group indigenous to Malta, and identified with the Maltese language. Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Included within the ethnic group defined by the Maltese people are the Gozitans (Maltese: Għawdxin) who inhabit Malta's sister island, Gozo.
The current Maltese people, characterised by the use of the Maltese language and by Roman Catholicism, are the descendants - through much mixing and hybridisation - of colonists from Sicily and Calabria who repopulated the Maltese islands in the beginning of the second millennium after a two-century lapse of depopulation that followed the Arab conquest by the Aghlabids in AD 870. A genetic study by Capelli et al. indicates that Malta was barely inhabited at the turn of the tenth century and was likely to have been repopulated by settlers from Sicily and Calabria who spoke Siculo-Arabic. Previous inhabitants of the islands - Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines - did not leave many traces, as most nameplaces were lost and replaced. The Normans conquered the island in 1091 and completely re-Christianised them by 1249. This re-Christianisation created the conditions for the evolution of the Maltese language from the now extinct Siculo-Arabic dialect.
The influences on the population after this have been fiercely debated among historians and geneticists. The origins question is complicated by numerous factors, including Malta's turbulent history of invasions and conquests, with long periods of depopulation followed by periods of immigration to Malta and intermarriage with the Maltese by foreigners from the Mediterranean, Western and Southern European countries that ruled Malta. The many demographic influences on the island include:
Over time, the various rulers of Malta published their own view of the ethnicity of the population. The Knights of Malta downplayed the role of Islam in Malta and promoted the idea of a continuous Roman Catholic presence, and the British colonial rule disregarded a genetic and cultural connection between the Maltese and Italians in an attempt to counteract growing Fascist power in the area.
Y-DNA haplogroups are found at the following frequencies in Malta: R1 (35.55% including 32.2% R1b), J (28.90% including 21.10% J2 and 7.8% J1), I (12.20%), E (11.10% including 8.9% E1b1b), F (6.70%), K (4.40%), P (1.10%). Haplogroup R1, I and J2 are typical in European populations and E, K, F and J1 haplogroups consist of lineages with differential distribution mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. The study by Capelli et al. has concluded that the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy. The study also indicates that Malta was barely inhabited at the turn of the tenth century and was likely to have been repopulated by settlers from Sicily and Calabria who spoke Siculo-Arabic. These findings confirm the onomastic and linguistic evidence presented in 1993 by Geoffrey Hull, who traced the oldest Maltese surnames to southern and south-eastern Sicily, especially the Agrigento district. They also vindicate the longstanding claims of prominent pre-war Maltese nationalists concerning the fundamentally Italian ethnicity of most Maltese people and contradict the pseudo-scientific and politically-motivated assertions of British imperialists and locals influenced by them that the Maltese are a 'Semitic' or 'Phoenician' people essentially extraneous to Greater Sicily and to the Italian cultural sphere.
The study of Capelli et al. clustered the male Maltese genetic markers with those of Sicilians and Calabrians, while showing a minuscule input from the Eastern Mediterranean with genetic affinity to Christian Lebanon. There was also little genetic input found from North Africa.
Another study carried out by geneticists Spencer Wells and Pierre Zalloua of the American University of Beirut claimed that more than 50% of Y-chromosomes from Maltese men could have Phoenician origins. However, the Wells and Zalloua study was not published in a peer-reviewed academic journal and its conclusions disagree with the findings of major peer-reviewed studies. It is thus considered unsound.
The culture of Malta is a reflection of various cultures that have come into contact with the Maltese Islands throughout the centuries, including neighbouring Mediterranean cultures, and the cultures of the nations that ruled Malta for long periods of time prior to its independence in 1964.
The culture of modern Malta has been described as a "rich pattern of traditions, beliefs and practices," which is the result of "a long process of adaptation, assimilation and cross fertilization of beliefs and usages drawn from various conflicting sources." It has been subjected to the same complex, historic processes that gave rise to the linguistic and ethnic admixture that defines who the people of Malta and Gozo are today.
Maltese people speak the Maltese language, a unique hybrid vernacular basically Semitic but with an imposing Romance (Italian) superstratum, and written in the Latin alphabet in its standard form. The language is descended from Siculo-Arabic, an extinct dialect of Arabic that was spoken in Sicily by indigenous people who were at that time divided in religion into continuing Greek-rite Christians and Muslims whose recent ancestors were Sicilian converts from Christianity. In the course of Malta's history, the language has adopted massive amounts of vocabulary from Sicilian and Italian, to a much lesser degree, borrowings from English (anglicisms being more common in colloquial Maltese than in the literary language), and a few dozen French loanwords. A large number of superficially Arabic words and idioms are actually loan translations (calques) from Sicilian and Italian which would make little or no sense to speakers of other Arabic-derived languages.
Maltese became an official language of Malta in 1934, replacing Italian and joining English. There are an estimated 371,900 speakers in Malta of the language, with statistics citing that 100% of the people are able to speak Maltese, 88% English, 66% Italian and 17% French, showing a greater degree of linguistic capabilities than most other European countries. In fact multilingualism is a common phenomenon in Malta, with English, Maltese and on occasion Italian, used in everyday life. Whilst Maltese is the national language, it has been suggested that with the ascendancy of English a language shift may begin; however, this has been discredited by contemporary studies.
