Traveling to a foreign country often means you’ll be surrounded by a foreign language. It doesn’t always mean that you’ll have to learn it, however. You won’t need to learn a new language to enjoy your visit to the Maldives, but recognizing a few words will illuminate the island culture and enhance your diving experience.
Communication is key, not only for activities like diving and ordering your dinner but also just to get to know people and socialize. In the Maldives English is widely spoken, thanks to the high emphasis placed on the tourism industry, but the Maldivian native tongue and national language is Dhivehi. The language is restricted to the Maldives archipelago except for one island off India where a dialect of the language is spoken. Even within the sparsely populated Maldives, there are 5 different dialects that can be heard with a finely tuned ear. Which is not so surprising considering the scattered nature of the islands allowing for only limited contact and communication among remote regions in the past.
Island Vocab for Divers
It’s been said that Eskimos or Inuit people have 100 words for snow. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration it is meant to show the considerable role that snow has in the Inuit’s life and how it affects them. Similarly, in the Maldives it’s the islands, lagoons and reefs that dominate the lives and livelihoods of Maldivians. Where we will use several words to describe an area of the islands, they have come up with just one. This is much more effective when you may mention parts of a reef or lagoon on a daily basis.
For example, in English we might say “the water inside the lagoon” they just say Kandhu or for the water outside, “Maa Kandhu”. When we describe an island as having sparse vegetation, they can just call it a Finolhu, while a larger island is referred to as Fushi.
There is a wide vocabulary related to reefs as well. A common one heard by divers is Thila. Many of the dive spots known to divers are called thila, which are good sized reefs found several meters below the surface. If it’s just a small area of coral it’s a Giri, if the reef causes a wave break it’s a Fattaru and if the reef becomes exposed at low tide it’s called a Faru.
Now, you could memorize these words to show off your language skills while in the Maldives. Fun, but not necessary. Just being able to recognize the words will be very helpful in understanding the nature and make up of your dive spots. For instance, you might visit Embudhoo Kandu and Embudhoo Thila (channel and reef at Embudhoo) in South Male atoll. Or Kuda Haa Thila of Kuda Haa (Haa meaning a clearing in the lagoon). You might visit Utheemu in the far north an inhabited island with a palace (theemu meaning “the island”) or Dhiffushi of South Ari Atoll (fushi meaning larger island).
Now when you see or hear the names of the places you visit on your liveaboard trip they will mean a bit more to you. There are many more words used by Maldivians that you might recognize as well. Loan words from other languages, especially English, are creeping into the daily vernacular of the Maldives people.
English Influences on Dhivehi
One of the benefits of being an English speaker or of learning English is the widespread use of the language throughout the world. Languages can even start to adopt foreign English words into everyday lingo, while still following usage patterns of the native language.
In Dhivehi, for example, the word car has become “kaar”. “Kaaru” means “the car”. There are many more examples like bicycle (baisikalu), cake (keyku) and ticket (tiketu). So if you can add a “u” sound you can already speak some of the local language of the Maldives.
Native words are still commonly used of course. A couple useful ones you might like to know are Shukuriyyaa (thank you) and Noon (no).
With a bit of local vocabulary under your belt you’re ready to dive the Maldives. Discover the abundant marine life of the kandu and thila situated all around the atolls. Check out our Best of Maldives tours and the liveaboard Theia deals now on.
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