COMMES – A Corpus of Maltese and Maltese English Speech

  • Funded by the Marie Curie Grant (European Commission)
  • 2009-2012

Welcome to the website of COMMES - a Corpus Of Maltese and Maltese English Speech.

The intonation of Maltese has received little attention to date. The same holds for the intonation of the English spoken by speakers of Maltese, Maltese English: this shares many of the characteristics of Maltese, and can be directly compared with other varieties of English.

This page contains a detailed description of Maltese prosody as well as of aspects of the prosody of Maltese English together with annotated materials from the project involving data from both Maltese and Maltese English. Guidelines to the ToBI-style conventions and standards which have been developed can also be found on this page together with some training materials involving examples of prosodically annotated examples for both Maltese and Maltese English.


The objectives of the project COMMES were the following:

  • Firstly, research on both Maltese and Maltese English prosody to date is fairly limited. The primary objective of this study was therefore to consolidate the description of the prosody of Maltese and aspects of the prosody of Maltese English, specifically the phonological analysis of their intonation and related functions and to adapt an Autosegmental-Metrical ToBI-style annotation system for the purpose of annotating the data.
  • Secondly, work on a description of prosodic structure and intonation in Maltese, in particular, but also of Maltese English, has continued to be hampered, in part, by the lack of structured resources for use in their study. It has therefore been an objective of this study to provide a basis and structure for such a resource in the form of a corpus of data from Maltese and Maltese English which has been prosodically annotated. Such a resource can be used by those working on developing human language technologies in the Maltese context having a spoken interface to develop more natural sounding output in their systems.
  • Thirdly, annotated data from the project has served as a means to start the work of formulating and testing hypotheses which will further contribute to consolidation of the phonological analysis of the intonation of Maltese and Maltese English.


The analysis of the intonational phonology of Maltese and Maltese English which has been carried out in the context of this project is couched within the Autosegmental-Metrical framework of Intonational Phonology used in other work on intonation (Pierrehumbert 1980, Ladd 1996). This approach analyses intonation in terms of sequences of tones of different kinds, combined into tunes. Tones can be H or L, and get associated by means of text-tune association rules to locations which are structurally significant, usually stressed syllables or boundaries.

Tones attached to stressed syllables, or following Bolinger (1958), pitch accents, are represented by means of a following asterisk, *, thus T*.  Such tones can be mono- or bi-tonal, for example H*+L versus H+L*.

Substantial evidence for the existence of a tone type of a different sort, phrase accents, a distinction originally made by Bruce (1977) in work on Swedish but also included in the inventory of possibilities in Pierrehumbert’s (1980) seminal work in this framework, has recently been provided by Grice et. al. (2000). Such tones appear to be linked to syllables, which, while being stressed, are not themselves prominence-lending.  Evidence for the existence of such tones in Maltese is also available (for example Vella 1995, 2003, forthcoming).  Phrase accents are normally marked by means of a raised dash, -, thus T-.  Boundary as well as phrase accent tones can potentially also be either mono- or bi-tonal.

Tones attached to boundaries, boundary tones, are traditionally represented by means of a percentage sign, %, thus %T in the case of tones attached to a left boundary and T% in the case of tones attached to a right boundary. Here, as in earlier work, I make a further distinction between boundary tones which associate with a phonological phrase, P-phrase, boundary, and those which associate with an intonational phrase, I-phrase, boundary, thus Tp and Ti respectively in the case of boundary tones associated with the right edge of the relevant domain. This distinction, which follows, amongst others, that made by Hayes and Lahiri (1991) in work on Bengali intonational phonology, has been found useful in earlier work by this author, to distinguish between the various tonal entities noted to occur in Maltese.

One interesting finding of the research carried out in the context of this project is that relating to the possibility of distinguishing a further tone type which associates with the left edge of a domain other than those normally seen to act as docking sites for boundary tones: ...



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Vella, A. (2003). Phrase accents in Maltese: distribution and realisation. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona, 1775-1778.

Vella, A. (2007). The phonetics and phonology of wh-question intonation in Maltese. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Saarbrücken, 1285-1288.

Vella, A. (forthcoming). Maltese intonation and focus structure. In R. Fabri (Ed.), Maltese Linguistics: a Snapshot. In Memory of Joseph A. Cremona [Il-Lingwa Tag?na Vol. 1]. Bochum: Brockmeyer.

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Vella, A., Chetcuti, F., Grech, S., & Spagnol, M.  (2007).  Speech annotation: developing guidelines for Maltese corpora. Paper presented at the 1st Conference on Maltese Linguistics, University of Bremen.