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Languages as Water: Interview with Prof. Joseph M. Brincat

Interview with Prof. Joseph M. Brincat, University of Malta, Msida (2016 06 23). Prehistory of Europe, old civilizations, Maltese language and many more.

Mindaugas Peleckis
2016 m. Birželio 24 d., 16:32
Skaityta: 152 k.
Languages as Water: Interview with Prof. Joseph M. Brincat

Your book about Maltese language and its relations to other languages is not just another study of language, comparative grammar etc. This book makes a lot of interesting material. I personally am interested in Your theories about languages spreading like water system, pretty old but still not academic (?) Nostratic language system and theory of Mediterranean civilization. What could You say about those three important things? Maybe it's time to recognize that Maltese is not just a Semitic language or dialect of Arabic, but a totally different language with its rich history? Can we talk about Mediterranean civilization and languages spreading as water system as about real theories which have enough material to be proven?

First of all I thank you for your kind words. That book is the fruit of over 30 years of study of historical linguistics and the histories of the main European languages Italian, English and French. Being curious about my own language, then I applied the methodology of their various authors to the Maltese linguistic scenario.

*  The comparison of language evolution to water systems was explained by Uriel Weinreich 1953 and Vittore Pisani (1959).  I used it because it is dynamic and complements the theory of stratigraphy, which is static.

*  Nostratic and prehistoric Mediterranean civilizations are very intriguing precisely because they go very far back in time and are very difficult to prove. This makes shreds of evidence very precious.

*  Important scholars now see Maltese as a language in its own right, blending a Medieval dialect of Arabic with Romance accretions, and is being called a "peripheral" Semitic language (Alexander Borg, Martine Vanhove, and Kaye and Rosenhouse. I wouldn't call it a "totally different language" because it is actually a blend of four very well-known though distinct languages. It is the formula that constitutes tts difference to the other languages that have furnished its components over at least 1000 years.

*  The water system is actually a metaphor, that attempts to illustrate the complexity of thousands of tiny facts (words, sounds, meanings, etc.) that make up a wide and ever-changing structure. Archaeologists, linguists and antheopologists need to collaborate to add solid pieces to a vast jigsaw puzzle.

To summarize the books I've read about Maltese prehistory and my own experience in Malta and Gozo, i could say that there was a huge, interesting and unknown civilization (maybe civilizations?) in Malta and nearby. What is known for sure about it?

There is no doubt that a civilization which knew how to build with huge stones but did not know how to write is extremely intriguing.

The foremost scholars specializing in Maltese prehistory are David H Trump: The Prehistory of the Mediterranean, and Malta. Prehistory and Temples (Midsea Books, Malta) and Anthony Bonanno, Malta. Phoenician, Punic and Roman (Midsea Books). Their references will allow the reader to pursue further details.

Is Old Maltese civilization connected to Sardinian Nuragic, Cretan Minoan and other similar civilizations of Europe?

There must have been contacts, and they may even have been offshoots of the same original people, but archaeology has provided very few clues.

You mention Marija Gimbutas (Marija Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė) in Your book. As a Lithuanian i am happy to read about it. What do You think about her Mother Goddess civilization hypothesis? Are her findings important in research of Maltese and Mediterranean civilizations' researches?

I had the good fortune, as a curious student, to have attended a conference in which Marija spoke about the physical similarities of the fat goddesses and the temple structure. It did strike me as plausible then, and I haven't read any different explanation since. Of course, her main contributions deal with the origins of the Indo-European people(s).

What is and what is not a civilization? I mean, maybe some theories are already too old, and we should look wider at the world? 135 000 we had Neandarthal civilization (?), there are many megaliths in all the world, many water cults from Europe to Bali, Indonesia. Is there a thread for historians, mythologists, archeologists to gather it into one pattern (as Nostratic language system was gathered by Holger Pedersen, Vladislav Illich-Svitych, Aharon Dolgopolsky, Sergei Starostin?

Of course, the only way forward is to keep comparing the details. Only in this way can a reliable picture be composed. Pre-conceived ideas can be dangerous, but the pragmatic approach is useful.

What do You think about Baltic languages? There is a similar theory about them that they are not Balto-Slavic, but Baltic, from which Slavic languages emerged.

I am sorry to have to admit that the southern area of Europe has kept me busy enough, and I never had the time to delve into the situation further north. What I know is that comparatists often speak of Balto-Slavic, which seems to point to a common origin, but being neighbours, speakers of Baltic and Slavic may have also influenced one another's speech. When ancient texts are scarce, and do not go beyond a certain point in time, it is very difficult to obtain decisive proof.

I hope that I did not disappoint you, but I don't think that there are straightforward answers to those questions.

Best regards.

Prof Joseph M Brincat

Thank You, Sir. In was an honour.

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