The Thaana script [ތާނަ] is a somewhat puzzling creation. It is used only on the Maldive Islands, where it is official to write the Dhivehi [ދިވެހިބަސް] language. Although Dhivehi is a member of the Aryan group, and most closely related to Sinhala (spoken on Sri Lanka), the Thaana script does not belong to the Indian Brahmi family of scripts, but is a local development mostly influenced by Arabic (but not derived from it).
Thaana exhibits a couple of unique features. It is written from right to left, as Arabic, but the letters are not connected, and therefore there
are no position-dependent glyph forms. Vowels are always written; they are indicated by diacritical marks which show a close resemblance to
their Arabic counterparts. The scripts makes a difference between long and short vowels; the latter usually have vowel signs that look
like a doubled version of the sign for the corresponding short vowel. There is also a sign for the null vowel (named sukun, as in Arabic)
whose use is obligatory for consonant clusters; thus, every letter in a Thaana word has to carry a diacritic, with the sole exception of
noonu when indicating prenasalization. Lastly, the script has a null consonant without sound value (alifu), which acts as a carrier sign for vowels that have
no preceding consonant,
Consonants letters derive from the shapes of Indic and Arabic numeral signs, yet their arrangement in the alphabetic sequence does not follow any rational order, nor can be derived from the order in other alphabets. The letter names are mostly Arabic. Some characters have more complex names; most of the latter lack Arabic counterparts that could have provided a simpler name, and they sometimes appear to be modifications of other letters. It is somewhat puzzling to note that shaviyani and zaviyani are not considered as equivalent to Arabic sheen and zain, respectively (while javiyani has no such restriction).
To write Arabic
words (which is often necessary due to cultural reasons), a number of special
transcription characters are needed; they represent
those Arabic sounds missing from Dhivehi (emphatic sounds and some fricatives), forming a kind of lengthy appendix at the end of the alphabet.
These extra characters are formed by adding dots to main characters (the only
dotted main character is paviyani), where
the choice of base character and dots is not fully systematic; yet the triple haa/hhaa/khaa shows a construction
principle that is clearly mirrored in seenu/saadhu/daadhu, thaa/to/zaa and alifu/ainu/ghainu.
In other cases (ttaa, thaalu, zo, sheenu, qaafu), Arabic letter decorations have been transferred rather directly,
while waafu seems to be quite an ad hoc solution.
The script is attested only from the 17.th century on, and it is not known who created it, nor why he chose so uncommon solutions for usual problems.
In another sense
strange is the official Romanization of Dhivehi into the Latin alphabet: It is both unusual and unelegant.
Dental sounds like DH or TH are marked with an H, while retroflexes remain umarked (but note that it is the other way round with L);
there are no aspirated sounds in Dhivehi. Long vowels are written in an old-fashioned, colonial-type convention
(EE=ī, OO=ū), and prenasalization is indicated by a preceding N plus an apostrophe.
I prepared this index from a dictionary available on the web, withouth any help from native-language sources. Moreover, that dictionary used transliteration, and thus the native spellings are all my own responsibility. If any reader can provide corrections/extensions, I’d be glad to get email from him or her.
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