Walking the narrow streets of our charming little island, you’re likely to hear certain words exclaimed quite frequently. Whenever a Maltese person engages in conversation, these terms will almost always manage to wiggle their way into his speech without his even noticing. Moreover, this happens regardless of the language spoken – since Maltese tend to code-switch between Maltese and English. Below are some of the most popular Maltese words and phrases (note that, in Maltese, the letter "j" is pronounced much like an English "y") that you are sure to come across!
This one is on the tip of pretty much everyone’s tongue. An odd term the connotation of which changes depending on how you say it, mela can mean anything from “sure” to “no way.” Sometimes it is uttered with such force that its message is clearly “Well, DUH.” Pay attention to the speaker’s tone, facial expressions, and hand gestures, as they should make it easier to decipher the particular mela you’re dealing with.
“Mela, I know about the test coming up, and I heard it’s really easy!”
This is basically the Maltese – and much whinier – version of “Oh, come on.” You’ll hear the expression from someone who is shocked, unconvinced, or trying to be persuasive. Here, again, tone of voice and mannerisms are crucial.
“Uwejja, are you kidding me?! I had no idea that we had to submit that assignment tomorrow!”
Given that the literal translation of ajma is “ouch,” Maltese people don’t actually exclaim as much when they’re in pain. It’s used more to signify boredom or fatigue. Throw in a deep sigh for dramatic effect, and you’re in business!
*Sigh* “Ajma, I barely slept a wink last night...”
Ta’ is another versatile expression that lends itself to several uses. The closest approximation in English would probably be “Check this out,” though ta’ usually comes at the end of a sentence. (Just to confuse you further: In other contexts, “Don’t worry” would constitute a rough English-language equivalent.) Maltese people employ ta’ in virtually every other sentence. Due to the incessant need to convince one’s interlocutor of something – we Maltese can be a stubborn lot – ta’ comes in pretty handy!
“Don’t worry about the exam. It’s not that hard, ta’.”
Strictly speaking, this means nothing. However, in everyday life it can capture fear, astonishment, or awe perfectly! As it happens, maa is a paraphrase of “Mama,’’ that universal term for “mother.”
“Maa, did you see the fireworks?! A sight to behold!”
Let’s say you’re listening to a friend talk about something and want to interject with a note of affirmation – for example, “Yeah, that’s right!” Enter iwa. It may not have as much currency as the other words on this list, but it does crop up often, and is sometimes pronounced ejwa.
Okay, we admit it; this one isn’t Maltese! Orrajt is the local variant of “all right,” and has become a colloquial greeting among many Maltese. Instead of “Hi, how are you?” your Maltese friend or acquaintance might just say, “Orrajt?”
Are there any other words that those of you in Malta feel you hear at every turn? Let us know! And for those of you who want to find out what to expect once you move here and pursue your studies at AUM, do get in touch. Our staff will be more than happy to help, ta’!
Otherwise, be sure to check out AUM Live's article on the history and evolution of the Maltese language.