It may seem surprising that a dialect of Arabic is an official language of the European Union. But travel 90km south of Sicily and the odd-sounding language of the EU’s smallest state, Malta, is exactly that. With some 450,000 native speakers, Maltese was granted official status in 2004 after the country joined the EU. Malta also belongs to the Commonwealth, which is holding a conference in its capital at the weekend; some 30 heads of government are due to arrive in Valletta, where even amid the babble in English they are likely to hear a smattering of Maltese. It is the sole survivor of the Arabic dialects spoken in Spain and Sicily in the Middle Ages and the only Semitic language written in the Latin script. When spoken, Maltese sounds like Arabic with a sprinkling of English phrases. When written it looks like Italian with a blend of some peculiar symbols. So where does modern Maltese come from?
Read more: The Economist