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Languages in the Maldives

January 29 2019

Located in the Indian Ocean, to the southwest of Sri Lanka and India, the Maldives archipelago is a sparkling oasis unlike any other. This gorgeous, tropical South Asian country has a fascinating past and an incredible culture, with a warm, friendly and welcoming local people who speak a number of different Maldives languages.



The official Maldives language is Dhivehi, which is sometimes referred to as Maldivian. While Dhivehi is spoken throughout the country, also known as the Republic of the Maldives, as the dominant language, other dialects also exist here, such as Malé (which is actually the standard form of Maldivian and spoken in the capital city of the Maldives), Mulaku, Huvadhu, Maliku, Haddhunmathee, Mulaku and Addu.
It is said that Dhivehi, or Divehi as it’s also known, was once a form of Elu, an ancient language classified as “Indo-Aryan” but that it has been influenced heavily by different languages in the Maldives over the centuries, such as Arabic, French, Portuguese, Persian, Hindustani, German and English, and eventually formed into the Maldivian that exists today. Because of the English influence in the Maldivian language, a few English-based words exist in Dhivehi such as “atoll” and “Dhoni”, the Maldivian variations of which are “atoḷu” and “dōni”. The fact that there are English words in the Dhivehi language proves further that it very possibly was then a form of Elu in ancient times. The Dhivehi language of the Maldives is related to the Sinhalese language of Sri Lanka, but they are not that similar in the spoken form. 
As the country is Islamic, Arabic is also one of the languages in the Maldives, as it is the religious language of Muslims and of the sacred Quran and Sunnah. It is taught as a religious language in schools and mosques and most of the population has some familiarity with Arabic.
Less than half a million people live in the Maldives and the Indo-Aryans native to the country called are Maldivians. Around 350 000 of them speak the local Maldivian language. Interestingly, there are also about 10 000 people living on Minicoy Island in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep in India, who speak the Mahl (which is much like the Maliku) dialect of Dhivehi as a first language.

Despite the fact that English was once considered one of the minority languages in the Maldives, the use of it is quickly on the rise, due largely to the fact that it has been introduced as the primary language in the schools in the Maldives. This is a huge threat to the existence of the native Maldives languages. The move to replace Dhivehi in schools with English was brought about by an effort to increase the scope and level of English spoken by the people in the Maldives. Now, when tourists visit places such as Malé, they are sure to find that English is one of the most widely spoken of the languages in the Maldives. The resort islands have hired people from all around the Maldives who speak different dialects and so English has been adopted as a common language for communication. 
Because of the change in the schools from Maldivian to English, the syllabi have also been changed from one language to the next. As it stands, all classes are taught in English in the Maldives, except for the Dhivehi language classes themselves. To improve the use of the English language from a young age, those in the education sector are interested in implementing a form of English immersion at schools in the Maldives, where students will be encouraged to speak English for the most part and Dhivehi only at certain times.
Despite all this, however, Dhivehi is still the national language used in the Maldives and will be for the foreseeable future. Of all the languages in the Maldives, this is the most widely used by the locals, where they use it to communicate in their homesteads and on many of the local islands. The Dhivehi language follows the Thaana style of writing, which is from right to left. This was introduced when Mohamed Thakurufaanu was in power.
Apart from Dhivehi, English and a few dialects, there are some other minor languages in the Maldives spoken in certain parts of the country. For example, on some of the resort islands and in certain parts of Malé, tourists might find the use of Arabic, French and German. These languages in the Maldives have been adopted based on the number of visitors in the Maldives from countries that speak them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be adopted on a bigger scale, however, but only time will tell. 

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