Kaxxi fuq kaxxi, miksijin bl-għabra, jistennew is-sekondiera tagħmel ir-ronda tagħha. Is-sekondi jsiru minuti. Isiru sigħat. Ġranet. Xhur. Snin sħaħ. Deċennji, sewwasew.
Il-Prof. Edward Fenech wirithom mingħand il-Prof. Ġużè Aquilina, imma ġara li l-kaxxi u ta’ ġo fihom ingħataw il-ġenb għal ħafna żmien. Parti ġmielha mill-istorja lingwistika u kulturali tagħna konna bil-mod il-mod qed nitilfuha minn taħt imneħirna.
Mistura fil-kaxxi nstabu r-reel-to-reels li l-Prof. Aquilina, missier il-Lingwistika Maltija, kien uża biex jimmortala l-ilħna bil-kisra djalettali ta’ bosta kelliema minn lokalitajiet differenti f’Malta u Għawdex.
Illum, kulma jmur qed nagħrfu u napprezzaw il-ġmiel ta’ mużajk li jsawru d-djaletti tal-gżejjer Maltin. Iżda, sa ftit snin ilu, min jitkellem bid-djalett aktarx li kien jitqies ta’ klassi baxxa. Ħtija tal-preġudizzju, xi wħud ippruvaw jinfatmu minn dan l-aspett ewlieni tal-identità kulturali tagħhom. Il-preżenza tad-djalett qajl qajl bdiet tiddgħajjef. In-nies tħalltu fiż-żwieġ, u magħhom tħalltet il-lingwa. Min mar joqgħod f’raħal ieħor kien espost għal djalett differenti, u t-tfal bdew imorru l-iskola u jitgħallmu l-Malti standard, ‘il-pulit’, sajjem minn xi karatteristiċi li jżewqu t-taħdit.
Il-Prof. Aquilina minn kmieni għaraf li ħaġa daqstant sabiħa ma kellniex nerħuha tiżolqilna minn idejna (jew ħalqna f’dan il-każ), u fis-snin sittin u sebgħin, irħielha lejn xi rħula Maltin u Għawdxin, idur bir-reel-to-reel recorder, jitħaddet man-nies dwarhom infushom, dwar is-snajja’ tagħhom, u dwar it-tradizzjonijiet li wirtu bil-fomm u bl-id. Bil-mikrofonu kien qed jaqbad il-ħsejjes u l-forom tad-djaletti, imma mhux biss. Ma’ kull intervista, kien qed jiddokumenta stil ta’ għajxien li llum jinħass tant ’il bogħod. Bl-għajnuna ta’ Benedikt Isserlin mill-Università ta’ Leeds ġabar 92 audio file b’madwar 50 siegħa taħdit djalettali, mhux kollu tal-istess kwalità. Bil-materjal miġbur, Aquilina u Isserlin fl-1981 ħarġu pubblikazzjoni li tittratta elementi fonoloġiċi tad-djaletti. Daqs tletin sena wara, John Paul Grima sema’ l-audio files wieħed wieħed, u b’reqqa kbira ddokumenta u kkataloga l-ħidma fit-teżina tal-Baċellerat tiegħu.
Fost l-ilħna li ltaqa’ magħhom Aquilina, hemm tal-iskarpan mill-Għarb, li, hu u jmertel il-ġild, jispjega l-proċess tal-ħjūta bl-aktar ġild fin Ingliż. Tħaddet mal-għaġġiena mix-Xagħra, li tispjega kif ħobża titwieled mid-dqiq, tingħaġen u tinħadem sakemm issib ruħha fuq it-tilar, lesta biex tinħema. Tkellem mar-raħħala Żurriqija fuq kif iġġiżż in-nagħġa biex tħaffilha s-suf, fuq nagħġa żgħira li għad ma kellhiex ħaruf (għabura), u n-nagħġa li qatt ma kellha (ħawlija). Skopra kif ix-Xlukkajri jaħslu l-ħwejjeġ bl-ilma salmastru fil-Fawwara tal-Ħasselin, u sema’ kif tinħadem u titħejjet il-bizzilla f’Ta’ Sannat, skont il-bixra li l-lingwa tieħu f’kull post.
