Mal­tese aca­demics not con­sulted about Mal­tese lan­guage law amend­ments

Not every­one be­lieves that the Mal­tese lan­guage is a unique her­itage that we need to cher­ish and pre­serve. The Peru­vians are very proud of their an­ces­tor’s lan­guage, the Quechua, which is spo­ken by a cou­ple of mil­lion peo­ple in Latin Amer­ica and which the

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Gabriel Schem­bri

Pro­posed amend­ments in the Mal­tese Lan­guage law might cause the Mal­tese Lan­guage Coun­cil to have a ma­jor­ity of non-aca­demics caus­ing se­ri­ous de­ci­sions to be voted in favour or against by rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are not ex­perts in Mal­tese.

This is the ma­jor con­cern ex­pressed by Olvin Vella, from the Mal­tese Lan­guage Academy, who spoke to The Malta In­de­pen­dent about the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter’s pro­pos­als. He ex­plains that if these changes are ap­proved, the Mal­tese Lan­guage Coun­cil might be se­verely weak­ened.

To Dr Vella’s knowl­edge, Min­is­ter Evarist Bar­tolo did not ex­plain the real rea­sons be­hind this change which will see the Coun­cil grow from 11 mem­bers to 13.

But the change will cause the aca­demics, those ex­perts and who work on a daily ba­sis on the Mal­tese lan­guage, to be in a mi­nor­ity.

In the in­ter­view, which fea­tures in to­day’s edition of The Malta In­de­pen­dent on pages 6 and 7, Dr Vella ex­plains the hard work that the Mal­tese Lan­guage Coun­cil has car­ried out in re­cent years and ex­presses his be­wil­der­ment at the Min­is­ter’s in­sis­tence to carry on with the changes.

Dr Vella also in­sists that Evarist Bar­tolo failed to con­sult with the Coun­cil be­fore com­ing up with the pro­posed amend­ments and said that he and his col­leagues heard of this through the me­dia.

If these changes are ap­proved, the Mal­tese Lan­guage Coun­cil might be se­verely weak­ened

You are ob­ject­ing strongly to Min­is­ter Evarist Bar­tolo’s pro­posed amend­ments to the Lan­guage Act. Are you op­posed to any changes what­so­ever?

The Mal­tese Lan­guage Act was set up 10 years ago and it is only nat­u­ral that some changes would be needed from time to time so as to en­able the Coun­cil to carry out its func­tion bet­ter. What I can­not un­der­stand is the du­bi­ous rea­sons be­hind changes which are not needed, and which do not em­anate from ei­ther the Pub­lic Fo­rum or the re­port of the Com­mit­tee, both of which were or­dered by Min­is­ter Bar­tolo him­self.

No. The min­istry never ap­proached us or the Na­tional Coun­cil be­fore launch­ing its sham pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion about the Lan­guage Law and the Coun­cil. We only heard about it from the evening news bul­letin.

We protested with the Min­is­ter, he apol­o­gised for the gaffe, and promised to hold a Pub­lic Fo­rum about the Coun­cil, as stip­u­lated in the Lan­guage Law. How­ever, the Pub­lic Fo­rum was only a fresh oc­ca­sion for the Min­is­ter to add in­sult to in­jury. At the end of a Fo­rum in which all the floor (more than 200 per­sons) ap­plauded the Coun­cil’s work, Min­is­ter Bar­tolo in his clos­ing speech, rather than com­pli­ment­ing the Coun­cil for all its hard and un­paid ef­forts over the last 10 years, dis­mayed his lis­ten­ers by an­nounc­ing that he would ap­point a Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil to carry out the “needed” re­form in the Lan­guage Act.

By this time it was crys­tal clear that what Min­is­ter Bar­tolo was af­ter was not what both the Pub­lic Fo­rum or his Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee would sug­gest, and that both were noth­ing more than scape­goats to feign pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

Clearly, it was not. In Mal­tese we say Min tafu tis­taqsix għalih (You don’t need to ask about some­one you know well enough). In fact, we were proved right. Apart from a cou­ple of mi­nor changes, Min­is­ter Bar­tolo’s most se­ri­ous pro­posed amend­ments to the Lan­guage Act and to the com­po­si­tion of the Coun­cil are to­tally new and were never sug­gested by ei­ther the Mal­tese pub­lic at the Fo­rum or the mem­bers of the Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee. They are changes that have no other source but the Min­is­ter’s un­de­clared projects for the Mal­tese Lan­guage, and which are not shared by any of the six main in­sti­tu­tions pro­mot­ing Mal­tese. We sim­ply can­not have a Min­is­ter tram­pling over all pub­lic and ex­pert opin­ions to achieve his un­de­clared goals.

