Header Photo: gozo-malta.com
One of the first things that visitors to Gozo notice (apart from the stunning Gozitan scenery and friendliness of the locals) is our unusual place names.
Although Maltese shares some similar-looking letters to the English alphabet, there are some unique letters and unique pronunciation. First time visitors are often surprised to find out that village names are harder to say than they had expected.
In Maltese, Gozo is known as Għawdex and pronounced Awdeshh, that’s because the Għ is silent and the x is pronounced like shh.
So, we thought it might be fun for you to have a go at pronouncing some place names on Gozo so the next time you visit for a holiday you can ask for directions properly!
The Maltese language
The Maltese language has developed over time and reflects its fascinating history. It is thought to be rooted in a form of Arabic that was spoken in Sicily and Malta between the 9th and 14th centuries. And while it went extinct in Sicily, it continued in the Maltese Islands and gradually evolved into modern day Maltese.
Other influences on the Maltese language include the Normans who ruled here in the 11th century, and the Knights Hospitaller of St John who controlled Malta from the mid 16th century up to the end of the 18th century. The knights brought with them French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Portuguese, and German.
The final linguistic ingredient was English – brought to Malta in 1800 when the British arrived. In 1964, when Malta gained independence, Maltese became the national language although English is still used in the education system.
Some basic rules of Maltese pronunciation
The Maltese language has six vowels (a, e, i, ie [pronounced ee], o, u [pronounced oo]) and 24 consonants.
The Maltese alphabet. Image credit: www.omniglot.com
Most letters sound very similar to their English letter equivalent. Like B, D, F, K, L, M, N, P, R, S and T. So the places like Nadur, Masalforn, Ramla Bay, Sannat, and San Lawrenz for instance, are very easy to say correctly.
However, there are some letters that look similar but do not sound like their English equivalents. Examples here are Ċ (sounds like chuh), Ġ (sounds like juh), J (sounds like yuh), Q (sounds like uh) X (sounds like shh) and Ż (sounds like zuh). In addition, the unique letter Ħħ sounds like huh.
So, when you first arrive on Gozo at Mġarr Harbour, it’s useful to know that the locals pronounce it Imjarr (an I goes in front of an M in Maltese, if the second letter is another consonant).
The little village of Kerċem, to the west of Gozo’s capital Victoria (Rabat), is pronounced Kerchem. You’d probably travel through the village on your way to visit Gozo’s spectacular Dwerja Bay (Dweryuh) on the island’s west coast.
And knowing how to pronounce the Ċ properly is also very helpful when you’re ordering a local beer in a bar or cafe on Gozo. Just remember to pronounce Ċisk as chisk!
One of Gozo’s ‘must-see’ attractions is the UNESCO World heritage site, the Ġgantija Temples. To say this properly it sounds more like Juhgantiyuh. The nearest village to the temple complex is Xagħra, and you should know that it is pronounced Shhara.
Gozo’s famous Ġgantija Temples (pronounced Juhgantiyuh). Photo credit: www.visitgozo.com
Other villages with names that begin with X include Xlendi, on Gozo’s south west coast, and Xewkija, famous for the magnificent Rotunda church of St John the Baptist. These are, of course, correctly pronounced Shhlendi, and Shhewkiyuh, respectively.
Munxar, near Xlendi, is correctly pronounced Munshhar and the village of Qala in Gozo’s south eastern corner is pronounced Uhala.
Watch out for the silent letters …
To further complicate things, there are two silent letters in Maltese – Għ/għ, and H.
So, the popular village of Għarb in the north west side of the island, thought to be the oldest village on Gozo, is pronounced Arb. While the beautiful Wied il-Għasri, or the Għasri Valley on Gozo’s north coast is pronounced Asri.
So… we hope that you are feeling a little more confident about pronouncing Gozo’s place names the next time you visit.
But however you say them, I’m sure we can all agree that Gozo’s villages and attractions are well worth coming to see!
Ask us for help
Baron Holiday Homes is happy to organise car hire, tours of Gozo, and special activities for our guests whatever time of year you visit. Just get in touch and we’ll tell you all you need to know about walks near to your rental property, special events in villages nearby, and other local information.
View all blog posts