Dan il-materjal prezzjuż inżamm f’kaxxi li maż-żmien għoddhom intesew. Kien b’kumbinazzjoni li wara ħafna snin ir-reel-to-reels sabu ruħhom fl-istudio ta’ Anthony Baldacchino. U minn hemm, fuq l-inizzjattiva tal-Prof. Alexandra Vella, beda l-proċess biex il-materjal maħżun fihom jiġi ddiġitalizzat. Xejn ma kien faċli li l-kontenut tar-reel-to-reels l-antiki jinqaleb f’format diġitali. Illum, l-ilħna tal-imgħoddi f’dan il-format, ftit ftit qed jittellgħu fil-portal tar-riċerka malti.mt, li d-Dipartiment tal-Malti se jniedi fix-xhur li ġejjin, ħalli jkunu aċċessibbli għall-istudjużi u għal kull min għandu interess fid-djaletti, is-snajja’ tradizzjonali, u b’mod ġenerali l-ħajja fl-ewwel snin ta’ wara l-Indipendenza.
Bis-saħħa ta’ dan il-proġett, ikkoordinat mill-Prof. Alexandra Vella, il-Prof. Ray Fabri u Dr Michael Spagnol, dan il-felli tal-istorja tagħna jista’ jitgawda mill-pubbliku u jiġi studjat mir-riċerkaturi ħalli nifhmu aħjar il-qagħda lingwistika tant rikka fil-gżejjer żgħar tagħna. Għax dawn l-ilħna jsawru ħolqa f’katina li tixhed li, għalkemm minn fuqhom m’għaddewx aktar minn ħamsin sena, il-ħsejjes, ir-rakkonti, l-għerf u d-drawwiet li fihom inewlulna pinzellati minn ħajja li m’ilha xejn imma ilha ħafna.
In formal art instruction, especially in contemporary art, the human body is but a mere shape and structure. Tina Mifsud’s latest series of paintings, collectively titled Plajja, takes the trope and turns it on its head. She uses forms not to create the perfect aesthetic, but to address issues of insecurity.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your best friend? Is it the way they wear their socks up to their knees? Is it their long curly hair that seems to have a character of its own? Abigail Galea speaks to linguist Prof. Charles Briffa about the use of nicknames in Malta’s communities.
Experiences feed into our language choices.
‘Your choice of words can tell a whole story about you,’ says Prof. Charles Briffa, a linguist, researcher, and author who studies language beyond its communicative role.
Briffa looks at words and phrases as a way to understand those who speak them. ‘I see language as a reflection of people’s minds—their way of thinking, their values and priorities in life, the opinions they have, and their interpretation of the world,’ he says.
In one of his most recent publications, Il-Laqmijiet Karkariżi fil-Kultura Maltija, Briffa explores the nature of nicknames (laqmijiet in Maltese) in our communities. Commissioned by the Birkirkara Local Council, it is a collection of all the nicknames he could find for the locality.
Discussing the early use of nicknames, Briffa says they were customary for those going into battle. Warriors would choose a name for themselves and with it, a narrative of what they brought to the battlefield. ‘Our names have our identities wrapped up in them. By only making their nickname known in battle, they believed the enemy would have less power over them.’
Briffa talks about primitive man’s belief that the name was a vital portion of the self—a distinct part of man’s personality. People also believed that they could be harmed by the malicious handling of their name. And so they often hid their real names to protect themselves from evil-disposed persons who might injure their owners. The nickname was used to make this possible. Everyone could use it freely and divulge it to anyone since it held no ‘real’ part of the person it belonged to and so would not endanger their safety.
Over time, nicknames evolved into something more social. A nickname was given to you by others in your community, usually based on a trait you possessed, your job, or an experience you had been through. It became a means of describing you as a distinct individual.
For Briffa’s book, an electoral register from the early 1930s proved to be a critical source of information. He also posted about his research on a Facebook group called Muża Karkariża, asking people to give him nicknames they knew about, as well as the explanations or stories behind them. The response was astounding.
