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Title: Language and nationality in an island colony : Malta
Authors: Frendo, Henry
Keywords: Nationalism
Language and history
Group identity -- Malta
Issue Date: 1981
Publisher: Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, Inc.
Citation: Frendo, H. (1981). Language and nationality in an island colony : Malta. Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, 3(1), 22-31.
Abstract: Under the influence of thinkers such as Vico, Herder, and Fichte, we have come to accept and assume that language and culture are what make a people a nation. In his critique of nationalism, however, Kedourie described it as "a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century." Whereas in recent times nationalism has caused or served the perpetration of excesses, in the preceding century nationalist movements were in many ways inevitable, even heroic expressions of resistance to assimilation and foreign domination, attempts to reinforce cultural awareness and assert political rights. However, it is clear that no instant or static correlation exists between native languages and national cultures, or between ethnic groups and nation states. While it seems natural that a people sharing common experiences and using the same medium of communication should constitute a nation, the relationship of nationality to nationhood may be complicated by a multiplicity of factors - sectarian, social, ideological. More fundamentally, a sense of common nationality may be hindered by different religions or ethnic origins of the inhabitants of a defined .area, resulting for example in conflicting language loyalties, as in Canada. The situation appears even more perplexing when linguistic differences do not stem from perceptibly diverse racial origins, yet serve to polarize opinion in a society having common attributes. Nineteenth-century Maltese society is probably a unique example of the case in which bilingualism became a battleground in the successful quest for a national identity. Maltese nationalism rotated in time on this triple paradox: The championing; of Italian as a non-Maltese national language; the active promotion of the Maltese vernacular by the British Imperial power as a means of expunging Italian; and the gradual emergence of Maltese as a national tongue and as the prime expression of anti-British sentiments. Of Britain's Mediterranean colonies it is Malta that is socially and politically the most interesting. Neither too small, like Gibraltar, to aspire to nationhood, nor, like Cyprus, torn by ethnic-religious strife, the Island was just sufficiently sized, the native population adequately homogeneous, for an intricate language-nationality situation to develop during the period of British rule (1800-1964). “There is surely no other community in the British Commonwealth,” wrote an observer in 1937, “whose domestic disputes are entangled so inextricably with the shattering controversies which divide principalities and powers”. Unlike Tangier, Gibraltar, or the Cape, Malta was not part of a mainland, and her language-nationality conflicts must be seen in the light of her insularity and geographical location - an archipelago only 122 square miles in area, 60 miIes to the south of Sicily, and three times as distant from the North African coast.
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