X Factor’s ‘menglish’ mess ignores the reality of Malta’s majority-spoken language

Critics say X Factor’s ‘menglish’ was ugly, X Factor presenter Howard Keith: ‘Don’t take it so seriously’

Judges Ray Mercieca, Alexandra Alden, Ben Camille, Ira Losco, and Howard Keith Debono
Judges Ray Mercieca, Alexandra Alden, Ben Camille, Ira Losco, and Howard Keith Debono

The music impresario and producer Howard Keith Debono has told critics “not to take themselves seriously” over the X Factor Malta presenters’ wanton disregard to speak proper Maltese on the national broadcaster. 

Although judges Ray Mercieca and Alexandra Alden were said to have been predominantly English speakers all their life, pop star Ira Losco and Debono code-switched from Maltese to English throughout the entire show with clear abandon, prompting critics to complain on Facebook of falling standards. 

“I don’t want to ruin the party for anyone. But X-Factor was a tad insulting to the national language,” the writer and former National Book Council chairman Sergio Grech wrote on Facebook. 

“Is it possible that we are to remain stuck in this colonial mentality?”

Although English is one of Malta’s two national languages, Maltese is the island’s spoken language of choice, apart from the administrative language inside the law courts, the Maltese parliament, as well as inside Catholic churches. 

READ MORE • MaltaToday Survey | In bilingual Malta, Maltese is the spoken language of choice

“I have nothing against the English language. I enjoy listening to it when it is appropriate that it be spoken. Because even the English spoken [on X Factor Malta] was a pig’s mess,” Grech continued.

Michael Spagnol, the creator of the online social media profile Kelma Kelma, made a clear defence of speaking both languages properly. 

“So what’s the deal about speaking in both Maltese and English on the national station? If the broadcast has been announced in Maltese or in English, then that programme should be delivered in that very same language. Decency requires that if you interview somebody who does not know that language, their words must be translated into subtitles for someone else to read.” 

Spagnol also pointed to the latest census that a third of the population aged 10 years and over “do not understand English” while 16.3% barely speak it, 17% can only say ‘yes, no, please and thank you’. “If in the middle of a broadcast someone starts speaking English without a Maltese translation, you are basically ignoring a third of the population.” 

“It’s ugly. Not just for that one-third. It is ugly for all listeners who deserve quality broadcasting from the national broadcaster. The programme is tops for graphics, music, make-up and dress... but not the language, what broadcasting is all about?” 

On his part, Howard Keith Debono defended his foray into X Factor Malta. “Oftentimes, many of the contestants speak English even when Ira and I speak in Maltese. It’s their choice. I think it’s a reality of our country. I dream that we learn not to take ourselves seriously one day.” 

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