Language, Literature and the Maltese National Imaginary

A paper by Prof. Sandro Caruana and Dr Adrian Grima about “Language, Literature and the Maltese National Imaginary” (pp. 436-458) has just been published in a 681 page volume entitled Lingue, letterature, nazioni. Centri e periferie tra Europa e Mediterraneo, edited by Ignazio Putzu e Gabriella Mazzon and published by FrancoAngeli (Milano, 2012). The book, which is available both in printed format and as an e-book, is on sale from the publisher here.

A preview of the book displaying a substantial number of pages is available on Google Books.


Gabriella Mazzon, Ignazio Putzu, Premessa 

Parte I. Aspetti generali

Ignazio Putzu, Lingua e letteratura nella formazione degli stati nazionali in Europa e nel Mediterraneo: aspetti di quadro 

Mauro Pala, Comunità letterarie immaginate. Osservazioni sulla dialettica fra nazione e letteratura


Parte II. Realtà geolinguistiche e geopolitiche tra Europa e Mediterraneo

Gabriella Mazzon, Angelo Deidda, Maria Grazia Dongu, Geoffrey Gray, Nation-building through language and literatures in the history of the British Isles

Luis de Llera, El proceso de identidad nacional de España en su historia 

Jose Andrés-Gallego, Por qué la lengua castellana fue compañera del imperio y qué se hizo de las demás lenguas de Andrea Meregalli, España, del gallego al vascuence Lingua e nazione in Islanda 

Horst Sitta, Sprache, Mehrsprachigkeit, Nation – die Schweiz: ein europäischer Spezialfall. Eine Skizze 

Nicoletta Dacrema, Il ‘caso Austria’ 

Edit Rózsavölgyi, La lingua e la letteratura ungheresi nella formazione dello stato nazionale ungherese 

Gianguido Manzelli, Dall’aggregazione alla disgregazione: frammenti di storia della lingua e della letteratura serbocroata (bosniaca, croata, montenegrina e serba) 

Nicola Melis, Il linguaggio politico della Repubblica turca: la costituzione del 1924 come caso di studio 

Sandro Caruana, Adrian Grima, Language, Literature and the Maltese National Imaginary 

Francesco De Angelis, Lingua araba e identità nazionale in Medio Oriente: il nazionalismo territoriale in Egitto 


Parte III. Dal regno di Sardegna allo Stato unitario

Ines Loi Corvetto, I Savoia e le ‘vie’ dell’unificazione linguistica 

Pietro Trifone, L’italiano nel Risorgimento 

Rita Fresu, La lingua dell’editoria educativa femminile italiana nell’Ottocento: linee di ricerca 

Antonietta Dettori, Su alcune attestazioni del termine “nazione” in Sardegna. Storia dell’evoluzione di una parola fra linguistica e letteratura 

Maurizio Virdis, La lingua batte dove il dente duole. Riflessioni sul nodo lingua-nazione in Sardegna 

Anna Mura Porcu, Lingua e letteratura in periodici del primo ‘800, tra italianità e identità locale 

Nicoletta Puddu, Dizionari e purismo nella Sardegna dell’800.

Excerpts from the paper by Sandro Caruana and Adrian Grima:

Just as Italy recognized its unity as a mirror of its language use, even
before becoming a State politically, in Malta the standardization processes
of Maltese preceded by several years the political process which eventually
led to Independence. However, if the standardized form of Italian had a
well-established literary form to model itself upon, the same cannot be said
for Maltese. In this sense it can be said that the opposite happened as the
standardization processes of written Maltese led to a considerable increase
in literary productions which elevated the status of the Maltese language.
This, in turn, became an important political tool as well as a major symbol
of identity, and was instrumental in the struggle for Independence.


Friggieri maintains that it was the Maltese language that allowed
Maltese writers to be truly creative, rather than follow a literary and
cultural tradition that was ultimately Italian, and therefore foreign, and to
develop a national identity. This explains why he and other critics before
and after him have equated “Maltese literature” with literature written in
Maltese, even that, for example, written by Maltese emigrants in Australia.
Friggieri does not define literature by Maltese writers in Italian, or any
other language for that matter, as “Maltese literature” precisely because
it is not charged with a nationalistic vocation, or at least it is not seen as a
living symbol of the national identity. Arnold Cassola disagrees with this
position as is evident in the title of a paper of his, La letteratura maltese in
lingua italiana dalle origini a tutto il secolo diciassettesimo, which traces
the story of Maltese literature written in Italian across many centuries
up until the 19th century, at a time when Italian was regarded by Italian
exiles and Maltese Italophiles as the national language of Malta, a view
that only lost favour when Malta and Italy found themselves on opposite
sides during the Second World War. Until 1936 Italian was still an official
language in Malta, alongside Maltese and English. Cassola (2000b, p. 31)
states that when one talks about Maltese literature, one must keep in mind
the fact that apart from Maltese literature written in Maltese there has also
been «una letteratura maltese in lingua araba, italiana e inglese». It was
practically only in the 18th century that Maltese started to be considered
as a medium for literature; between the fall of the Roman Empire and the
18th century the Maltese used Arabic, Latin, Sicilian and Tuscan to write
literature (Cassola 2000c, p. 22).


Mamo’s unforgettable and sometimes unforgivable cheeky first-person
narrative, often in the plural, constantly reminds the reader of the creative
process itself, with comments like, «you would expect to find a love story
in a novel». Like Mamo himself in relation to Malta, the self-conscious
narrator is both inside and outside the story, observing from a distance
and poking fun at the extraordinary ignorance of the poor people that
he depicts and getting involved in a “personal” way by referring to Juan
Mamo as if he were someone else and also as the narrator (and author).
The extensive use of the dialect of Luqa, a first in Maltese literature, albeit
in a generally derogatory way, is a direct result of the informal, discursive
style adopted by the narrator; so too are the use of vulgar language
and the references to real people and incidents that his audience of both
prominent citizens and common people must have known. But despite
their sympathetic (or condescending) comments, Maltese literati did not
see Mamo’s literary language as an example to follow but rather as an
entertaining break from more a serious literature that granted dignity to
the language. Mamo’s irreverent style must have seemed too close for
comfort, too similar to what was spoken in the street.

This book forms part of the series, Metodi e prospettive. Studi di Linguistica, Filologia, Letteratura and was published with the support of the Dipartimento di Filologia, Letteratura e Linguistica dell’Università degli Studi di Cagliari. Special thanks to Prof. Ignazio Putzu of the University of Cagliari.

For more information visit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s