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The Dhivehi Language: A Descriptive and Historical Grammar of Dhivehi and Its Dialects. 2 vols.

The Dhivehi Language: A Descriptive and Historical Grammar of Dhivehi and Its Dialects. 2 vols. By SONIA FRITZ. Beitrage zur Sudasien-Institute Universitat Heidelberg, vol. 191. Wurzburg: ERGON VERLAG, 2002. Pp. xvi + 270, vi + 280. [euro]75.

Dhivehi (Maldivian) (1) is the language of the Maldive Republic. It is also spoken on the island of Minocoy as Mahl. Dhivehi is an Indo-Aryan language, and its closest relative is Sinhala of Sri Lanka, so that they form the southernmost branch of the family, to which Fritz gives the name "Insular Indo-Aryan." This is a reasonable and useful designation worth adopting, perhaps expanded to "Southern Insular Indo-Aryan" to indicate the geographical location more fully and emphasize the separation from the northern IA languages.

Until quite recently there was relatively little linguistic information available on Dhivehi, and Fritz provides a brief summary, stating (p. 8)
 The small amount of linguistic studies (in a wider sense) that has
 been devoted to Dhivehi so far shows that there has been but little
 interest in this language. In most cases, Dhivehi is not even
 mentioned in general Indological literature. ... The amount of
 special literature having Dhivehi as its subject is very restricted
 as well. Only a few publications exist, some of them having a very
 popular character; their only value consists in the material they
 comprise. In most cases, studies of a more scientific character are
 not really informative either, and there are practically no works of

Recently, however, there has been a rapid increase in the available sources, such as Bruce D. Cain, "Dhivehi (Maldivian): A Synchronic and Diachronic Study" (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 2000): Bruce D. Cain and James W. Gair, Dhivehi (Maldivian) (Languages of the World/Materials, vol. 63. Munich: Lincom Europa, 2000); and the long-awaited appearance of Christopher Reynolds's A Maldivian Dictionary (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), in addition to an online dictionary and work done by Maldivian scholars. Fritz's information-packed two-volume work is the fullest account so far and makes a significant contribution to the available information on the language. It is, as its subtitle indicates, both a descriptive and historical grammar, and the organization is essentially a familiar philological one. There is a general introduction of fifteen pages presenting the geographic and social situation and a historical account touching on the relationship with Sinhala. (2) The author notes that her primary goal is "a detailed comparative description of the morphology of the main dialects of Dhivehi," and the largest part of the volume is a two hundred-page section devoted to that, preceded by a thirty-three-page section on phonology. Only twelve pages are devoted to a "Syntactical Sketch," although it is also possible to garner a significant amount of syntactic information from the examples in the morphological descriptions. The second volume is devoted to data and indices and provides a great service to other scholars, by making possible direct access for analysis, as well as for checking some of the statements in the first volume.

Among the several virtues of the work is its provision of a large amount of detailed information on southern dialects that have been dealt with little if at all in preceding accounts, which have been based almost exclusively on the standard dialect of the capital Male. In addition to its intrinsic value, this will be of special interest to those attempting to define more fully the general history of the language and its relation to Sinhala, since there is significant dialect divergence--different atolls have both preserved and changed different features and have been exposed to different external forces, and some dialects preserve forms lost in the standard northern dialect.

Sinhala and Dhivehi are now not mutually intelligible, but they clearly form a subfamily, since the two share many features, at all levels of structure, not shared with the mainland Indo-Aryan languages (though for some of those features, exceptions may need to be made here for the southern I-A languages, mainly isolates, that have undergone Dravidian influence). From the point of view of linguistic and cultural history, probably the most important and intriguing questions to be addressed relate to the means of arrival of Dhivehi on the islands and the source from which it came, as well as the time and manner of its separation from Sinhala. Fritz states (p. 12):
 The relationship between Dhivehi and Sinhalese is not only the most
 important objective when the history of the language is concerned,
 but an also indispensable means for judging the evolutional
 background of certain dialectical phenomena occurring in Dhivehi.

Sinhala has, as Fritz notes, the longest continuous literary and lithic tradition of any modern Indo-Aryan language, and there has been considerable work in Sinhala historical linguistics, beginning primarily with the pioneering and impressive works of Wilhelm Geiger (who also published on Dhivehi), followed by others. This contributes to a historical treatment of Dhivehi in two main ways. First, in treating the etymology of specific forms, one can compare them with their Sinhala cognates whose history has been described elsewhere, and Fritz does make considerable use of this possibility. Second, one can investigate shared features and apply the familiar technique of the comparative method, in particular trying to determine which changes are common, and which represent parallel development, or are the result of contact. Thanks to the continuous Sinhala record, many changes in it, including any determined to be common, can be dated with relative certainty (see particularly W. S. Karunatil-lake. Historical Phonology of Sinhalese: From Old Indo-Aryan to the 14th Century A.D. [Colombo: S. Godage and Brothers, 2001] (3)), and in connection with the determination of common changes, this provides important evidence for the date of separation. Fritz does not address this possibility to any extent, partly because she relies virtually exclusively on Geiger's work (4) for historical information in Sinhala. Unfortunately, at the time of writing she did not have available Cain 2000, which brought the comparative method and structural analysis to bear and made use of the "yardstick" provided by work like Karunatillake's in an attempt to date the separation.

