|Article Title: Mikiel Anton Vassalli – the father of the Maltese Language|
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Some described him as a great patriot, while others said that he was an important revolutionist, but the best words that describe better Mikiel Anton Vassalli surely are the first Maltese dialectologist for the Maltese language. This is why he is mostly known as the father of the Maltese language.
Having lived in a turbulent period of the Maltese history with the final years of the Knights of St. John, the French period and the British rule, and also being exposed to what was happing around in Europe; Vassalli had great ambitions for his country.
He had a vision that the civil and moral education of the Maltese people at the time could only be attained through their native language. This is why he fought very hard for the opening of new schools, which at the time, were very scarce in order for Maltese people to learn their language and improve their social situation which was in a precarious state.
Mikiel Anton Vassalli was born on the 5th March 1764 to a very poor family and lost his father at the tender age of two. From a young age it was very clear that he had a promising future. At the age of 21, he attended the school of Arabic in Valletta.
It seems that later on Vassalli showed interest to attend the seminary as a day student however he wasn’t accepted. This leads to one of the riddles related to Vassalli’s life about whether he was intended for priesthood or not. Three years later, in July 1788 he lectured Oriental Liturgy and Syro-Chaldaic at the University of the Sapienza, in Italy. The second riddle associated to Vassalli’s life is how come he ended up in Italy when he hardly had any money. There are a lot of theories, however these riddles remain unsolved.
It was during this time that he published three important works of great value to the Maltese language. These were: L-Alfabett Malti – a book about the Maltese alphabet (1790), Il-Milsen – a Maltese grammar book in Latin (1791) and Ktieb il-Kliem Malti – a Maltese Latin Italian dictionary (1796).
After returning back to Malta, Vassalli felt that the Order of St. John wasn't doing enough to improve the living situation of the Maltese people. With this in mind, he wrote a letter to the Grandmaster asking him to stop the fighting with the Moslems, to open the Maltese harbours for commerce with all countries and to introduce a branch for Maltese wishing to become knights.
This letter lead him in trouble as it didn’t go well with the Order. Afterwards, Vassalli joined up in the league with the Jacobites in the hope that the Maltese Islands would be taken away from the Order. Unfortunately the plot was uncovered and he went to prison from where, it is said, he escaped and went to live in France. How he managed to do this is still a mystery. During the French period in Malta, Vassalli returned back to Malta only to end up in trouble once again after being labelled as a suspect in a revolt. He went once more to prison and later on lived in exile for 20 years in Tunes and France.
Vassalli returned back to Malta in 1820 for the last time. He taught the French language for a while and later on was appointed as a Professor in the Maltese language. During the last years of his life, he also wrote other books about the Maltese language such as the Maltese grammar in Italian (1827) and a book of Maltese Proverbs (1828). During this period, he ended up in trouble once again after doing the Maltese translation of the Scriptures without asking for the permission of the Catholic authorities. This work was published after his death.
Mikiel Anton Vassalli died on the 12th January 1829; after being seriously ill for about a year. It is a true pity that is known exactly where he was buried, although some believe that this took place in the Protestant cemetery, even though he didn't have a Protestant belief. Today, the Maltese people benefit from Vassalli’s great inheritance in relation to his passion for the Maltese language and his work in the social sphere.
Brincat, J. (2000), Il-Malti – Elf Sena ta’ Storja, Pin – Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza, Malta
Ciappara F. (2009), A Prelimary Report of M. A. Vassalli, http://fr.facebook.ca/notes.php?id=44670168051, Malta
Janet Mallia is a full-time English-Maltese freelance translator; one of the few in Malta. She used to work as a Quality Control Editor responsible for the Maltese translations for an international translation agency. Her articles and write-ups were published in Maltese newspapers and international sites.
Her website is www.themaltesetranslator.com
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org