The script used to write Dhivehi is called Thaana and is written from right to left. It is a relatively simple script with features of an alphabet as well as an abugida. Consonants are written with diacritics either above or below them to indicate vowel sounds. Vowel diacritics are not considered to be part of the alphabet.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to recognise and pronounce the letters and diacritics of Thaana. You will not be able to fully read Dhivehi texts because there are special uses of one particular diacritic which I will explain in the next lesson.
I do not want you to become dependant on transliteration, and the semi-official Dhivehi-Latin transliteration system is not that good, so I will use it as little as possible throughout the course of these lessons.
The following table lists the consonants, their names, and the way they are pronounced. The majority of consonants are pronounced the same way they are in English. The ones written in red are pronounced slightly different to the examples given, or they may be difficult for English speakers to pronounce. Explanations are given below.
- The pronunciation of ށ depends to an extent on the vowel which comes after it. If that vowel is ‘i’ or ‘e’, native speakers will tend to pronounce it as ‘Rsh’, with the tongue tapping the upper palate before making the ‘Sh’ sound. However, this also depends on the age of the speaker (it is more noticeable in older people) and where they are from. Pronouncing this letter like the English ‘Sh’ regardless of the following vowel will not have a significant effect on your accent, and people will still be able to understand you.
- You can listen to an alveolar tap here to help you with the pronunciation of ރ.
- A retroflex sound in made when you curl your tongue backwards and touch the roof of your mouth. Listen to a retroflex ‘T’, a retroflex ‘D’. (There is a retroflex ‘L’ audio sample, but it is not the same way it is pronounced in Dhivehi)
- Listen to a glottal stop here. It is the sound made in your throat when you say “uh-oh”. In diphthongs, the vowel carried by އ is joined to the preceding vowel and you do not hear the glottal stop.
- ވ is technically meant to be pronounced kind of like this – between ‘V’ and ‘W’ (but leaning towards ‘V’). This is common in South Asian languages. Once again, you will be understood just fine if you pronounce it like an English ‘V’.
- When pronouncing ތ and ދ do not move your tongue too far forward. It should be placed behind the front teeth, stopping the flow of air.
- ޏ is pronounced like this, for those of you who are not familiar with the letter ‘Ñ’. This sound only occurs in the middle of English words (like ‘canyon’) but can occur at the beginning of Dhivehi words.
If you still need clarification as to how the letters are pronounced, watch this video.
Vowels in Thaana are indicated by diacritics known as “fili”. The following table shows these diacritics, their names, and the way they are pronounced. Eleven indicate vowel sounds and one indicates that there is no vowel sound after the consonant. Diacritics never occur by themselves; they must always be carried by a consonant. Similarly, consonants must always carry one of the diacritics, except in two special cases which you will see in the next lesson. In the table, the dotted circles are where the consonants would be written.
- There are no real equivalents of ubufili and ooboofili sounds in English which occur in all spoken forms of the language. This should help you with the pronunciations of those sounds. Keep your lips rounded and your tongue back. Another way I like to think about it is the noise people make when someone is insulted or makes a good comeback.
- Avoid turning the long vowels into diphthongs, particularly ޭ and ޯ . You will sound very foreign if you do.
- *Aibaifili is not technically a “fili” as it includes two letters. In personal names it is pronounced like the ‘y’ in ‘fly’. In pretty much every other case it is pronounced like a long version of the ‘a’ in ‘hat’.
Dotted Letters for Foreign Sounds
Some time during the 50s, a special set of Thaana letters were developed to represent Arabic sounds (and an English one) which are not found in Dhivehi. The use of these letters is not entirely consistent, and Maldivians do not always pronounce them the way they would be pronounced in the original languages. At this stage, you only need to know how Maldivians pronounce them.
You will notice that in many cases, Maldivians pronounce the dotted letters the same as the corresponding undotted letter, but in some cases the pronunciation is totally different. This is because the people who developed these letters decided to base them on the Arabic script and not the way Maldivians pronounced them (which was not the best idea, in my opinion).
Writing and Keyboards
Writing Thaana letters is pretty straightforward. Follow the general rule of “top right to bottom left” and you should be able to write most letters. The same applies for the diacritics, except ޯ which is written clockwise, starting from the bottom. Diacritics are written after the letter carrying them. Keep in mind that Thaana is written from right to left. For more details on how to write the letters, watch this video.
It is relatively easy to set up Thaana keyboards on most computers. I use Windows 10 so it’s just a matter of adding a language in the “time and language” settings. I don’t know how it is for Macs.
Typing is also fairly easy, as most of the letters correspond to their Latin equivalents (this can also help you learn to read). You just have to remember that w=އ and q=ް .