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Thaana alphabet

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Thaana alphabet

Thaana (Tāna)
Type Abugida with no inherent vowel
Languages Maldivian language
Parent systems
Hindu-Arabic numerals
  • Thaana (Tāna)
ISO 15924 Template:ISO 15924 code, Template:ISO 15924 number
Direction Template:ISO 15924 direction
Unicode alias Template:ISO 15924 alias
Unicode range U+0780–U+07BF
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Thaana, Taana or Tāna (written ތާނަ in Tāna script) is the modern writing system of the Maldivian language spoken in the Maldives. Thaana has characteristics of both an abugida (diacritic, vowel-killer strokes) and a true alphabet (all vowels are written), with consonants derived from indigenous and Arabic numerals, and vowels derived from the vowel diacritics of the Arabic abjad. Its orthography is largely phonemic.

The Thaana script first appeared in a Maldivian document towards the beginning of the 18th century in a crude initial form known as Gabulhi Thaana which was written scripta continua. This early script slowly developed, its characters slanting 45 degrees, becoming more graceful and spaces were added between words. As time went by it gradually replaced the older Dhives Akuru alphabet. The oldest written sample of the Thaana script is found in the island of Kanditheemu in Northern Miladhunmadulu Atoll. It is inscribed on the door posts of the main Hukuru Miskiy (Friday mosque) of the island and dates back to 1008 AH (AD 1599) and 1020 AH (AD 1611) when the roof of the building were built and the renewed during the reigns of Ibrahim Kalaafaan (Sultan Ibrahim III) and Hussain Faamuladeyri Kilege (Sultan Hussain II) respectively.

Thaana, like Arabic, is written right to left. It indicates vowels with diacritic marks derived from Arabic. Each letter must carry either a vowel or a sukun (which indicates "no vowel"). The only exception to this rule is nūnu which, when written without a diacritic, indicates prenasalization of a following stop.

The vowel or diacritical signs are called fili in Maldivian; there are five fili for short vowels (a, i, u, e, o), where the first two look identical to the Arabic vowel signs (fatha and kasra) and the third one (damma) looks somewhat similar. Long vowels (ā, ē, ī, ō and ū) are denoted by doubled fili (except ō, which is a modification of the short obofili).

The letter alifu has no sound value of its own and is used for three different purposes: It can act as a carrier for a vowel with no preceding consonant, that is, a word-initial vowel or the second part of a diphthong; when it carries a sukun, it indicates gemination (lengthening) of the following consonant; and if alifu+sukun occurs at the end of a word, it indicates that the word ends in /eh/. Gemination of nasals, however, is indicated by nūnu+sukun preceding the nasal to be geminated.


The origins of Tāna are unique among the world's alphabets: The first nine letters (h–v) are derived from the Arabic numerals, whereas the next nine (m–d) were the local Indic numerals. (See Hindu-Arabic numerals.) The remaining letters for loanwords (z–ch) and Arabic transliteration are derived from phonetically similar native consonants by means of diacritics, with the exception of y, which is of unknown origin. This means that Thaana is one of the few alphabets not derived graphically from the original Semitic alphabet — unless the Indic numerals were (see Brahmi numerals).

The order of the Tāna alphabet (hā, shaviyani, nūnu, rā, bā, etc.) doesn’t follow the order of other Indic scripts or of the Arabic script. There is no apparent logic to the order; this has been interpreted as suggesting that the script was scrambled to keep it secret from average islanders. The script was originally used primarily to write magical (fadinta) incantations. These included Arabic quotations, written from right to left. Maldivian learned men, who were all well versed in sorcery, saw the advantages of writing in this simplified hidden script, and Tāna was gradually adopted for everyday use.[1]

Tāna nearly disappeared for a brief period in recent history. Towards the mid-1970s, during President Ibrahim Nasir's tenure, Telex machines were introduced by the Maldivian Government in the local administration. The new telex equipment was viewed as a great progress, however Tāna was deemed to be an obstacle because messages on the telex machines could only be written in the Latin script. Following this, a rough Latin transliteration for Maldivian was officially approved by the Maldivian government in 1976 and was quickly implemented by the administration. Booklets were printed and dispatched to all Atoll and Island Offices, as well as schools and merchant liners. This was seen by many as the demise of the Tāna script.

This official Latin script (Maldivian Latin) made indiscriminate use of "h"s for non-aspirated sounds, inconsistent with the clear phonetic rules of Indic languages. It also used certain combinations of letters and apostrophes for some Arabic sounds which effectively ignored the Arabic transliterations accepted in Academic circles worldwide. The long vowels "oo" and "ee" were introduced from English, reminiscent of colonial transcriptions.

Clarence Maloney, the American anthropologist who was in the Maldives at the time of the change, lamented the crude inconsistencies of the Maldivian Latin and wondered why modern Standard Indic transliteration had not been considered.[2]

The Tāna script was reinstated by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom shortly after he took power in 1978. However, the Latin transcription of 1976 continues to be widely used.