Suggestions and stories from the community came pouring in. Often Briffa needed to go through them carefully and conduct his own research. People did not always differentiate fact from hearsay. Other times, they just did not realise certain words were linked,. Take the nickname ‘Paxaxa’. No one seemed to realise that it was an alternative form of paċaċa (a Maltese vulgarity meaning ‘incompetent’ or ‘silly’).
On other occasions, Briffa encountered nicknames with numerous origins. Briffa noted everything he found; ‘I felt I had no authority to choose which was right and which was wrong.’ For example, ‘Tal-Minfuħa’ can refer to physical appearance, since minfuħa means ‘blown up’ in Maltese, but could also refer to personality, since minfuħa can mean that someone is arrogant.
After collecting all these stories, Briffa also looked into the etymology of the words. ‘Some of the names I found had unknown roots. I couldn’t find anything about them in Maltese dictionaries. In those cases, I would go back to Sicilian and Arabic dictionaries to find possible meanings.’ Some nicknames remained elusive. Briffa says he still can’t find the roots of the nickname ‘id-Didunna’. But in successful attempts, Briffa would ‘re-discover’ lost words—an occurrence that gives him joy and motivation.
This ‘linguistic archeology’ is important, Briffa tells us. It links us to an older Maltese culture, reconstructing what language and society sounded like in the past. ‘Ideally every locality would support such publications since they preserve cultural and linguistic wealth. More so, they preserve Maltese identity.’
What would you do if you were stripped of your words? If speech simply didn’t come to you? Sylvan Abela writes about MaltAAC, an Augmentative and Alternative Communication App for the Maltese Language.
While speech development starts early in life, the course of acquiring and processing language in a bilingual country like Malta is challenging. Engineers and language experts at the University of Malta have teamed up to build a toy that will help children overcome that hurdle. Words by Emanuel Balzan.
Toys and play are critical in children’s lives. It is through play that children learn how to interact with their environment and other people while developing their cognitive, speech, language, and physical skills.
The way children play reveals many things including whether or not they are hitting particular development milestones. Play is also used by professionals who intervene when those skills are not acquired. Speech and language pathologists (SLP) use toys to tailor tasks based on their objectives for the child, determined following their assessment. For this reason, toys are vital tools.
With technology moving at the rate it is, electronic components are easier and cheaper to access. As a result, a lot of smart, educational toys are now available on the market. However, Dr Ing. Philip Farrugia (Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, UM) honed in on a gap in the market—a smart toy that supports English and Maltese.
To make this happen, Farrugia recruited a team of researchers from the university. Engineers Prof. Simon Fabri and Dr Owen Casha joined the effort. Researchers Prof. Helen Grech and Dr Daniela Gatt brought their expertise in speech and language acquisition and disorders. The team was finally complete when game development company Flying Squirrel Games stepped into the picture.
Getting down to business
The SPEECHIE project is divided into three stages. During the first phase, we sought to understand the process of speech and language acquisition, assessment, and therapy. We involved users through workshops that allowed us to observe children’s play and their toy preferences. We also conducted focus groups with parents to identify what they most wanted from toys. During these sessions, one parent noted how ‘there are not any [educational] toys in Maltese our little ones can play and interact with.’ Others agreed with this observation. Parents also raised concerns about children’s attraction to tablets and smartphones, noting how they interfered with social interaction. On the tail end of this discussion, one parent quickly added that ‘the toy must have something to make it feel like a toy and not a gadget.’
With further questioning, we also came to realise that different parents have different criteria when deciding to buy a toy. One parent told us that before buying a toy for her daughter, she would ‘try to see for how long she will play with it and what the toy will give her in return.’ Another parent, concerned about toys’ safety, checks for the CE mark (Conformité Européene) prior to purchasing the toy, saying that he associates the mark with better quality. However, he also confessed that ‘in the hands of children, nothing remains of quality. Give them something which is unbreakable and they will manage to break it in one way or another.’
