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On Monday night I had the pleasure of getting to see a screening of a movie called The Island President, which was followed by a Q&A with (former) President Mohamed Nasheed himself.


As the movie follows President Nasheed around the islands of the Maldives, he discusses politics, democracy, and the effects of climate change with his constituents, conversing in a native tongue peppered with English and sometimes Arabic words.

Do you know what language they speak in the Maldives?  Neither did I!  The people of the Maldives speak a language called Dhivehi (or just “Maldivian”), which is an Indo-Aryan language closely related to the Sinhala language of Sri Lanka.  Dhivehi is written in its own alphabet, called Thaana.

In the documentary, President Nasheed joins with a group of presidents of other small island nations who are similarly concerned about the future of their countries in the face of rising sea levels.  The UN recognizes these as a distinct group known as the Small Island Developing States.  I know so very little about these countries (where the heck are the Comoros?) and it’s a real shame.  So in honor of the film, today’s pop quiz is about the languages of the small island nations!

To help you out a bit, here is a map of “small states” compiled by wikipedia, which you can click to enlarge in a new window.  (Oh there’s the Comoros!)


1. What is the official language of the Comoros?
a) Arabic   b) French   c) Comorian   d) all of the above

2. English and Gilbertese are the official languages of which island nation?
a) Samoa   b) Seychelles  c) Kiribati  d) Bahamas

3. Creoles are spoken on which of these islands?
a) Jamaica  b) Trinidad and Tobago  c) Seychelles  d) all of the above

4. The Cook Islands are a group of relatively autonomous islands in the far South Pacific.  The residents of the Cook Islands speak English along with a unique dialect of:
a) French   b) Maori   c) Kriol   d) Hawaiian

5. Portugese is the official language of which of these island nations?
a) Cape Verde   b) Saint Lucia   c) Samoa   d) Tuvalu

6. Which of these is not a Polynesian language?
a) Samoan   b) Tongan   c) Fijian   d) Palauan

7. Which island language is actually a “set of Swahili dialects” according to wikipedia?
a) Comorian  b) Seychellois Creole  c) Palauan  d) Tuvaluan

8.  Which island nation has the highest number of unique languages?
a) Cape Verde  b) Papua New Guinea  c) Marshall Islands  d) Federated States of Micronesia

EXTRA CREDIT: True or false – Tok Pisin, the official language of Papua New Guinea, is a pidgin.

One of the 1,192 islands of the Maldives

Answers: 1. a) all of the above!;  2. c) Kiribati (the name comes from the local rendering of the English term “Gilbert Islands”);  3. d) all of the above!;  4. b) Maori; 5. a) Cape Verde; 6. d) Palauan; 7. a) Comorian; 8. b) Papua New Guinea – with an eye-popping 830 living languages at last count.
Extra credit: False.  The “pisin” in the term probably did come from the word “pidgin”, as the language almost certainly started as a pidgin among the speakers of the hundreds of Papuan languages, but it has since developed into a fully-fledged creole language.

This was a tough one!  I hope you learned something new – I sure did while researching for this quiz.

The Maldives, along with all of the islands featured in this quiz, belong to an organization called the Alliance of Small Island States.  Please check out their website to learn more about the issues these nations face and the important work they are doing together.