Language is not only a means of communication. It has, over the years, denoted class and social background due to the forces that tend to use language as a tool for influencing thought and action among the different strata of society. Looked at from the utilitarian point of view, a tool for communication does vary in appearance and expression depending on the country of origin. Hence different countries have different languages, which brings no conflict to the fore. What becomes contentious is when one particular country, Malta in this case, boasts of more than one official language, as declared by the Maltese Independence Articles of 1964. As of then both languages, Maltese and English were raised to a parity of nationalistic importance.
The debate as to what contributes how one should or should not label people according to the use of a particular language, has been a focal point for local discussion. The French occupation of Malta could be described as a catalyst to this debate. The French, even in such a short period, managed to make inroads into the overhauling of the local education system. Although short-lived, it brought forward new progressive ideas which pointed to a separation from the institutionalised use of Italian. Once the British settled in, they continued where the French had left off, with the difference that this time it was English that took up the battle with the Italianised establishment. From that day onwards, it has been a continuous struggle always referred to as the ‘language problem’.
Fast forward to the 1930s and we find that English had become a compulsory subject as from Primary Education together with Maltese, at the exclusion of Italian. With access to Secondary education being limited, the vast majority of blue-collar workers would have had access to basic Maltese and English. This was reflected in the stances taken by the political parties, where Italian was the prevailing medium used by the Partito Popolare, and which catered for the elite, the erudite and the Catholic Church. English was synonymous with the Strickland Party, which left the Workers Party advocating the wide use of the Maltese language as it’s official means of communication.
Political aspirations and interests gave the use of language a labelling effectiveness. The Nationalist Party, which historically bred upon the perception that it had the divine right to rule, eventually adopted English also as its own means. The ‘upper strata of society’ were more affluent and well-travelled, and what was regarded as class distinction through Italian now adopted English as its medium. Malta was a colony and the local leaders wanted to rub shoulders with the higher echelons of British society. Hence a proficient use of English became a must. Meanwhile the rank and file of the workers were facing dire post-war hardships. They had to lead the struggle for better conditions, and the Party that led the workers had to delve deeply into the resources for giving the Maltese a true identity. Hence the Maltese language and its use were a tool for unity and survival. And so, the labelling began with the invectives of ‘ħamalli, marmalja, etc.’ The Maltese worker was perceived as an illiterate specimen of ‘Laburist Malti’.
The Maltese worker was perceived as an illiterate specimen of ‘Laburist Malti’.
The view that the Labour Party is the party for Maltese only is as warped a view as the one that the Nationalist Party is just pro-Italian. English has become the world’s ‘lingua franca’ and with the greater majority of Maltese, from all backgrounds and walks of life, pursuing higher studies, proficiency in English has become a must.
Further to this, the Labour Party was always the most progressive political movement in Maltese history on numerous fronts. It was open and sensitive to the needs of the public and listened to the voice of the people. From the introduction of Secondary Education for all to its massive advances in civil liberties, the labour party was the movement that catered for the building and maintaining of our country. A party that has always considered the foundations and the future. A party for the Maltese-speaking and English-speaking.
So, how justified was the expression of horror, disbelief, incredulity, call it what you will, expressed on social media berating the initiative of the English-language platform recently launched by the Partit Laburista? Isn’t it indicative of a demeaning state of mind for someone to state that ‘il-Laburist’ can’t even read Maltese, least of all English? This attitude symbolises a warped way of thinking and analysing. It reeks of a classist attitude in a world where such class divisions, especially in the western world, have been demolished. Those who still live in the illusory world of ‘upstairs, downstairs’ need a quick reality check.
Those who still live in the illusory world of ‘upstairs, downstairs’ need a quick reality check.
One should not define political leanings by the language or intonation that it is being used. A Political Party and its followers become relevant by what they plan for the whole nation, not for sectorial purposes. Social welfare, equal opportunities, gender equality, economic welfare, inclusivity and a host of other values and policies that the Labour Party has already put into practice. Trying to gain political mileage through denigration of people and their choice of language use is as counterproductive as it is unethical. And most of all, incorrect.