The Constitution of Malta provides for freedom of religion but establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion. The original Maltese population were Christians of the Byzantine (Greek) rite, like the older Christian communities of Sicily. Consequently the most ancient layer of liturgical vocabulary in Maltese consists of Greek and Arabic words (the latter used in worship by the Arabic-speaking Sicilians of Byzantine rite during the Muslim occupation). The Roman rite (with Latin as the liturgical language) was imposed throughout the islands in the early fourteenth century, though the Greek Catholic church was re-established after 1530 by the Knights of Saint John for their Rhodian and other Greek followers.
Malta is described in the Book of Acts (Acts 27:39-42 and Acts 28:1-11) as the place where Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on his way to Rome, awaiting trial. Freedom House and the World Factbook report that 98% of the Maltese are Catholic (mostly Roman-rite, with a Byzantine-rite minority), making the nation one of the most Catholic countries in the world.
Malta has long been a country of emigration, with big Maltese communities in English-speaking countries abroad as well as in France. Mass emigration picked up in the 19th century, reaching its peak in the decades after World War II. Migration was initially to north African countries (particularly Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt); later Maltese migrants headed towards the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia. There is little trace left of the Franco-Maltese communities in north Africa, most of them having been displaced, after the rise of independence movements, to places like France (especially Marseille and the Riviera), the United Kingdom or Australia. The Franco-Maltese are culturally distinct from the Maltese from Malta, in that the former have remained attached to the use of the Italian language (often, but not always, alongside Maltese) as well as speaking French. Although migration has ceased to be a social phenomenon of significance there are still important Maltese communities in Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Emigration dropped dramatically after the mid-1970s and has since ceased to be a social phenomenon of significance. Since Malta joined the EU in 2004 expatriate communities emerged in a number of European countries particularly in Belgium and Luxembourg.
There’s a gap between 800 and 1200 where there is no record of civilisation. It doesn’t mean the place was completely uninhabited. There may have been a few people living here and there, but not much……..The Arab influence on the Maltese language is not a result of Arab rule in Malta, Prof. Felice said. The influence is probably indirect, since the Arabs raided the island and left no-one behind, except for a few people. There are no records of civilisation of any kind at the time. The kind of Arabic used in the Maltese language is most likely derived from the language spoken by those that repopulated the island from Sicily in the early second millennium; it is known as Siculo-Arab. The Maltese are mostly descendants of these people.
Repopulation is likely to have occurred by a clan or clans (possibly of Arab or Arab-like speaking people) from neighbouring Sicily and Calabria. Possibly, they could have mixed with minute numbers of residual inhabitants, with a constant input of immigrants from neighbouring countries and later, even from afar. There seems to be little input from North Africa.
Ibn Khaldun puts the expulsion of Islam from the Maltese Islands to the year 1249. It is not clear what actually happened then, except that the Maltese language, derived from Arabic, certainly survived. Either the number of Christians was far larger than Giliberto had indicated, and they themselves already spoke Maltese, or a large proportion of the Muslims themselves accepted baptism and stayed behind. Henri Bresc has written that there are indications of further Muslim political activity on Malta during the last Suabian years. Anyhow there is no doubt that by the beginning of Angevin times no professed Muslim Maltese remained either as free persons or even as serfs on the island.
Originally Maltese was an Arabic dialect but it was immediately exposed to Latinisation because the Normans conquered the islands in 1090, while Christianisation, which was complete by 1250, cut off the dialect from contact with Classical Arabic. Consequently Maltese developed on its own, slowly but steadily absorbing new words from Sicilian and Italian according to the needs of the developing community.
Together with colleagues from other institutions across the Mediterranean and in collaboration with the group led by David Goldstein at the University College, London, we have shown that the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy, including Sicily and up to Calabria. There is a minuscule amount of input from the Eastern Mediterranean with genetic affinity to Christian Lebanon....We documented clustering of the Maltese markers with those of Sicilians and Calabrians. The study is published in the Annals of Human Genetics by C. Capelli, N. Redhead, N. Novelletto, L. Terrenato, P. Malaspina, Z. Poulli, G. Lefranc, A. Megarbane, V. Delague, V. Romano, F. Cali, V.F. Pascali, M. Fellous, A.E. Felice, and D.B. Goldstein; "Population Structure in the Mediterranean Basin; A Y Chromosome Perspective", AHG, 69, 1-20, 2005..
Possibly, they could have mixed with minute numbers of residual inhabitants, with a constant input of immigrants from neighbouring countries and later, even from afar. There seems to be little input from North Africa.
We are aware of conflicting conclusions published as an interview in the popular National Geographic magazine. Despite an intensive search we cannot find them reproduced in the mainstream scientific literature. We consider that data somewhat flawed, and furthermore, unsound. National Geographic is not a peer-reviewed academic journal and thus the weight of the evidence is poor compared to other peer-reviewed academic journals that are also in the public domain. One cannot be comfortable with data that have not passed the scrutiny of peer review.
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