For example, among apparently shared features that could reflect common changes and thus date the separation, perhaps the most striking one is the total absence of aspirated consonants, which merged with their unaspirated counterparts before the earliest Sinhala inscriptions of the third to second century B.C.E. This merger has not been found in any of the mainland Indo-Aryan languages, so that it clearly appears to be a common change restricted to proto-Sinhala-Dhivebi. Another likely early common change is initial s to h.

Other apparently shared features, however, examined closely, pose significant challenges, raising as many questions as answers as to whether the similarities represent common or parallel changes possibly modulated by contact. As only one example of many, both Sinhala and Dhivehi exhibit umlaut of long back vowels followed by i, a change occurring in Sinhala around the fourth century C.E. Umlaut of this kind does not seem to occur anywhere in mainland Indo-Aryan, and it scarcely seems likely that the similarity that does exist here is accidental, so that would suggest separation after that date. On the other hand, the details in the languages differ in several respects. In particular, alternations between umlauted and non-umiauted vowels are involved in several morphophonemic processes, such as in past tense formation, and as Cain noted (2000: 195-96), vowels other than *a are affected in Sinhala but not in Dhivehi. Fritz's description supports this by noting that unlike in Sinhala, only one verb shows umlaut of it and none of o (pp. 26-27). She also observes that examples of fronting of *u or *o are rare in other environments as well, and dialectically limited in Dhivehi though common in Sinhala (p. 26). There is also a difference in the results of the umlaut of a, since Sinhala shows the vowel se, while Dhivehi has e. Cain considers this another major difference, claiming that umlaut is a parallel change, perhaps exemplifying drift, but Fritz proposes that this represents a subsequent change in Dhivehi ae > e, certainly a possibility. If umlaut is a common change, the split would have occurred at some time after the fourth century, but it would perhaps have spread in stages, with *a > ae (with subsequent shortening) occurring first, followed by the other back vowels, and not reaching some dialects. Whatever conclusion is finally arrived at, Fritz's inclusion of dialects is of real value here, since she notes that in the southernmost dialects there are more examples of umlaut (p. 25) and that M-umlaut, as far as it exists, is "more widespread" there as well. This may give a clue as to spread of the feature, with implications for dating contact and separation, and future scholars will undoubtedly be aided in coming to firmer conclusions by having the work of both Cain and Fritz at hand.

As another instance, the OIA dental-retroflex distinction in nasals and laterals was maintained in Dhivehi, but lost in Sinhala, as both Fritz (p. 35) and Cain (p. 204) show. The retroflex and dental nasals subsequently merged in (Male) Dhivehi, but both scholars note that the nasal contrast was maintained in the southern Addu dialect, and Fritz adds several examples for both that dialect and Fua' Mulaku. The Sinhala merger of dentals took place after the mid-eighth century C.E. (Karunatillake, p. 96), which, as Cain notes, is further evidence that the languages were independent prior to that date. This, along with similar cases, adds strength to Fritz's rejection, on non-linguistic grounds, of Geiger's contention that Dhivehi was a dialectal offshoot of Sinhala and that the split occurred no earlier than the tenth century (pp. 9-10).

With all its virtues in presenting an immense amount of heretofore unavailable data, the book does present some problems to the reader, including a number of statements that are difficult to interpret. Thus she states that the central feature of Dhivehi syntax, as in other Indo-Aryan languages, is the "right-to-left construction of the sentence," i.e., the final position of the verb, which applies in Dhivehi "only as far as finite verbs are concerned" (p. 251). This in itself is puzzling, given that non-finite expressions also are strongly left-branching (Cain and Gair 2000: 40-51), and she continues: "Without understanding this basic issue of the syntactical correlations of Dhivehi it would be impossible to analyse the morphological structures, especially of the verb and the pronoun." Without further details, it is hard to see how this holds. Perhaps there is some terminological slippage here in the use of "finite." What she does not note is that Dhivehi and Sinhala, doubtless as a result of isolation and Dravidian contact, are both thoroughly left-branching, perhaps more so than any other IA languages, as exemplified, for instance, by exclusively preposed relative structures ("participial subordinate clauses" in her terminology) with early loss of the IA correlative structure.

