Continues Arabic ع (ʿ) and غ (ḡ). The two phonemes were merged into /ʕ/ around Valetta since at least the 18th century, but continued to be distinguished as /ʕ/ and /ʁ/ elsewhere (in some rural dialects into the 20th century). The merged /ʕ/ soon also began to be vowelised, at first in the syllable coda, though word-finally after stressed vowels it underwent devoicing to [ħ] instead.
għ (upper case Għ)
- In contemporary Maltese, għ remains a true consonant [ħ] in word-final position (maqtugħ [maʔˈtuːħ]) and in the cluster -għh-, which becomes [ħħ]. Otherwise it is silent or leaves at most a vocalic trace:
- Following and preceding a, e, o are lengthened if stressed: għodwa [ˈɔːdwa], nagħġa [ˈnaːdʒa].
- Following i, u become diphthongs: għira [ˈɛjra], jistgħu [ˈjɪstɔw]. An exception to this is the sequence -egħi-, which is pronounced [ɛː] or [ɛˈjiː].
- In intervocalic position it is a glide, [j] after i, ie, and [w] after u: qiegħed [ˈʔɪːjɛt], maqtugħa [maʔˈtuːwa].
- The (always stressed) sequence -iegħ- becomes [ɛː] when followed by a consonant: qiegħda [ˈʔɛːda].
- After unstressed a, word-final għ is most often lost and then represented by an apostrophe: jisma' [ˈjɪsma]. It resurfaces when an ending is added to the word: jisimgħu [jɪˈsɪmɔw]. Exceptions are the verb endings -ajt, -ajna, -ajtu, and -x, before which silent għ is simply dropped in the spelling: smajt [smajt], jismax [jɪsˈmaːʃ].
- Phonotactically, word-initial għ now generally behaves like a vowel, allowing contractions such as m’għandix [manˈdiːʃ]. However, word-internal għ still behaves like a (virtual) consonant. Compare the aforementioned jisimgħu, where the vowel i has been added before the m, as though the latter were followed by a consonant.