Identification. Malta and her sister islands, Gozo and Comino, together with the uninhabited islets of Filfla and Cominotto, make up the Maltese Archipelago.
Location. The Maltese islands lie midway between Gibraltar and the Lebanon, at almost the exact geographical center of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is 93 kilometers to the north, and Tunis just over 320 kilometers to the west. Malta, the largest and southernmost island, is 27 kilometers long and 14.4 kilometers wide, and it covers an area of 247 square kilometers. Gozo is only 14.4 kilometers by 8 kilometers, with an area of 67.6 square kilometers. The little islands of Comino and Cominotto, which lie in the 4.8-kilometer-wide channel separating the two larger islands, together have an area of 2.6 square kilometers. Filila, a large rock that was used for gunnery practice, lies 4.8 kilometers off the southwest coast of Malta. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with long hot summers and cold wet winters. Average annual Precipitation is about 58 centimeters. Temperatures vary from a mean maximum of 31.6° C in July to a mean minimum in January of 9.3° C. In general the sea insulates the islands against extreme temperatures, though July temperatures occasionally rise to around 40° C and can drop to just above freezing in January.
Demography. In 1989 approximately 350,000 persons lived on the islands' 317 square kilometers. This makes the Maltese archipelago, with a population density of 1,104 per square kilometer, one of the world's most thickly populated countries. The birthrate declined sharply following World War II and in 1987 stood at 15.4 live births per 1,000 People. As infant mortality also declined (in 1987 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births) and net emigration ceased by the mid-1970s, the population has been expanding since the 1960s (population in 1967 was 314,000).
Linguistic Affiliation. Maltese is a Semitic language. It is morphologically related to North African Arabic but draws much of its vocabulary and idiom from Sicilian and, more Recently, from English. This interesting and difficult language is spoken by all classes, but it did not become an official Language of the law courts until 1934, when it replaced Italian. It has been a written language since the middle of the last Century and uses the Latin alphabet. Much of the instruction at the University of Malta and in secondary schools is given in English, which is widely spoken.