Other statements are difficult to interpret without finding them factually wrong. Thus she states that "like Sinhala, Dhivehi does not allow [consonant] clusters in any position," citing Masica, The Indo-Aryan Languages (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991). For Sinhala, this statement is surprising, since in any current variety, spoken or written, save perhaps one that emulates a specific medieval poetic language, clusters of varying types abound in forms at various levels of formality in both initial and medial position. Thus krama 'method', nangi 'younger sister', (i)strike 'flatiron', kzentima 'canteen', expras/ xkspras 'express', visvasa/visvdsa 'trustworthy', sri (as in Sri Lanka), etc., not to mention the name of the language itself: /sinhala/. Numerous examples are to be found in Matzel, Einfuhrung in die sin-halesische Sprache (Wiesbaden, 1983), which she draws on for description of Sinhala, as well as in any introductory text. The statement taken literally is equally puzzling for Dhivehi unless one limits it to monomorphemic inherited forms, since she goes on to state that consonant clusters in initial or final position must be "of foreign origin" and provides examples of these, as well as examples in sandhi forms.

Some of the terminology may also be puzzling to those working in other frameworks, and the diachronic/synchronic distinction is sometimes confounded. For example, "periphrastic imperatives" are held to be formed by a main verb + auxiliary complex. As one example, the Sinhala non-respectful singular imperative balapiya, plural balapiyav, are indeed derived from verb + piyanawa 'close, put' (p. 188), but the latter has been fully grammaticalized as an affix, and the verb itself is obsolete. More to the point, the same appears to be true of the Dhivehi forms in -fanan, of which, as Fritz notes, "the original meaning ... has been forgotten in the modern language" (pp. 189-90), and which is derived from a verb fianii, not attested in the modern literary language or in old Dhivehi. The same is true in the treatment of Sinhala "resultative aktionsart" verbs (p. 223), which are taken to be formed with piyanawa, lanawa 'put', and danawa/damanawa 'put, place'. In the modern language, danawa does occur as an independent form, as well as in forming complex verbs; lanawa, however, is moribund as an independent verb and the conjunctive participles (here "absolutives") incorporating it, such as balala 'having seen', are now fully grammaticalized and are clearly inflected forms. The same is the case with forms like balapu 'having seen', presumably derived from piyanawa.

These are not major flaws, but they do contribute to some difficulty, and perhaps uncertainty and some extra effort for the reader. Such reservations aside, this is an impressive and valuable work representing a Herculean effort in data collection, analysis, and presentation. The extensive data and analysis here of the non-standard dialects represent new information not previously available and make a real contribution to our knowledge of Dhivehi dialects. The examples of different dialects in the syntax section alone bring home forcibly and systematically just how much diversity exists, and hopefully will stimulate further work on their historical development and relationships as well as on the relationship (perhaps better read "relationships") of Dhivehi with Sinhala and beyond.

One admirable aspect of these volumes is their thoroughness in providing scholarly apparatus. They are well footnoted, and there is extensive indexing and cross-indexing. The second volume provides a number of texts from various sources, a number of them with interlinear glosses, with some as photocopies of the originals. Examples in the first volume are commonly cross-indexed to the texts, and the second volume carries this further. Forms in Dhivehi dialects are separately indexed as are forms from other languages cited, and a survey of historical documents is provided. Thus the second volume is particularly welcome in allowing statements to be checked and will provide grist for further work by others.

In passing, one might note here that the analysis of the standard language in this work differs in important ways from that presented in other recent works, as does the analysis of the script. (5) Thus from the descriptive/synchronic perspective these other sources might usefully be considered in conjunction with this one. See, for example, Cain's review (Anthropological Linguistics 46 [2004]: 352-57) for examples and references.

In sum, whatever cautions and cavils one might raise, the work is informative, well organized, generally sound, and of major proportions. We owe a debt of gratitude to the author for her contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Dhivehi, Insular, IA, and indeed of South Asian historical and typological linguistics in general.

(1.) Dhivehi lacks an aspirated consonant series, and the -h in dh- does not represent an aspirated consonant, but a diacritic device in the official Maldive Republic romanization to indicate a dental versus a retroflex stop. Fritz uses this in referring to the language, but examples are given in transcription.

(2.) Fritz refers to Sinhala as "Sinhalese," though the preferred and official name now is "Sinhala," which echoes the name used in the language itself.

(3.) This is a slightly revised version of the author's 1969 Cornell Univ. Ph.D. dissertation of the same title.

(4.) Esp. A Grammar of the Sinhalese Language (Colombo, 1938).

(5.) See James W. Gair and Bruce D. Cain, "Dhivehi Writing," in The World's Writing Systems, ed. Peter T. Daniels and William Bright (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), 564-68.


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Author:Gair, James W.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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