On 21 February, the world will be celebrating the 10th International Mother Language Day. The Day is an especially promising opportunity to recall what is at stake for Dhivehi.
Dhivehi is among the 350 odd languages in the world with over 100,000 native speakers. And like the vast majority of those languages, Dhivehi also faces significant threats to its survival. According to experts, some telltale signs of a language under threat include youngsters preferring to speak in other languages and mixing it with other languages. These two signs are clearly visible with regard to Dhivehi. To counter this however, Dhivehi has an important survival advantage: Its status as the official language of Maldives.
Disappearing from bookshelves and CD stores:
In the 90s it was common to see young office girls reading Binma Waheed and Nahla's stories. Not anymore. Dhivehi novels have all but disappeared from offices and even bookshops. The leading publisher in the Maldives, Novelty, no longer publishes Dhivehi novels because they are not profitable.
The story is similar with Dhivehi music. Nearly 90% of songs stocked by music shops are English and Hindi CDs. The classical Dhivehi songs of the 70s and 80s have all but disappeared except in the series of 'E-Handhaan' CDs produced by Voice of Maldives.
The disdain shown by the current generation of Maldivians to Dhivehi literature is also reflected in student attitudes towards teaching Dhivehi at school. For nearly all students their most hated subject is the compulsorily taught Dhivehi language.
Why Dhivehi matters:
So the question is should we allow Dhivehi die a slow a death? Definitely not. Dhivehi language is absolutely vital to the identity of Maldivians as a people and Maldives as a country, because it is the only feature we all share and which few others have. It is a strategic factor in our advances towards sustainable development and the harmonious coordination of our affairs.
Far from being a field reserved for writers, Dhivehi lies at the heart of all social, economic and cultural life. Dhivehi does matter to all of us. It matters when we want to promote cultural diversity, and fight illiteracy, and it matters for quality education, including teaching in the first years of schooling. It matters in the fight for greater social inclusion, for creativity, economic development and safeguarding indigenous knowledge.
What can be done to develop and preserve Dhivehi
Make Dhivehi more computer friendly:
- Develop a spell checker program. For this the National Center must first develop guidelines for breaking down sentences into distinct words.
- Develop more fonts for different uses, for example large sizes for use on bill boards; mobile phone fonts etc.
Make Dhivehi more student friendly:
- Eliminate advanced literary forms such as 'raivaru' from school syllabi and make the lessons more interesting.