Appendix talk:Maltese pronunciation

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Pharyngealised vowels[edit]

The archaic pharyngealised vowels can still be heard in this hymn from 1976: [1]. A, e, o in the vicinity of are always pharyngealised by the lead singer. However, she doesn't pharyngealise the diphthong in tgħinu.

In Arabic, this pronunciation also exists, but the difference is that it's just a casual pronunciation which exists alongside the properly consonantal one, meaning that there is no merger of e.g. /ʕaː/, /ʕa/, /aʕ/, as was the case in Maltese.

This Moroccan singer pronounces the word نعيشو pretty much like the older Maltese ngħixu: [2] (for example at 0:59 and 1:56).

This Lebanese singer has pharyngealised vowels throughout the song: [3]. (It's perhaps partly due to the soft romantic singing, but you'll hear it in actual speech too.) For example, تبعد عني [tɪ.bɔˤː.daˤː] at 1:09. 21:48, 18 January 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Chronological notes on the reduction of the system of guttural fricatives[edit]

By 1700, most accents still had a full-flegded system of five guttural fricatives /x/, /ɣ/, /ħ/, /ʕ/, /h/. In the capital area, however, /x-ħ/ and /ɣ-ʕ/ were already merged or merging.

Preceding /ɣ-ʕ/ caused diphthongisation of /iː/, /uː/ in most accents. The same tendency existed also with /x-ħ/, as seen in spellings like hein (ħin), nihou (nieħu), but here it was weaker and has not become part of the modern standard.

/ʕ/ was relatively weakly pronounced and had a tendency to be vowelised, especially in the syllable coda (similar to some Arabic dialects, such as Lebanese).

/h/ also had a tendency to be lost, especially in pronouns and in function words like hawn, hemm, hekk.

By 1800, conservative accents still retained the original system, but the velar/pharyngeal merger must have begun to spread.

/h/ was becoming frail as a phoneme. When being R3, it was merged with /ħ/, otherwise it was predominantly lost, though some rural accents merged it with /ħ/ in all positions (except in pronouns and function words).

During the 18th/19th centuries, the weak pronunciation of /ʕ/ caused such pairs as /ʕa/ and /aʕ/ to merge in a pharyngealised vowel [aˁː], as can be seen in spellings like nghamel, tghana. By 1900, consonantal pronunciations of /ʕ/ had become rare.

Loss of /h/ was generalised. As R2 it was lost, while the outcome as R1 varies unpredictably between loss and merger with /ħ/ (probably through dialect mixing).

The merger of /x-ħ/ was also generalised. That of /ɣ-ʕ/, however, was resisted in some rural areas of Gozo. This difference is probably due to the mentioned weakness of /ʕ/, which hampered its merger with /ɣ/ in those speakers for whom the latter was still strictly consonantal.

The total loss of pharyngealisation must have already begun in the capital area by the late 19th century. By 1950 it was standard.

Near the end of the 20th century, pharyngealisation was dying out, as was the phoneme /ɣ/ in those Gozitan villages which had originally resisted the merger. 15:58, 7 February 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Notes on the reduction of the system of alveolar obstruents[edit]

The loss of dental fricatives may have been underway already at the time of the Arab reign, because these mergers are found also in many parts of Maghrebi Arabic and, in fact, throughout dialects of the more urban type: /θ/ > /t/, /ð/ > /d/, and /ðˤ/ > /dˤ/. However, in some parts of the Maltese islands /θ/ and /ð/ survived until the later 18th century.

The next step was a simplification of the the system of emphatic alveolars in two ways:

1.) In roots containing one of the consonants /q/, /ħ/, /ʕ/ (and to a lesser degree /x/, /ɣ/), emphatic alveolars tended to become plain by dissimilation against the guttural.

2.) In roots containing an emphatic alveolar as well as a plain alveolar, the two were assimilated to each other, predominantly in favour of the emphatic.

This process meant that in roots containing a guttural consonant the plain/emphatic distinction had become unstable, while other roots were either entirely plain or entirely emphatic. Vowels underwent imala according to this altered system.

Probably during early Modernity, emphatic alveolars were lost and only some of their vowel influences remained (chiefly on /a/, /aː/, to a lesser degree on /i/, virtually never on /iː/, /uː/, /u/). The allophones /ɛ/ and /eː/ (later > /ɪː/) were accordingly phonemicised. 17:07, 8 February 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Notes on the addition of non-Arabic phonemes[edit]

The Arabic dialect on which Maltese is based already contained the phoneme /ɡ/. It occurred chiefly in Berber borrowings and occasionally as a dissimilative variant of /dʒ/ (as in gżira). In modern Maltese there are a few additional instances where it stems from assimilation of /k/ (gidem, gideb).

The affricates /tʃ/, /ts/, /dz/ existed as clusters. Their development into phonemes is probably due to Romance influence. Like /ɡ/, however, they are not usually substituted for.

