ތިކިޖެހި ތާނަ (Thikijehi Thaana) refers to the set of dotted letters used in Dhivehi to represent foreign (mainly Arabic) sounds. The following table shows these letters, the corresponding Arabic letters, and the way Maldivians usually pronounce them.
I’ve said good things about Thaana before, and I have also criticised it. When it comes to ތިކިޖެހި ތާނަ, I have mostly criticism.
What’s the Problem?
First, I should point out that I have no problem with the existence of these letters. The way I see it, having them means that we are on the way to having a Thaana-based IPA. My problem is with the way that they are used and the way they are “built”.
Problem No. 1 – The Dots Make No Difference
Let me give you an example:
The word ގައުމް (meaning “country”) comes from the Arabic word قوم, and is sometimes spelt ޤައުމް. Now let me ask you, what difference exactly do those two dots make? If you answered something like “it tells us that the pronunciation is /q/ and not /g/”, I would say “why do we need to know that, and why do we need to pronounce it that way?”
You might answer along the lines of “To stay true to the original Arabic pronunciation”, to which I would reply:
“We are not Arabs. The only time we would have to care about staying true the original Arabic pronunciation is when we are actually speaking Arabic. By giving this word a foreign pronunciation, you are “betraying” the Dhivehi pronunciation; you are turning a Dhivehi word into a foreign word, which is detrimental to the Dhivehi language. Get your priorities straight. The dots on the ގ are not necessary.”
To reinforce the idea that the dots essentially do nothing, I would suggest copying the Arabic spelling completely. After all, wouldn’t it be truer to the original Arabic if we spelt it “ޤަޥްމް”? In fact, why don’t we just use the Arabic script?* Why don’t we just speak Arabic all the time?
I might also add something about how it’s hypocritical not to stay true to the original pronunciation of English loanwords.
So basically, I think that 99% of the time, dotted letters are completely useless. It would be like using accents for French words:
“I can’t décide on what movie to watch at the cinéma. I think I would préfer to stay home and watch télévision. It’s more convénient.”
Superfluous and pretentious, right?
It’s just as annoying to see things like “މަންޡަރު” ,”މިޘާލު” ,”ޔަޤީން”, and “ޤައުމް”.
That’s why I don’t like seeing dotted letters in writing. And it’s even more annoying when I hear people speaking that way. Like, who do you think you are? Do you think that speaking that way makes you better than everyone else? Are you trying to be Pakistani or something?
So please, Dhivehi people, don’t use Thikijehi Thaana. There are very few occasions when the dots actually make a difference.
*One of the few good things about Thikijehi Thaana is that it allowed Maldivians to stop using the Arabic script for loanwords.
Problem No.2 – Consistency
Because the dotted letters make no difference, people are at a loss when it comes to using them. Sometimes, you’ll even find these letters used inconsistently within the same paragraph.
Also, Dhivehi has enough problems when it comes to standardised spelling (e.g. ރޮއްޓެއް vs ރޮށްޓެއް); adding in the extra letters makes things worse. Here are all the ways you can write the Dhivehi word for “culture”, and the number of results you get when you search each word on Google:
The amazing thing is that there can be inconsistency even within one word! If that doesn’t prove how pointless the dots are, nothing will.
Problem No.3 – Sounds Don’t Match
It’s bad enough that these letters are used the way they are, but what’s worse is that they are badly constructed, so to speak.
Look back at the table with the letters and you’ll see a pattern. The Arabic letters consist of basic shapes, to which one or more dots are added. The Dhivehi letters are formed by using a letter that corresponds to the basic shape and then adding the same dots. This may seem logical, but it fails to take into account the way Maldivians pronounce the letters. This is why there are no less than 6 dotted letters (ޣ ,ޡ ,ޟ ,ޛ ,ޘ and ޜ) whose pronunciations don’t match that of their basic shape.
Now, I would hate to defame the most holy Arabic language (sarcasm), but the fact is, the Arabic script (like most other scripts) does not follow any particular logic. The dotted letters are just unnecessarily importing extra illogicalness.
This post is intended for a Maldivian audience that would be familiar with the Arabic script. But just as an example to those who can’t read Arabic, consider the letter F which is pronounced /f/. In Arabic, if you add two dots on top of that letter (F¨ – pretend the dots are on top), it is pronounced /q/.
Luckily, this problem can be easily fixed. It is simply a matter of remodelling the letters based on the third column, that is, the way Maldivians pronounce them. I think they should look something like these:
It doesn’t really matter where the dots go, as long as the correct letters are used.
Having the letters this way means that the dots can be ignored. This is already the case with the other letters. For example, ޥަޠަން is the same as ވަތަން, and ފިޤުޙު is the same as ފިގުހު. However, with the current dotted letters, ޥަޡީފާ is not the same as ވަޒީފާ, and ޘަޤާފަތު is not the same as ސަގާފަތު. If the dotted letter is pronounced the same way as the undotted letter, it is easier to read.
Thikijehi Thaana is illogical and in most cases unnecessary. The problem of having the letters look the way people say them can be fixed relatively easily. And while the problem of excessive usage even where it makes no difference could be solved simply by not using the letters, the underlying issues of attitudes regarding cultural and linguistic identity would need to be addressed first. Specifically, Maldivians need to fix this inferiority complex they have with Arabs/Arabic. Then they might be able to give their own language the respect it deserves. That does not necessarily mean doing away with Thikijehi Thaana entirely, but it certainly does not mean continuing to use it the way it is used now.