Official State Languages query

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at
Fri Aug 16 10:40:47 UTC 1996

On Thu, 15 Aug 1996, Narayan S. Raja wrote:

> I believe there is a
> language called "Divehi", which may or may not
> be an official language in the Union Territory
> of Lakshadweep.

Divehi is the national language of the Republic of the Maldives.  It is an
Indo-European language, related historically to Sinhala, but is today
written in a script that was invented by an Arab Muslim traveller in about
1200, and is written right-to-left with Perso-Arabic numerals acting as
consonants, and vowels being marked with diacritics more or less in the
style of Devanagari (but with different signs).  So it looks,
superficially, semitic.  Pre-1200 copper-plate grants and inscriptions are
in a script related to Sinhalese.  Although there is ample evidence of a
long Buddhist history before 1200, the Republic of the Maldives is today a
Muslim state: no non-muslim may be a citizen. 

The people of the Lakshadweep islands -- which are part of the same
undersea volcanic geological structure as the Maldives -- speak a variant
of Malayalam.  They are Muslims, probably by conversion from Buddhism by
mainland Muslims from Kerala (rather than by Arab Indian ocean travellers,
as in the case of the Maldivians).  But curiously, the Nair-style system
of matrilinear descent still survives amongst sections the Lakshadweep
people.  This combination of Malabar-matrilineality with a fundamentally
Muslim patriarchal ideology is very unexpected (and matrilineality is on
the decline in the islands). 

The island of Minicoy, exactly between the Lakshadweep islands to the
North and the Maldives to the south, is a special case, culturally.  For
its early history it was part of the Maldives, and Divehi is still spoken
there.  In fishing and other matters the island is more closely aligned
with the Maldives.  But the island was ceded to Keralan rajas by a past
Maldivian Sultan and is today part of India. 


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