Maltese is both the national and the co-official language of Malta. In addition, Maltese is the only Semitic language designated as an official language of the European Union. Derived from the Siculo-Arabic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, Maltese was brought to Malta during the period from the end of the 9th century to the end of the 12th century. Maltese is spoken by nearly 520,000 individuals (2012) on the Mediterranean islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino, as well as by Maltese communities in Australia, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Tunisia.
By 1249 the Norman Conquest had evicted all Muslims from Malta. This secluded the dialect from its Arabic foundation, causing Maltese to develop into a distinct vernacular. This dialect proceeded to grow together with Italian, which it ultimately substituted as official language of Malta in 1934. Maltese is used for most areas of everyday life, whereas English is favoured in higher levels of education.
Maltese is the only Semitic dialect written using Latin characters. While the fundamental terminology is based on the original Siculo-Arabic vocabulary, Maltese contains a wide variety of loanwords from standard Italian, Sicilian, English, and French. Prior to a standardised written Maltese being developed in the late 18th century, official documents and messages were written using French and Italian. English use in education was encouraged during the British colonial period.
Standard Maltese can be divided into two separate dialects, namely urban varieties and rural varieties. Urban vernaculars are very similar to Standard Maltese with very few variances. Conversely rural vernaculars are closer to the Siculo-Arabic origins of Maltese, with antique Semitic structures no longer found in Standard Maltese.
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