So you want to go on a trip to the Maldives but you don’t want to settle for the typical tourist experience. Or perhaps you’re already working there and you need to communicate with the locals and understand the culture a bit better. Or, it could be that you’ve married a Maldivian and you need to know what your in-laws are saying when they insist they’re not talking about you, even though they obviously are. Or maybe you just enjoy studying languages, but you’re also a total hipster who chooses only those languages that other people have “probably never heard of”. Either way, you’ve decided to learn Dhivehi. But you soon find out that there are basically no resources to help you learn – and trust me, I know how frustrating that can be.
But there’s no need to worry any more. This series of Dhivehi lessons will help you along in your journey from “clueless foreigner” to “basically one of them”. Before you get started, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. So think of this little introduction as “Lesson 0”.
- Dhivehi is the official language of the Maldives, a country made up of around 1200 islands in the Indian Ocean
- It is also spoken on the island of Minicoy (or Maliku), an Island which used to be part of the Maldives, but is now a part of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep in India. As far as I’m aware, the language isn’t officially recognised there.
- There are significant communities of Dhivehi speakers in India (mainly Trivandrum and Kochi), Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as smaller communities in the UK, Egypt, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand.
- There are around 350,000 speakers altogether
Features of Dhivehi
- Dhivehi has its own script called Thaana, and is written almost entirely phonetically
- It has a relatively simple noun case system (when compared to many European languages)
- There is no grammatical gender
- Verbs are conjugated only for tense/mood and not for person or number
- There are very few irregular verbs
- It is a null subject language
Difficulty of Dhivehi for Speakers of Other Languages
The features listed above make Dhivehi a relatively easy language to learn. However, it becomes even easier if you know any of the following languages:
- Sinhalese – This is the closest related language to Dhivehi. The grammar and vocabulary of both languages are very similar, although they are not mutually intelligible.
- Hindi/Urdu – The relationship is not as close as Sinhalese, but there are still some similarities in grammar and vocabulary.
- Arabic – Most loanwords in Dhivehi are of Arabic origin. In some cases the meanings are slightly altered, but it is still a great advantage in terms of vocabulary.
- Tamil/Malayalam – The noun cases and verb conjugations in both these languages are similar to those in Dhivehi. However, there are very few similarities in vocabulary.
Time to Start Learning!
Now that you know all of that, you’re ready for the first lesson!