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Quick Facts
TypeSyllabic Alphabetic
LocationSouth Asia
Time7th century CE to Present
DirectionLeft to Right

The Maldives Republic and the Minicoy islands of India are home to speakers of Dhivehi, an Indo-European language related to Sinhalese language spoken in Sri Lanka. Throughout history, the Dhivehi or Mahl language was written using a number of different and interesting scripts. The early history of scripts in the Maldives is fairly obscure. The earliest inscriptions dates from the 7th or 8th century CE and are in a southern form of the Brahmi script. Letters on later inscriptions (10th century CE) exhibit shapes similar to Grantha signs. The more historically known script, Dives Akuru script, appeared by the 12th century CE and was a prototypical South Asian abugida or syllabic alphabet where each sign represents a syllable rather than a sound. It shows not only Grantha but also some Sinhala influences in its letter shapes, which is unsurprising since the Dhivehi language is related to the Sinhalese language. Note that the earliest form of Dives Akuru (12th to 13th century CE) has also been called Eveyla Akuru by scholars as it is quite different in shape from the later variety of the script used from the 14th to 17th century CE.

The following is the basic Dives Akuru script from around the 17th century CE.

From the 17th century CE onward a new writing system, called Thaana, appeared along side the old Dives Akuru script. Whereas Dives Akuru is a syllabic alphabet, Thaana is an alphabet with influences from Arabic such as direction of writing (right-to-left), origin of letters, and indication of vowels. By the 19th century Dives Akuru was no longer used and Thaana became the dominant living script in the Maldives.

The following chart lists all letters in the Thaana alphabet.

To represent vowels, diacritical marks are placed above or below the letters. The marks are modelled after vowel marks in Arabic, but with some additions for the vowels /e/ and /o/. Unlike Arabic, which uses the letters alif, waw and ya in addition to the vowel marks to represent long vowels, Thaana long vowel marks are simply vowel marks doubled.

You might have noticed that the basic Thaana letters do not actually resemble Arabic letters, nor do they have initial, medial, and final forms that are employed in Arabic. In fact, instead of borrowing Arabic letters, the first nine Thaana letters are actually adapted from Arabic numerals. The second set of nine letters are actually South Asian (so called "Hindu") numerals, and the remainder of the letters are modifications of existing letters.

In the 1970's a Latin orthography has also been drafted by the government to eventually replace the Thaana alphabet. It was primarily used in government publications and in public schools. However, it was not widely adopted and fell out of favor. So it looks like the traditional Thaana script will not only survive but thrive in the future.

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