Since our toy is intended for use in speech therapy, we went ahead and organised more focus groups with SLPs. Outlining the role of toys in their clinics, SLPs said ‘[they] are normally used as a reward. If you know that this child likes blocks, then you use them to motivate the child.’ Toys are also used as part of the language tasks SLPs give. ‘We use objects to put a grammatical structure in a sentence. Many times you find something that represents a noun, a verb, an object and then put them together’ to model the appropriate sentence construction. This prolific use of toys, however, brings with it a very practical problem. One SLP explained how challenging things can get on a day-to-day basis due to the lack of multipurpose toys. ‘We are always carrying toys… we are always carrying things around with us. Even our cars… it is like I have ten kids,’ she said.
To address this issue, SLPs emphasised how useful it would be to have a flexible toy with multiple functions. One that does not bore children and which they can use to target different speech and language therapy goals. They also drew our attention to a prevalent but damaging mentality that they are trying to address. ‘Unfortunately, the majority of Maltese parents have a mentality that the more money they spend and the more therapy sessions for their children, the sooner the problem is alleviated, but in reality this is not true. The work needs to continue at home on a daily basis. It is not solely our responsibility,’ the SLP said. Much like when we practice daily to learn to play an instrument, speech and language therapy works the same way.
Sharon Borg, an experienced occupational therapist from the government’sAccess to Communication and Technology Unit, said that the toy we had in mind could provide a simple way for parents to engage with their children and work at home on related exercises. Borg’s colleague, Ms May Agius, also noted the need for the toy to offer ‘surprises’, saying that ‘anticipation and elements of surprise draw kids and keep them engaged.’
Here we have only touched the surface of all the ideas brought forth. However, by considering the children’s, therapists’, and parents’ needs early in the engineering design process, we should be able to reduce the number of design iterations we have in future.
Design is key. Based on the feedback from the focus groups, we have now started working on the hardware and the software. But the journey is not straightforward. One issue we needed to deal with was the lack of compatibility between the 3D modelling software Flying Squirrel Games used and the technology used by the UM. From an academic point of view, because of the innovative nature of the toy we are making, we needed flexibility, so we modified Flying Squirrel’s virtual model to add different mechanisms which involve moving parts. These alterations now allow us to create support to fix electronic components within the device and ensure that no moving part is impeded by another part. As a result, assembly is much easier.
We have also made the decision to build SPEECHIE software using modular blocks. This will enable us to switch parts and functions around so we can widen the idea of who might enjoy our product. The toy will not only be of use to children with speech and language impairments, but also to others. This approach was inspired by a meeting with behavioural economist Dr Marie Briguglio who warned us that labelling the toy could be stigmatising. She explained that it should not become ‘an isolated toy which kind of becomes a label: because I have this toy, that means I have speech impairment.’
Despite the aversion some parents felt towards technological devices, as said during focus groups, Borg also encouraged us not to shy away from using them. She said children with autism responded very well to technology, and therapists will make the best choice for the child to improve their skills. To hit a sweet spot in between these views, we are incorporating functions that will allow for a kinesthetic learning experience that involves physical activities rather than passive consumption of instructions. We want to mix different modes of play to encourage effective learning. We do not want kids to sit and watch their toy, but to move around, dance, and sing with other children.
With all of these choices under our belt, we now have a working prototype. But the SPEECHIE toy is not yet complete. In fact, the coming months will see us working on the mechanisms and the interfacing of electronics.
Towards the end of the year, we will start putting the toy into preschoolers’ hands to determine its effectiveness and efficiency in regard to speech and language therapy. To do this, we will compare the progress of children who use SPEECHIE with those who only use traditional SLP methods.
What we hope is that this toy will encourage parent-and-child interaction through play. We want to enable more frequent use of both Maltese and English and allow children to be safely exposed to technology and to a fantastic learning experience—all while having a ball.
Note: We are excited to share these insights about SPEECHIE with the public, and if you would be interested in joining on this journey by participating in the evaluations, get in touch here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Think of a chubby guy you know. It’s been awhile since I read J.K. Rowling’s books but the image of Harry Potter’s Uncle, Vernon Dursley, just popped into my mind. OK. Now how would you describe him in Maltese? Would you use imbaċċaċ or qawwi? Would you choose kbir, tqil, goff or matnazz? Or maybe you’re given to more flowery language and would instead go for qisu l-vara l-kbira, donnu katuba or qisu ħanżir imsemmen? If these nine expressions all happen to have a place in your vocabulary, then you’re on the right track. Before I started my research, I didn’t know there were at least 37 alternatives you could consider before reverting to the default oħxon!
