Number of people speaking Maltese: Approximately 400 thousand
Maltese is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is the national language of Malta, and an official language of the European Union. It is derived from, and most closely related to, Arabic. Apart from its phonology, Maltese bears considerable similarity to urban varieties of Tunisian Arabic. Maltese also shares similarities with other North African Arabic dialects; however in the course of Malta’s recent history, the language has adopted many loanwords, and even phonetic and phonological features, from Southern Italian, Sicilian, and English.
Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet in its standard form. It is also the only Semitic language native to a geopolitically European country, although, geophysically, Malta is generally regarded as forming part of the African continental plate.
Maltese became an official language of Malta in 1936, alongside English. Before that year, the official language of Malta was Italian. Today, there are an estimated 371,900 Maltese speakers. There are a significant number of Maltese expatriates in Australia, the United States and Canada who can still speak the language.
The oldest known document in Maltese is “Il Cantilena,” a poem from the 15th century written by Pietro Caxaro. For centuries, Maltese was nearly exclusively a spoken language, with writing being done in Arabic or, later, Italian.
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