The Evolution of Dhivehi Bas
Dhivehi bas is classified as an Indo-Aryan or Indic language, stemming from the branches of Proto-Indo-Iranian and Proto-Indo-European. Descending from Sanskrit through Prakrit, it is estimated that the earliest semblance of what we now know as Dhivehi came into being around 500BC, although an exact date is currently unknown. Dhivehi also draws from a number of foreign languages, such as Sinhala, Arabic and English, each retaining its own varying degree of influence.
Because of our archipelago’s strategic importance in the Indian Ocean, trading vessels used to often pass through the Maldives amidst their journey. Stops were made due to reasons including but not limited to bad weather, restocking of food and water, or simple re-navigation. Voyagers would typically spend a few days on the islands, which in turn gradually shaped our language; many foreign words can now be seen within Dhivehi bas.
Around the 9th century, Maldives saw the arrival of travelers from Eastern and North Eastern India, now known as the states of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. This is evidenced by the fact that during the Pala era, ‘Naalamolhaa’, a famous Buddhist university in this area used to employ the “Proto-Naagaree” alphabet, which can be seen in Maldivian historical artifacts. The oldest such artifact, a religious scripture seen in Maalhos in Ari Atoll, contains writing in this alphabet. After conversion to Islam, the script can be seen in various Loamaafaanu, along with Eveyla akuru. It is possible, that Maldivians may have attended the university at some point, and brought back the learned script with them. It is more likely however, that Buddhist scholars came to the Maldives back then, to teach at Buddhist monasteries here.
Between the 10th and 12th centuries, due to political instability in the North, settlers came to the Maldives, bringing with them the influence of Sinhala. Persian and Arabic words appeared in the 12th century, after conversion to Islam, while Portuguese words began to emerge during their hegemony in the 16th century.
Over time, Dhivehi bas has evolved to become a language unlike any other, boasting its own distinctive structure and principles. Dhivehi words and dialects are no doubt linked to Raajje’ culture, almost inextricably so. And although greater research into this domain is necessary, what’s even more crucial is our collective responsibility for our mother tongue, its preservation and upkeep, and consequently that of our heritage as well.