The main aim of my work over the last three years—Il-Kompilazzjoni ta’ teżawru tematiku Malti dwar in-natura tal-bniedem u r-relazzjonijiet soċjali tiegħu,supervised by Prof. Manwel Mifsud—has been to compile a Maltese-to-Maltese thematic thesaurus. This would not only help users find alternatives to the words and phrases they already know, but also to act as a ‘word prompter’ that would enable people to better express themselves when a specific word eludes them.
To help people speak or write better in Maltese, this thesaurus is not structured alphabetically, but rather has a thematic macrostructure. The six themes it covers are: 1.Il-familja u l-ħbieb (family and friends); 2. Il-ġisem u l-kura tiegħu (the body and its care); 3. Id-deskrizzjoni fiżika (physical description); 4. Id-deskrizzjoni tal-karattru (character description); 5. Is-sentimenti u l-emozzjonijiet (sentiments and emotions); and 6. Il-fażijiet tal-ħajja (life’s phases). Each theme is further organised into sub-themes, allowing users to drill down to the headword they need, a sentence that illustrates its use, and a group of synonyms, tagged whenever necessary to indicate archaic words or idioms among other examples.
Even if the advantages of using a thematic thesaurus outweigh those of using an alphabetically organised one, I kept renowned lexicographer Sidney I. Landau’s position in mind: ‘Alphabet is the only sure way of arranging words.’ Consequently, I gave the user a back entry to this thematic thesaurus through an exhaustive alphabetic index that includes around 12,000 entries.
The thesaurus will be published by Merlin Publishers, and we also want to make it available online to encourage widespread use.
Author: Dwayne Ellul
This research was carried out as part of M.A. in Maltese, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta.
A historical discovery does not always equal the unearthing of new documents or artefacts. Sometimes it’s about re-evaluating what we already know. Prof. Victor Mallia-Milanes tells Tuovi Mäkipere more.
L-għ is a thoughtful, innovative, and interactive exhibition. The reaction it provokes is from the very base of the senses and is the first final year project exhibition from BFA in Digital Arts degree students organised by the Department of Digital Arts, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences.
The exhibitors chose an intriguing moniker: the most enigmatic and iconic rune in the Maltese alphabet (L-għ). Together they used it as a starting point and explored the thematic elements it connotes. The students tapped into six themes and developed twelve projects.
Despite majoring in animation or graphic design, each artist worked with a subject they discovered and developed over several months. Creativity and variety are abundant, with projects ranging from audio-visual experiments and curatorial work to interactive documentaries and highly thematic visual material. The body of research and thought behind each project sheds recognition on conceptual and creative transformations currently occurring in the practice of art and design. They shift the boundaries of art, design, and media and how they can be used together.
L-għ, the Degree Exhibition of the BFA in Digital Arts (Department of Digital Arts, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta). Artists: Ramon Azzopardi, Matthew Calleja, Caroline Curmi, Darryl Farrugia, Danika Muscat, Angele Pollacco, Lucrezia Rapa, Pascale Spiteri, Michelle Trapani, Siobhan Vassallo, Matthew Vella and Ryan Zammit Pawley.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have increased dramatically in the last few decades. Famous for causing global warming, CO2 is also resulting in the acidification of seas and oceans. This disturbs the rich life of the marine ecosystem, which affects human communities dependent on this environment for their livelihood. For islands like Malta and Gozo, this problem is particularly important. This ‘silent crisis’ has attracted the X-prize Competition organisers who have set a $2 million dollar prize to be awarded to anyone that can develop stable, inexpensive, and precise acidity (pH) sensors to help understand the acidification of marine environments. At the same time, a European COST initiative (Supramolecular Chemistry in Water) is encouraging the design of water-soluble molecules which can recognise analytes. Most chemical sensors do not perform well in water.Continue reading