Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Published by the Malta Historical Society]. 5(1971)4(355)
[p.355] DAVID MARSHALL, History of the Maltese Language in Local Education, Malta University Press, 1971, pp. vii, 128.
The first language of a country and the education of its citizens are largely interdependent. A country which tries to do away with its native language in the system of local education, cannot attain to great heights and wide expansion in the fields of thought and action. Culture in general, self respect, prestige, personal and national development in all kinds of fields depend considerably on the part played by the first language of a nation in the system of education.
In his monograph History of the Maltese Language in Local Education, Dr. David Marshall traces the parallel progress of both language and education in Malta since Vassalli's first efforts down to our times. It is true. The emphasis is on the Maltese language. "The purpose of this work," says the Author, "is to look at the history of the Maltese language not from a linguistic point of view . . . but from two other related points of view: first, its vicissitudes in the extension of its use from that of a just national language, which it has been for centuries, to that of an official language also, which it has only relatively recently become; and second ,and more important, its course as a language deemed worthy of being taught and studied both in schools and at University level." (p. 1) But, as a matter of fact, the ups and downs of the Maltese language redounded to the credit or disadvantage of local education.
The author rightly remarks that "The history of Maltese scholarship may ... be said to begin with Mikiel Anton Vassalli . . . Born in 1764, he was in some ways a man born ahead of his time . . . '' (p. 2) And later on he adds: "To Vassalli therefore, is due the distinction and credit of being the first teacher to try to introduce the study of Maltese, and though he was perhaps unaware of it, his attitude was founded on sound educational principles." (p. 3) Due note is also given to John Hookham Frere, the man who sympathized with Vassalli and even helped him in his studies and in his financial difficulties.
The author traces also the most relevant sections of Reports and Papers issued from time to time by Commissioners, Committees or individuals. He examines the facts stated there, the suggestions done and the fulfilment or the laying aside of such proposals. This important study begins with the Commissioners' Reports of 1838 and ends with Mr. D. Crichton-Miller's Report on Education in Malta (1957) and the Report of the Commission of the Royal University of Malta (July, 1957).
In the last section of his monograph, the author studies the present situation at the various levels, that is, at the Primary School, the Lyceum, The Girls' Grammar Schools, the Secondary Technical Schools, the Private [p.356] Schools, the Men's Training College, the Women's Training College and the University. This section, although actually a short one, gives an overall picture of the present state of the teaching of Maltese and its share in education.
The monograph has three appendixes. Appendix 'A' gives the Sections 50 and 57 of the Constitution Letters Patent of 1921, together with the proposed amendments. Appendix 'B' gives a selection of Maltese syllabuses at different levels. Appendix 'C' gives a brief description of the actual state of Maltese in six private schools. This appendix helps to give a general impression of the teaching of Maltese in private schools.
Dr. Marshall has surely succeeded in giving a comprehensive but clear idea of the birth and growth of the Maltese language in local education. His study proves the assertion he made at the end of his monograph that "A good educational system is the basis of any civilized community; and the basis of that education must be the teaching of the native tongue." (p. 99). Maltese now is in its legitimate place in the system of education.