The Dhivehi Language Academy has introduced new regulations for imposing fines of between MVR500 (US$32) and MVR5,000 (US$324) for prioritising other languages in official communications.
The rules were enacted on June 29 under a law passed by the parliament in 2011 to “protect, preserve and enrich the Dhivehi language with regard to UNESCO warnings that languages with minority populations may be endangered.”
The regulations will come into force in six months. It applies to state institutions, including the civil service, the judiciary, the People’s Majlis, and independent commissions.
The academy was authorised to deal accordingly with actions that are either detrimental to the mother tongue or contrary to the law and the new regulations.
A form was also introduced for filing complaints along with documentary, audio, video, or photographic evidence of violations.
The academy was instituted by the 2011 law and tasked with advising state institutions on matters related to the Dhivehi language.
Media reports of the new regulations meanwhile drew criticism and ridicule on social media, with many accusing the academy of trying to force the use of Dhivehi.
Others criticised the use of the English word ‘academy’ in the official name of the institution.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Ashraf Ali, president of the academy, argued that the rules are intended to offer incentives for the use of Dhivehi over other languages rather than penalising offenders.
“We’ve given a grace period of six months till the regulation comes into force, and within that period, we will make a roadmap to implement these changes, prepare and spread awareness among state offices,” he said.
On the issue of the hefty fines, Ashraf said: “The academy will review complaints and discuss on whether to issue fines, but only after giving chance to reform and facilitating that process.”
He also defended the use of the word ‘academy’ in the institution’s name, noting that it was mandated by the 2011 law.
“To change the law that named the institution would essentially dissolve this very institution and result in changes to this institution’s foundation,” he said.
The Dhivehi word “ekedemee” was included in the 2012 dictionary released by the academy, he added.
“From a linguistic perspective, ‘academy’ is a universal word. In all countries there are academies and it’s used differently in ways easy to pronounce in each language. Arabs call it academia, the original Greek word is ekadamee,” Ashraf said.
He also stressed that the rules will not infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
According to the rules, the vision, mission, aim and objectives of a state institution, if made public, must be published in Dhivehi. Exhibitions, technical workshops, carnivals, and musical or cultural shows organised by a state entity must also be presented in Dhivehi.
Any official documents exchanged either between government offices or any Maldivian living in or out of the country must be written in Dhivehi. All documents used to provide services to the public or to request services must be in Dhivehi.
Seminars, workshops or symposiums held by offices if aimed at Maldivians, or in relation to Maldivians, the participants must also prioritise Dhivehi.
Speeches delivered at official ceremonies, gatherings, meetings, speeches must be in Dhivehi.
Additionally, Dhivehi language must be used in all official meetings of government offices whenever possible.
Speeches made at overseas ceremonies by government officials, if it relates to the common interest of Maldivians, must be translated to Dhivehi and stored in the national archive.
Dhivehi must continue to be taught as a compulsory subject in all schools across the country.
A module about the Dhivehi language or its history must be included in all courses offered by local universities that exceed three years.
Further, Dhivehi must also be prioritised when naming state offices, vessels, private houses, and buildings.
The regulations exempt research reports by academics or doctors, doctor’s prescriptions, unofficial notes, drafts, and “technical documents that may cause problems if written in Dhivehi.”