Charles Briffa, Ġrajjiet il-Kliem: Koktejl Lingwistiku (Malta University Publishing, Malta, 2019)
Linguistic culture has its own journey; a journey that can exhibit either a past, experienced mind, or a modern one. We have so much heritage in the spoken and written words used by our ancestors, that in Ġrajjiet il-Kliem (i.e. The stories of words) each word has a narrative to communicate. In this book it is Maltese culture as developed by our ancestors in Malta’s past (rather than a foreign past in our islands) that is highlighted in the Maltese language. However, in this book even the present is included because since it features journeys of Maltese words it illustrates the evolution of the local culture through the ages up to present times.
Our Language’s Heritage
Certain institutionalised Maltese units tend to stir up an element of curiosity and surprise at the same time. What does the shape of our language tell us about our ancestors? What does this reveal about how our predecessors thought back in their time? As we try to explore this mentality (through Ġrajjiet il-Kliem), we can at the same time see how ancestral thought manipulated the symbols of language.
Plausible explanations are easily given to understand the make-up of the Maltese language of our predecessors. Our linguistic knowledge offers a philosophical journey which has made our ancestors human. What little investigation has been done may be very vital in order to shed some light on the thoughts and doings of those who came before us – those, that is, who were abandoned socially, politically, and educationally throughout past centuries. Despite this historic abandonment, Maltese commoners of a lower social standing have managed to preserve a vision and a mentality in the language – a spoken language which was kept alive and well, and which was preserved by subsequent generations. Unfortunately Maltese was, over the centuries, ignored by the higher classes and the various administrations.
Today’s language development also shows the Maltese way of thinking.
In this project, Prof. Briffa’s sole concern is the truth about the Maltese words. The aim is mainly to depict some of the wealth of the Maltese language especially by indicating not only the inherited aspects from the Semitic, the Romance, and English languages, but also the fact that consciousness is linked to language and that institutionalised language reveals an ancestral mentality loaded with emotive issues which are often involved in all aspects of humanity. Our predecessors are, therefore, viewed as early creators of the language.
Tracing the journey of every word that exists in the Maltese language, would require uncountable time, space, and a sizeable amount of resources for research. Due to certain limitations a researcher may experience, there needs to be hand-picking of specific terms which are enough to fully represent different aspects on researching the past. Prof Briffa hopes that with the choices he has made, he can make the readers formulate thoughts of their own with regards to our ancestors’ mentality. He hopes also that the readers can build on what he is passing on to them: they will not find fixed solutions or definite conclusions but rather points to think about.
The choice of this cultural project of Ġrajjiet il-Kliem came from the curious listeners of various radio stations – i.e. from what these people asked Prof Briffa about the language. He used to answer them after carrying out some extensive research on what they asked. Often, one term would in some way lead to another, thus giving rise to more terms and increasing the compilation.
Looking at the stories behind the words made the author reach back centuries and he wanted to shine a flashlight into the mentality of past Maltese generations. From that moment he was committed to thinking about what made our ancestors think the way they did; that is, Prof Briffa tried to discover the shape of their mind. This book, which provides seminal material for a tentative offer towards building an ancestral profile, is a continuation of Prof Briffa’s previous publication, Il-Ġrajja wara l-Kelma: Infittxu l-Imgħoddi u l-Preżent (The story behind the word: searching for the past and the present; Horizons, Malta, 2018).