In my post about expanding the Dhivehi vocabulary, I listed a range of ways of bringing new words into Dhivehi. In order from least to most “pure”, these methods are:

  • Pure loan
  • Naturalised loan
  • Phono-semantic matching
  • Calque
  • Semantic loan
  • Loan creation/translation/interpretation

In this post, we will look specifically at phono-semantic matching and how it can be applied to Dhivehi.

If you don’t remember what phono-semantic matching is, here is my explanation from the other post:

A word is substituted with elements from the borrowing language that are similar in sound and meaning.

This means that if a new word is created using this method, it will sound the same as the original word, but it will be formed with elements that indicate the same meaning. Because this method involved matching two things, rather than one, it can be kind of difficult to create words this way. But it’s also fun in a challenging way, and the resulting new words are often quite funny at first. Still, I would argue that they are completely valid words.

I have come up with a bunch of new Dhivehi words using this method, and I’ll explain each one by breaking them down. Note that some examples are not completely derived through phono-semantic matching, and may include elements of loan naturalisation. That’s just because it is very hard to find word-forming elements that match in sound and meaning. Also, most of these words already have Dhivehi equivalents.

Anyway let’s get straight into it:

High Heels

We’ll start with a definition. High heels are shoes which raise the wearer’s heels above their toes.

Now, we look for Dhivehi words that sound like any part of “high heels” while matching any part of the meaning.

The only one I could think of was ހިއްލުން which means “to lift” or “to raise”. We can alter the verb form to ހިއްލި which more or less means “that which lifts” (although it would never be used this way by itself). So you can see that it sounds like “heel” but has the meaning of “lifting”.

For the next part, I’m going to bend the rules slightly. We need something to match the “high” in “high heels”. For this, I’m going to use ހައި, and my explanation is that it is a potential phonetically altered version of the word ފައި which means “foot”. However, I didn’t change the phonetics arbitrarily; there is a precedent in Dhivehi where this change occurs. And that is ބަނޑުހައި occasionally being pronounced as ބަނޑުފައި. I’m taking this existing change and applying it in a new context.

So the new Dhivehi word for “high heel” is ހައިހިއްލި. It sounds the same, and it means something like “foot-lifter”, which matches the original word.


Once again, we’ll start with a definition: A loose aggregation of small stones.

And then, just like before, we find Dhivehi words which sound similar to the original word and also matches with some element in that word’s meaning. With this example, one very loose link I could think of was ވެލި. It sounds like the “vel” in “gravel”, and although it means “sand”, it does have that link to “small stones”. That leaves us with “gra”. ގިރުން means “to stir” or “to mix”, so it’s kind of indicative of “a loose aggregation”. Once again, we change the verb form to ގިރި which means “mixed”.

And thus, the new word is ގިރިވެލި. Although it literally means “mixed sand”, that loose connection to the meaning of “gravel” is still there. This example shows that you have to be a bit creative, and that it’s okay to stretch the meaning a little. In addition, the verb forms used don’t have to make complete sense grammatically.


Definition: A structure from which jets of water are pumped into the air.

The most obvious connection I see is the word ފެން, meaning “water”, that covers the “foun” part. As for the “tain”, I first thought of ތަން, which would give the word ފެންތަން (“water-place”). This seems too generic, although that doesn’t really matter since we give words meaning, and it would be very easy to strictly equate ފެންތަން with fountain, even though the literal meaning is more vague.

Then I thought of ތަނބު, which means “pillar”. This is much closer to the meaning of “structure” than ތަން. So the word for fountain is ފެންތަނބު.


Definition: A shape with four straight sides and four right angles.

Just as an aside, this definition also applies to squares because, from a mathematical perspective, squares are a type of rectangle. However, in common usage of the term, it only applies to shapes where two sides are longer than the other two sides.

For this word, I’m going to cheat slightly and use its etymology to derive a Dhivehi word. It’s cheating because words that share the same etymon will almost always have similar sounds and meanings.

The word rectangle comes from Latin rectus (“right”/”straight”) and angulus (“angle”). Rectus comes from Proto-Indo-European *hreǵ which means “to straighten” or “to direct”. From *hreǵ, comes the derived word *hrḗǵs which means “king”. This became Sanskrit राजन् (rājan), which is the source of Dhivehi words ރާދަ ,ރަދުން and ރަސް, which all mean “king”.

