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Is having Maltese as an EU language a waste of money?

1. Although Maltese and English are official languages in Malta, Maltese is designated as the sole national language in Malta's constitution, with all the legal ramifications that would suggest. There might be just a handful of us, and most of us might be hairy and short, but that's no reason to belittle us.

2. Maltese is the only real lingua franca. Save for two or three coastal towns or well-to-do suburbs with SUVs parked in the driveway, you'd be hard-pressed to find places where English – rather than Maltese – is the lingua franca. Not that we'll kick up a fuss if you've been living here for thirty years and can't speak a word of it – and it is true we tend to intersperse our Maltese with English (and vice-versa) sometimes – but Maltese is unquestionably our language.

3. Not everyone speaks English. Even if English is an official language the percentage of people who can speak is slightly higher in Sweden and some other Nordic countries. English is a borrowed language we find useful and probably like more than we let on, but the only language we consider really ours is Maltese. According to Eurobarometer 100% of the Maltese population speaks Maltese and 88% can speak English. Portuguese is an official language in Macau and only 5% speak it, so things could be worse…

4. "Ever closer union" and "bringing Europe closer to the citizens" are well and good as slogans, but do they mean anything? The debates in our Parliament in Valletta, our laws*, and our courts are all in Maltese. How could the EU ever elicit to only use a foreign language in Malta – with all the colonial undertones that would suggest (yeah, we're not completely over that yet)? We've been an independent country for less than half a century, so such an attitude would be immediately perceived as arrogant, distant and colonial – not an ideal way to present itself to a member state.

5. The decision to include Maltese as an EU language was accompanied by a renewed pride in our language. Of course, we shouldn't overestimate the impact it had, but the Brussels seal of approval definitely led to increased legitimacy. As I said, we're an ex-colony so we're quite self-conscious of what foreigners think of us and all that.

6. It is cheap. How much does all this Maltese tomfoolery cost the European taxpayer? Administration costs account for roughly 5% of the EU budget. Of this a way smaller percentage is spent on languages and a minute portion of that, barely visible to the naked eye, is spent on Maltese (or other small languages – Iceland hurry up and join!). There's a great bargain if I ever saw one.

7. It looks cool. I mean – look at it. It is weird and unlike anything else. Sure, Hungarian or Estonian are pretty "unusual" too and some languages effortlessly introduce foreign words as an integral part of their own language, but how many European languages take elements from Italian languages (14th Century Sicilian and Neapolitan in particular), share their lot with semitic languages (phoenician, hebrew and an arabic so arcane it sounds like it is ten centuries old – which it is) and throw in some Norman French, contemporary English, Aragonese or lord knows what else when you're not looking?

So, yes, we've got our vernacular, we're quite fond of it, the EU helped increase its legitimacy and we expect to be able to use it. But the question remains. What does it really matter to you, a Romanian or a Spaniard, what goes on with my language?

Unsurprisingly, my answer is that it isn't all in vain. Couldn't we conversely ask when the EU spends money on a rail link in Galicia or co-finances a bridge between Romania and Bulgaria, what is it to us in Valletta? In such a case it isn't the utility of the Maltese language itself which is being questioned, but the notion of solidarity – something the EU was built on and which I personally feel is well worth defending.

The EU isn't all hunky dory, and yes some things need changing. But let us not start by overlooking or disrespecting smaller countries though the deligitimization of their language (a surefire way of telling a nation their identity is unimportant).

Besides, where does it all stop? Shall we deny Icelanders the language they're so proud of because there are even less of them? Shall we get rid of Estonian, Slovenian and Finnish? What then?

 

 

* together with an English version which is not legally binding

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