Character set

Thaana occupies Unicode codepoints 1920-1983 (hexadecimal 0780-07BF). For a sample text, see the article on Gaumii salaam, the Maldives' national anthem.

Characters of the Thaana script
(vowels are displayed with an alifu carrier)
Grapheme Name Nasiri Romanization IPA value
haa h Template:IPA link/core
shaviyani perhaps between sh & r
perhaps ng
Template:IPA link/core/Template:IPA link/core
Template:IPA link/core
noonu n Template:IPA link/core
raa r Template:IPA link/core
baa b Template:IPA link/core
lhaviyani lh Template:IPA link/core
kaafu k Template:IPA link/core
alifu varies see article
vaavu v Template:IPA link/core
meemu m Template:IPA link/core
faafu f Template:IPA link/core
dhaalu dh Template:IPA link/core
thaa th Template:IPA link/core
laamu l Template:IPA link/core
gaafu g Template:IPA link/core
gnaviyani gn Template:IPA link/core
seenu s Template:IPA link/core
daviyani d Template:IPA link/core
zaviyani z Template:IPA link/core
taviyani t Template:IPA link/core
yaa y Template:IPA link/core
paviyani p Template:IPA link/core
javiyani j Template:IPA link/core
chaviyani ch Template:IPA link/core
ttaa Arabic-to-Maldivian


Template:IPA link/core
sheenu Arabic-to-Maldivian
abafili a Template:IPA link/core
aabaafili aa Template:IPA link/core
ibifili i Template:IPA link/core
eebeefili ee Template:IPA link/core
ubufili u Template:IPA link/core
ooboofili oo Template:IPA link/core
ebefili e Template:IPA link/core
eybeyfili ey Template:IPA link/core
obofili o Template:IPA link/core
oaboafili oa Template:IPA link/core
sukun varies see article
naviyani Template:IPA link/core

Transliteration of the name

H. C. P. Bell, the first serious researcher of Maldivian documents, used the spelling Tāna, as the initial consonant is unaspirated. The spelling Thaana was adopted in the mid-1970s, when the government of the Maldives embarked on a short period of Romanization; /t/ was transcribed ⟨th⟩, as ⟨t⟩ was used for the retroflex sound (see Gair & Cain in Daniels & Bright 1996:565).

Disappearance of the letter naviyani

Naviyani ޱ represents the retroflex "n" ([ɳ]) common to many Languages of India. However this letter was abolished from Maldivian official documents around 1953.

The letter's former position in the Maldivian alphabet was the sixteenth, between Gaafu and Seenu, instead of Nyaviyani (ޏ). Former position of Nyaviyani (ޏ) was 22nd. It is still seen in reprints of old books like the Bodu Tartheebu, and it is used by the people of Addu Atoll and Fuvahmulah when writing songs or poetry in their dialects as still the word is present in their spoken language.


Main article: Thaana (Unicode block)

Thaana was added to the Unicode Standard in September, 1999 with the release of version 3.0.

The Unicode block for Thaana is U+0780–U+07BF: chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+078x ހ ށ ނ ރ ބ ޅ ކ އ ވ މ ފ ދ ތ ލ ގ ޏ
U+079x ސ ޑ ޒ ޓ ޔ ޕ ޖ ޗ ޘ ޙ ޚ ޛ ޜ ޝ ޞ ޟ
U+07Ax ޠ ޡ ޢ ޣ ޤ ޥ ަ ާ ި ީ ު ޫ ެ ޭ ޮ ޯ
U+07Bx ް ޱ
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.3


  • Bell, H. C. P. The Maldive islands. Monograph on the History, Archaeology and Epigraphy. Reprint 1940 edn. Male' 1986.
  • H. C. P. Bell, The Maldive Islands, An account of the physical features, History, Inhabitants, Productions and Trade. Colombo 1883, ISBN 81-206-1222-1
  • Bell, H. C. P. Excerpta Maldiviana. Reprint 1922-1935 edition New Delhi 1998.
  • Divehi Bahuge Qawaaaid. Vols 1 to 5. Ministry of Education. Male' 1978.
  • Divehīnge Tarika. Divehīnge Bas. Divehibahāi Tārikhah Khidumaykurā Qaumī Majlis. Male’ 2000.
  • Gair, James W. & Cain, Bruce D. (1996), "Divehi Writing" in Peter T. Daniels & William Bright, ed., The World's Writing Systems, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 564–568. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  • Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. ISBN 84-7254-801-5
  • Geiger, Wilhelm. Maldivian Linguistic Studies. Reprint 1919 edn. Novelty Press. Male’ 1986.

External links

  • A brief description of Thaana is available at this website
  • The Unicode 5.0 Standard: 8.4 Thaana
  • Unicode Character Code Charts: Thaana
  • GNU FreeFont Unicode font family with Thaana range in its serif face.
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