For the word rectangle, I’m going to use ރަދުން because it sounds closest to “rectan”. And for the “gle”, there is a Dhivehi word which completes the meaning perfectly: ގޮޅި.

So the Dhivehi word for rectangle is ރަދުންގޮޅި, which means “king’s square”.


Definition: Shimmering reflected light, or tiny pieces of sparkling material used for decoration.

The word ތަރި, meaning “star”, suggests “tiny sparkling light”, and matches “ter” at the end of the word.

As for the “gli” I’m going to stretch the meaning again and go with the word ގިލި, as in ގިލިގިލިކޮށްޓުން which means “to tickle”. According to the Dhivehi dictionary, ގިލި by itself is only used in Fuvahmulah and Addu, and means something like “ticklishness”.  This meaning kind of suggests “shimmering” or “sparkling”, which is why I’m using the word. I think it would be fair to describe glitter as “visually tickling”.

So the Dhivehi word for glitter is ގިލިތަރި, meaning “tickle-star”.


Definition: A group of people who spread from one original country to other countries.

This one is very simple. ދޭސް means “country” and ފުރާ means “depart”. Put together, the word is ދޭސްފުރާ – those who have departed from their country.

As I said before, the verb form doesn’t have to make complete sense; the sound is more important. ފުރާ is the imperative or present relative form of the verb ފުރުން but ދޭސްފުރާ is a noun and would be used as such in sentences.


Definition: A warm-blooded vertebrate animal of a class that is distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, females that secrete milk for the nourishment of the young, and (typically) the birth of live young.

This one is a bit more scientific, but that’s not a problem because we don’t have to cover the entire definition with the word-forming elements. Instead, we only have to match a small part of it and then define the whole word in the end. I’m going to stick to the part of “females secreting milk for the young” because that’s where I see some phono-semantic connections.

A female that has young is a mother. One of the ways to say mother in Dhivehi is މައި (although this word is rarely used in isolation). That covers the first “ma” part.

A female mammal’s milk is given to the young through breasts which in primates (including humans) are in the chest region (this isn’t the case for other mammals like cats, dogs and cows). The Dhivehi word for “chest” is މޭ which covers the second “ma”.

As for the final “l”, we can use a form of the verb ލުން (“to put”) – ލި, which means something like “having put”. It’s used in word like ތެލުލި which means “fried”, or more literally “having put oil”.

And finally, we have our word: މައިމޭލި, which literally means something like “that upon which the chest of a mother has been put”. The verb form ލި technically makes this word an adjective but we can bend the rules and use it as a noun as well.

Interestingly, the word mammal itself comes from the Latin word for breast. So there’s a double connection there to this new Dhivehi word.


Definition: A hard protective hat.

There’s been some talk online about what the Dhivehi word for helmet should be. It’s to do with a proposal to make helmets compulsory for cyclists (which only happened because there have been too many accidents on that bridge). Anyway, I have two suggestions for this word.

The first is quite simple, and it makes clever use of the /r/-/l/ distinction:

The Dhivehi word for “hard” is ހަރު.  And a hat is something worn at the top of your head. The word for “top” is މަތި. Put together, you get ހަރުމަތި. Sounds enough like helmet, right?

The second suggestion has a more complex derivation, because it involves etymology once again. Helmet comes from Proto-Indo-European *kel which means “cover” or “conceal”. *Kel is also the source of the Old English word hol which means “cave”. The Dhivehi word for “cave” is ހޮހަޅަ. Once again, we combine it with “top” to give us ހޮހަޅަމަތި, a less intuitive word for “helmet”.


Now you should have a better understanding of how phono-semantic matching works. You may have noticed that I pretty much did the same thing that I did in my post on false etymologies, only backwards (plus, that was just for fun), and really, that’s the whole idea. I might do another one of these posts in the future if I can come up with more words. In the meantime, try to come up with some of your own phono-semantically matched Dhivehi words. It’s challenging but fun, and it really tests your knowledge of both English and Dhivehi.