One of the most interesting facets of the Maldives it its language ‘Dhivehi‘. The languages spoken by our immediate neighbors in the Indian subcontinent are Dravidian, the major languages in this region being Tamil, Malayalam, Kannado and Telugu. Singhalese, spoken by the Singhalese community in Sri Lanka, and Dhivehi are Sanskrit-based.
If you care to listen to the ordinary Dhivehi spoken on the streets today, you will still find that it is much closer linguistically to Hindi, Urdu and Singhalese than the Dravidian tongues. It is however, not a pidgin or a creole. It is a language with its own grammar, its own culture and even its own script.
Historical evidence indicates that Aryan migration from the northwest parts of the Indian subcontinent, most probably from the ancient Indus Valley civilizations, at a time circa 500 BC. The Mahavamsa chronicles of Sri Lanka mention the migration of the Prince Vijeya of Sinhapura and his followers to Sri Lanka, during which one the prince’s fleet of ships was blown off course to the Maldives. The first settlers of the Maldives were probably Aryans from the northwest parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Traditional Maldivian dress
From there on, the Maldives had to become a regional melting pot. There was always the adventurous sailor that found his way to the Maldives by design or misadventure. He was almost always welcomed. He brought with him his language and culture. The Maldivian themselves sailed near and far and brought home whatever took their fancy. This added not only to the gene pool but also to the language and its culture.
As the country developed an identity and unification, more daring ventures were undertaken. Maldivians traveling to Bengal and Indonesian-Malaysian region brought in strong flavors of these languages and cultures. The conversion to Islam in 1153 brought in Arabic and Persian elements. The Portuguese who overcame the Maldives and remained in control for fifteen years added their contribution in the 16th Century. And more recently, Maldivians who sought education in Indian universities in the 18th Century brought with them Urdu and Hindi. In the 19th Century, the British Empire gave us English! We have always been willing to welcome as accommodate the visitor who came in peace. We have never believed in isolationism. We do not boast of racial or linguistic purity. On the contrary, we believe such contacts to be vital source of enrichment and revitalization. This, perhaps, is the true fountainhead of Maldivian hospitality.
We do, however, take strong exception to those who come in belligerence, in disrespectful arrogance, or with a desire to conquer or subdues. The Maldivian is very fiercely proud of his independence.