Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 4(1965)2(139-140)
J. PERETTI, Les Aspects Linguistiques, Litteraires, Artistiques et Folkloriques de I'ltalianité de Malte. (Casa Editrice "Filelfo", Tolentino, 1965).
The culture of the Maltese Islands is the end-product of a long historical process of change going on under the influence of all the powers that have successively enjoyed a hegemony — cultural, military and naval — over the Central Mediterranean during the last thousand years. The Maltese countryside and language still testify to the abiding strength of Moorish influences; the traditional farmhouses, customs, proverbs and folk-tales of the Maltese farmer also point in the same direction. But in the course of the last eight centuries Catholicism must have greatly helped in largely eroding this original Semitic stratum, and, undoubtedly, from the Norman Conquest onwards until 1800 the dominant foreign influence reached Malta by way of Sicily and South Italy, so that inevitably a good deal of cultural assimilation has taken place with those countries. The Italian language, in particular, gradually became the normal language of administration, the courts, the notarial archives and, to a large extent, the Church as well. The towns and villages built or rebuilt during the administration of the Order owed much to Italian planning and architecture; church building followed Italian examples rather closely, both externally and internally, and Maltese painters, catering principally for the Church and the tastes of the upper and middle classes, also received their training in Italy.
All this and much more is made abundantly clear with a wealth of detail by Prof. Joseph Peretti in his recent book. His extensive chapters on the Italianity of Maltese literature, art (architecture, painting, sculpture and [p.140] music) and folk-lore are preceded by a good summary of Maltese history, an analysis of the influence of Italian on "the Maltese dialect", 'and the inevitable chapter on the language question. As befits a doctoral thesis for the University of Paris it is rigged out with all the usual paraphernalia of scholarship — footnotes at the end of each chapter, bibliography, etc., but it is at the same time just the. type of work to invite criticism from all those who cannot see eye-to-eye with the author on the old vexed question of Italianity versus Anglicisation in Malta. Occasionally, it must be admitted, Peretti's work exemplifies the limited point of view of those — conscientious scholars though they may be — Who stick too closely to their brief. He is,, for example, understandably but unjustifiably, inclined to minimise the influence of English thought, language and custom on our population even during the last fifty years, that is, during the .time of mass emigration to Anglo-Saxon countries like Australia, the United. States, and the United Kingdom. For him A.V. Laferla is merely an archaeologist and folklorist, and his books on British Malta do not appear in the bibliography at all. But even the most rabid critic would have to admit that Peretti's book would be found to be a most valuable work of reference — almost an encyclopaedia, in fact — on all cultural aspects of the Maltese people, thus partially filling a long-felt want of the student of local affairs.