But what ex­actly do you dis­agree with in the pro­posed changes?

The Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee had sug­gested the in­clu­sion in the Coun­cil of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Trans­la­tion De­part­ment at the Univer­sity of Malta, a mem­ber of the Broad­cast­ing Au­thor­ity, and an­other one rep­re­sent­ing the pub­lish­ers. On the other hand, two aca­demics

We can­not have a Min­is­ter tram­pling over all pub­lic and ex­pert opin­ions to achieve his un­de­clared goals.

which were heads of tech­ni­cal com­mit­tees have lost their seat. This means that in­stead of 11 mem­bers, the Coun­cil would be made up of 12.

So why does the amend­ment say that the Coun­cil would have 13 mem­bers, not 12?

That is be­cause the Min­is­ter de­cided to in­clude an­other mem­ber from the Na­tional Book Coun­cil. The Com­mit­tee was against such a nom­i­na­tion.

What is the prob­lem with hav­ing 13 mem­bers in­stead of 12?

It is not the num­ber of mem­bers in the Coun­cil that mat­ters, but the qual­ity of their cre­den­tials, their qual­i­fi­ca­tions and their abil­ity to per­form the Coun­cil’s terms of ref­er­ence.

So far, the Lan­guage Law guar­an­teed that 7 of the 11 Coun­cil mem­bers, that is the ma­jor­ity, would be qual­i­fied schol­ars of Mal­tese. This bal­ance as­sured the pub­lic that the Coun­cil’s de­ci­sions would be sound and ef­fec­tive. No won­der our Par­lia­ment voted unan­i­mously in favour of such a sound setup.

If the pro­posed changes were to go through, this will no longer be the case. Nec­es­sar­ily qual­i­fied mem­bers – and I mean, qual­i­fied in the Mal­tese lan­guage, let alone any ad­di­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions – will be in a mi­nor­ity, and ex­actly six out of the 13 Coun­cil mem­bers. How can Min­is­ter Bar­tolo as­sure us that his pro­posed Coun­cil would take sound de­ci­sions re­gard­ing our mother tongue when qual­i­fied per­sons will be in a mi­nor­ity?

Un­for­tu­nately not. The Mal­tese Coun­cil op­er­ates through a small num­ber of Tech­ni­cal Com­mit­tees. Any­one will re­alise the im­por­tance of hav­ing the best qual­i­fied per­sons at the helm of these sen­si­tive Com­mit­tees. That is why the present Lan­guage Law stip­u­lates that nom­i­na­tions for these po­si­tions should be in the hand of the Akkademja tal-Malti and the De­part­ment of Mal­tese at the Univer­sity, which are con­sid­ered as the most re­li­able de­pos­i­to­ries of re­search on the Mal­tese Lan­guage.

In the pro­posed amend­ments, these two bod­ies have been re­lieved of this im­por­tant func­tion, which is be­ing passed to any 5 Coun­cil mem­bers... pos­si­bly five of the seven un­qual­i­fied mem­bers in its fold! That is why we in­sist that this is strictly a mat­ter of Qual­ity!

Why would the gov­ern­ment, or in this case the Min­is­ter, be in­ter­ested in weak­en­ing the qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity of the Coun­cil?

We can only in­no­cently hope that the Min­is­ter just did not do his home­work well enough when cal­cu­lat­ing the checks and bal­ances within the Coun­cil.

But – in the light of these ob­sti­nate and harm­ful propo­si­tions – can we be blamed to sus­pect that these are only the first steps to­wards what Min­is­ter Bar­tolo had de­clared not so many years ago in Par­lia­ment (Oc­to­ber 2011), when he sug­gested that our na­tional lan­guage be con­sid­ered like any other foreign lan­guage in our schools at all lev­els?

Why is lan­guage re­form such a con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject?

His­tory and ex­pe­ri­ences from around the world have shown us that ev­ery lan­guage change stirs a hot de­bate. It’s nor­mal and healthy. At univer­sity, I teach a sub­ject called ‘Lan­guage Plan­ning’ and one part of it is about or­tho­graphic re­form. When you study this, you will no­tice that in some cases, these changes have brought about rev­o­lu­tions. In Ger­many, an or­tho­graphic re­form brought with it con­sti­tu­tional crises. It can get that ab­surd.

What con­cerns me is that the coun­cil has man­aged to cre­ate this har­mony be­tween these or­gan­i­sa­tions which have the Mal­tese lan­guage at heart, and cer­tain de­ci­sions might weaken all this hard work.

The min­istry never ap­proached us or the Na­tional Coun­cil be­fore launch­ing its sham pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion about the Lan­guage Law and the Coun­cil. We only heard about it from the evening news bul­letin.

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