Juann Mamo and the Frontiers of Contemporary Maltese Literature | Inalco, Paris

In February, Dr Adrian Grima taught a unit on Maltese language and literature to third year university students at Inalco, the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris, an well-established University that teaches 104 languages from around the world. He was also invited to give two talks to his colleagues and post-graduate students in LACNAD, the Department of Languages and Cultures of North Africa and the Diasporas and in the LACNAD-CREAM research team, the Centre of Research and Studies of Maghrebi Arabic.


In his first talk on February 7 about the frontiers of contemporary Maltese literature (“Frontières de la littérature maltaise contemporaine”), Dr Grima explored the ways in which the new literature that started to appear in the 1990s has broke new ground in terms of content and style and what were the conditions that made this renaissance possible. Adrian Grima proposed a number of factors that might have inspired this new wave of writing, including the internet revolution, Malta’s adhesion to the European Union, and the social and cultural upheavals that have opened up Maltese society since the 1990s. He also spoke on the new frontiers of Maltese literature in terms of genre, focusing on Immanuel Mifsud’s now classic, Fl-Isem tal-Missier (u tal-Iben), which he defined as an intimate autobiographical novel that stradles different genres: the novel, poetry, essay, biography and autobiography, philosophy, critical analysis, and intimate diary or journal.

In his second talk on February 7 to colleagues at INALCO and postgraduate students in the context of the LACNAD-CREAM seminar series, Dr Grima spoke about the “iconoclastic” writer Juann Mamo (1886 – 1941), “L’écrivain iconoclaste Juann Mamo,” and especially about his revolutionary novel, Ulied in-Nanna Venut fl-Amerka (1930-31). A self-confessed admirer of Cervantes and his novel Don Quixote, Mamo challenged the established Romantic and nationalist literary tradition of his time and the institutions of the Catholic Church and Nationalist Party, but his main achievement, from a literary point of view, was the way he undermined the dominant literary language. Because of his irreverence, his work was almost completely ignored by the cultural and academic elite for over 50 years. Adrian Grima spoke about Mamo also as an essentially Modernist writer who espoused many of the aspects of the European Modernist credo.

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Giovanna Tanzarella, Adrian Grima and Elizabeth Grech (Photo by Augustin Le Gall • Photographe)

On February 8, Adrian Grima, accompanied by the Paris-based writer, translator and cultural operator Elizabeth Grech, gave a talk at the renowned Mediterranean cultural institute, iReMMO (Institut de Recherche et d’Études Méditerranée et Moyen-Orient) in the heart of the Latin Quarter in Paris. fil-qalba tal-Quartier Latin ta’ Pariġi, on “Malta as a microcosm of Globalization in the Mediterranean” (“Malte, microcosme de la mondialisation en Méditerranée”).

INALCO and the Department of Maltese, University of Malta


In 2015, the University of Malta, through the Department of Maltese, re-established its Erasmus partnership agreement with this renowned French university. Collaboration in the fields of linguistics and the study of literature and popular culture between the Maltese Department and INALCO has been going on for many years and Prof. Albert Borg has played a major role in fostering this exchange.

The exchange was first established in the 1990s through the efforts of Prof. Dominique Caubet, formerly Head of the Department of Maghrebi Arabic at INALCO, and Prof. Manwel Mifsud and Prof. Albert Borg from the Department of Maltese. Together with Prof. Marie Alexander and Prof. Ray Fabri from the Institute of Linguistics, and Edgar Paul Magro, they lectured for successive years at Inalco. This collaboration was established in the context of the establishment of AIDA, Association Internationale de Dialectologie Arabe.

Adrian Grima was invited to INALCO by LACNAD, the Department of Languages and Cultures of North Africa and the Diasporas, to teach a course called “Initiation au maltais” to third year students. His lectures focused both on the history and the constituent elements of Maltese language and literature and on the ways in which they have been developing in recent years. Materials used in the unit ranged from a recording of the “Cantilena”, the oldest text in Maltese language and literature, to songs by Walter Micallef (“In-Nofsinhar”) and Plato’s Dream Machine (“Int”).

The collaboration between the Department of Maltese and INALCO continues in May with a round table conference on oral traditions to be held in Malta. One of the main speakers will be Prof. Mourad Yelles.

Dr Adrian Grima’s 17-day teaching assignment at Inalco was partly funded by the EU staff mobility programme Erasmus+.



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