The strictly borrowed phonemes are /p/ and /v/. For both of them, /b/ is substituted in old loanwords. In contemporary Maltese, /p/ occurs in a few native roots, where it stems from assimilation of /b/ (rkoppa, taptap). As to /v/, the only native word appears to be iva, for which the variant iwa is still retained dialectally. 17:40, 8 February 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Notes on orthography[edit]


A distinction is made between (a) words that are part of the root system and (b) words that are not part of this system. A root is considered to exist if there any related terms (not mere inflections) formed by means of Semitic consonant-based alternations.


Words that belong to a given root are spelt with the underlying root consonants as far as possible. Minor deviations from the phonetic principle are accepted (e.g. mute d in għandna or m for /n/ in mtela).

Only when a word has become entirely incompatible with its original root is it spelt phonetically. For example /wɪtʃ/ might still be spelt *wiġh to align it with the root w-ġ-h (even though the silent h would be irregular), but *wiġhi for /wɪt.tʃɪ/ is considered too far off, so the word is respelt phonetically as wiċċ.


In words that do not belong to a root, the consonants are spelt strictly phonetically according to their pronunciation, unless the underlying phoneme can be seen in an inflection of that same word. Thus reliġjuż because of reliġjużi, but prietka in spite of predikatur.

In Arabic words without a root, moreover, the letters ċ, p, v, z seem to be used only when phonetically necessary, but not in neutralised position.


The silent letters għ and h are written in Arabic words when historically justified, but with exceptions:

  • certain verb forms (smajt, jismax),
  • certain numeral forms (sebat, sbatax),
  • roots where għ has been lost or added (tama vs. baqa’)

Silent għ and h are also added, if phonetically possible, in words borrowed from Hebrew, chiefly Biblical names (Għesaw, Abraham). Following Italian usage, silent h is never added in Latin or Greek words, however.


The sound /ħ/ can only be represented by għ or h if there exists a related word where the same letter is silent. With għ this is widely a regular process. With h it is restricted to the pronominal ending -h and the five roots h-n-j, s-h-m, b-l-h, k-r-h, x-b-h.

If no such related word exists /ħ/ is always represented by ħ whatever the etymology.


Regarding vowels there exist two cases of doubt:

  • The spelling of vowel letters before and/or after the silent letters għ and h.
  • The spelling of /ɪː/ as i or ie in neutralised position before għ, ħ, h, q.

In both of these cases, the main recourse is to morphological analogy, i.e. words of similar formation which explain the spelling. Nevertheless there remain several words whose spelling can only be understood by going back to Arabic (e.g. lgħab vs. ragħad, triq vs. driegħ).

A frequent source of error are derivatives and inflections of nouns CVgħVC and CVhVC (e.g. xogħol, xahar), although the rule is entirely consistent: The second vowel is deleted before vocalic endings (e.g. -a, -ejn, -ek, -i, -iet, -ijiet, -u), but is kept before consonantal endings (e.g. -ha, -hom, -kom, -na). Thus xogħlu ("his job") vs. xogħolha ("her job"). This rule isn't arbitrary either, but simply mirrors how the vowels would behave if, instead of għ and h, there were actual intervocalic consonants in these words.

Generally the spellings -aha-, -ehe-, -egħe-, -ogħo- are only possible in orthographically closed syllables. With -agħa- there are a couple of exeptions in nominals of the form CagħaCa, CagħaCi (like lagħaba, lagħaqi), in which the għ is underlyingly geminated. 18:53, 9 February 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Notes on the letters ‹h› and ‹għ›[edit]

The Maltese alphabet contains two consonant letters that now do not usually correspond to any consonantal pronunciation. They are nevertheless written, in part for historical reasons, in part because they do still influence the pronunciation and may also resurface as /ħ/ (chiefly when being the last radical of a root). The distinction between ‹h› on the one hand and ‹għ› on the other is etymological. Their influences on the pronunciation are mostly identical. However, there are certain points in which they differ:

  • ‹Għ› diphthongises following /iː/ and /uː/, while ‹h› has no influence on them.
  • Original diphthongs are lengthened after ‹għ›, but not after ‹h›. (This dinstinction is optional, however, since long diphthongs may be shortened.)

Additional differences are those that concern the vocalism and morphology of words containing ‹h› and ‹għ›:

  • ‹H› may be followed by high front vowels /ɪ/ and /ɪː/, which are replaced with low vowels after ‹għ›. Generally ‹għ› often triggers lowering and backing in ways that ‹h› does not.
  • ‹Għ› causes the insertion of an auxiliary vowel when it comes to stand between two consonants, while ‹h› simply becomes silent. This is particularly relevant in the conjugation of verbs R2=għ/h; compare jiżegħdu vs. jifhmu.
  • Verbs R3=għ have a special conjugation class, while verbs R3=h (which are only a handful) are conjugated like verbs R3=ħ. 21:13, 1 November 2021 (UTC)[reply]