It is rare for languages to come into contact with each other without influencing each other somehow. At the most superficial level, borrowing occurs. This is where one language does not have a word for a particular concept, so it takes a word from another language. At deeper levels of influence, changes to grammar may occur. Even deeper than that are phonological changes. In this post, we’ll be looking mainly at the word level of the interaction between Dhivehi and English, but we will also see how it can be combined with the phonological level to add another layer of complexity. But first there are some concepts you need to understand:
Pidgins and Creoles
When two language communities come into contact with each other, it may be the case that they have no way of communicating. This could be because they don’t have a lingua franca to unite them, or because members of one community do not know the language of the other. To get around this issue quickly, members of both communities may resort to a simplified version of their respective languages to communicate very basic ideas. This simplified language is known as a pidgin.
Pidgins are not considered to be languages in their own right. Their structures are not formalised and are often left to the whim of the speaker. In addition, no one is ever a native speaker of a pidgin; people resort to using a pidgin to speak to others who do not know their native language.
If a pidgin survives long enough, for example due to extended contact, children may begin to start picking it up as a native language. Once this happens, the language becomes a creole. A creole is a proper language with grammatical structures like any other language. Usually, its grammar and vocabulary are heavily influenced by one of its parent languages, but it is more than a dialect of that language, and it is definitely not a “corrupted” or “deficient” version of that language.
The most widely spoken creole is Haitian Creole, which is based on French and the languages of the African slaves who were brought to Haiti. Another one is the English-based Tok Pisin spoken in Papua New Guinea (the name literally means “Talk-Pidgin”, but it’s not a pidgin).
A mondegreen is a misheard word or phrase (usually a song lyric) which occurs due to near homophony. The word mondegreen itself is a mondegreen. Author Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954 when she wrote about mishearing the lyric “…laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen”.
Some other examples of mondegreens:
- “lemon and a pea” instead of “L M N O P” in the alphabet song
- “You call me your banana” instead of “you cut me open and I” in Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love (You’ll never hear it the same again)
- (One of my personal mishearings) “If you leave me you ought to go blind” instead of “If you leave me you’re out of your mind” in Beyoncé’s Countdown
A Hobson-Jobson is when a word is homophonically translated from one language into another; so it’s kind of like a mondegreen except there’s translation involved and the end result doesn’t have to make sense. And just like mondegreen is a mondegreen, Hobson-Jobson is a Hobson-Jobson, with the original being “Ya Hassan Ya Hussain”. (click here for more info). The law of Hobson-Jobson refers to the process of phonological change where loanwords are adapted to suit the phonology of the language into which they are borrowed.
With all this in mind, let’s now take a look at what happens when Dhivehi and English are combined.
This is what I have decided to call the Dhivehi-English hybrid. It comes from the Dhivehi word ކޮތަރު (kotharu) which means “pigeon”. Cotter words are mainly formed by taking a Dhivehi word and modifying the sounds to suit English (i.e. applying the law of Hobson-Jobson). If there are real English words which match the sounds, they can be used, thus creating an intentional mondegreen. The words are spelt using English spelling conventions. This results in words which sound like they could be English, but which sound like nonsense words to a native speaker not familiar with Dhivehi.
Existing Cotter Words
Cotter isn’t something I’m making up. Maldivians have already been hybridising Dhivehi and English for a while now; I’ve just given it a name. Here are some Cotter words which exist already, along with their origin and meaning:
|Molecule mouth||ملك الموت (malak-ul-maut)||Angel of death|
|Fad boy||ފަޑަބޮއެ (fadaboe)||Drink/suck cum (obscenity)|
Looking through these words, you notice a pattern. Most of the words are very topical; dealing with issues that are very important to Maldivians, such as politics and religion. The Cotter forms of the words also have quite a mocking tone to them, which points towards their original purpose: to mock.
Interestingly, the use of slightly altered names to make fun of people has existed in English for a long time. Here’s a comment I saw on YouTube a while ago which demonstrates the phenomenon:
Once Again, Kesha Is Better than Gaylord Smurf, Lady KaKa, Shitney Smeers, Ape-ril LaGrime, Icky Godzilla, Monkey Minaj, Hairyana Grande & Slimey Virus.
(If you can’t work it out, they’re referring to Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus.)
More recently, I saw someone asking whether others were voting for Dumb-old Chump (Donald Trump) or Hitlery Cunton (Hillary Clinton).
The equivalent for Yameen Abdul Gayoom might be You’re-mean Scab-drool Gay-worm.
Despite their origins in derision, Cotter words do not necessarily have to make fun of anyone or anything. And when they do, they don’t need to be as excessive as You’re-mean Scab-drool Gay-worm. Words like rice and hotbar have just the right amount of “mock” in them.
New Cotter Words
These are some Cotter words which I have made up. They all more or less follow the law of Hobson-Jobson, but not all of them are mondegreens. They aren’t all derisive either. But because there aren’t proper rules to this, it doesn’t really matter.
|Barefool||ބޭފުޅު (beyfulhu)||Upper class person|
|Arty||RT||Person not from Malé|
Two Classes of Cotter Words
These are originally Dhivehi words which are borrowed and naturalised into English with the necessary sound mutations to make them sound like real English words. Most of the Cotter words I have shown are D-E words, including Cotter itself.
These are English words which go through Dhivehi and come back to English with changes in sound and meaning. Here are some examples:
- Maldives → މޯޑިސް → މޯލްޑިވްސް → Mordis
- Maldives is a tourist paradise, whereas Mordis is a scummy hellhole
A more recent example:
- Journalist → ޖާރނަލިސްޓް → Jaanalist
- A journalist reports the news. A jaanalist does the same but with no integrity. Jaanalists tell half-truths, whole lies, and see no problem with posting pictures of dead bodies.
Most of the time, Cotter words are peppered onto English speech/writing, so even though it’s not a pidgin yet, it would have an English based grammar. However, with the Cotterisation of common pronouns and Dhivehi grammatical particles, it is possible to have a grammatically Dhivehi Cotter as well.
Here are some examples of Cotter in action (try to work out what they mean):
- Mordis sarcar doesn’t care about Arties, that’s why only Marlay gets truggied.
- I don’t think wearing a moonburger or having a rat toonbully will get you into sewergay.
- All the shythorns are locked up during Rumloan – they said so in the hotbar.
- There are bod muscles with the seeasshat in this gowm.
- Apparently you’re a lardini if you don’t wear a burger.
- All the barefools in the verycum are so corrupt.
- Key tea colony? (Grammatically Dhivehi)
- Clay hard charl. (Grammatically Dhivehi)
Obviously no one talks this way (since I just made up some of these words), and when they do, it’s not so excessive. Still, this is an interesting linguistic phenomenon, and I am curious to see how Cotter will develop in the future.
Some of the new words I particularly like are moonburger, barefool, Arty, sewergay and cumfat. I also think “key tea colony?” could be used as a kind of condescending greeting.
So yeah, now you’ve got a whole lot more words in your arsenal. Do with them what you will, whether it be writing political satire or complaining about the religious nuts. But the list is by no means complete; try to come up with your own words – you’ll be surprised by how easily Dhivehi words can be modified into English words.