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Wikipedia says the American pronunciation of the country is "/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/". But I asked a few American friends and they all pronounce it as "/ˈmɔːldiːvz/".

I searched "Maldives how to pronounce" on Google and the results are overwhelmingly "/ˈmɔːldiːvz/".

Interestingly, the Cambridge dictionary says "the Maldives" is pronounced as "/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/" in American English but if you play the audio, it is "/ˈmɔːldiːvz/".

I also searched "Maldives" on YouGlish. I checked 10 videos under "US" accent and 10 videos under "UK" accent and they are all "/ˈmɔːldiːvz/". I only found two videos under "Aus" that the people in them pronounce it as "/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/":

So my questions are:

  • Are both pronunciations correct but "/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/" is just used far less than the other one?
  • Or is "/ˈmɔːldiːvz/" the only correct pronunciation and the two "/ˈmɔːldaɪvz/" cases in the two videos above are mispronunciations by native speakers?
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  • A short /I/ (as in bid) is also sometimes heard.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 10:00
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    The American speaker for the Cambridge recording isn't saying anything like the /ˈmæl.daɪvz/ that they claim she is saying. She's saying [mɔlˈdivz] stressed on the second syllable not the first, and with the THOUGHT vowel on the unstressed syllable, and without any phonemic diphthong in the stressed second syllable nor with the [æ] sound from cat, apple, Annie they allege in the unstressed first one. So Cambridge definitely has it wrong.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 11:23

1 Answer 1

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I heard it mentioned on the radio news reports today several times on National Public Radio. The stress was always on the second syllable, and it was the FLEECE vowel. So mostly like the French pronunciation but with /z/ at the end.

I'm rather unsure on the unstressed vowel in the first syllable, since it was reduced.

So something like [mɐlˈdivz] phonetically not phonemically. For the IPA-averse, the stressed syllable was definitely "deeves" to rhyme with "Jeeves", not "dives" to rhyme with "fives" nor "divs" to rhyme with "gives".

But whether the first syllable was something the speaker was thinking of as a "mall" with /ɔ/ or its [ɒ] allophone, or a "mull" with /ʌ/, or a "mahl" with /ɑ/ — that's something I really can't tell you, since those differences are all at least partly neutralized by the reduction you always get in unstressed vowels.

This might also be a recent "learned" pronunciation. I don't know. Maybe once upon a time in Peoria people used to go “mall-diving” for this one. But the people I heard today on the radio certainly did not do so.

For the demonym Maldivian that's derived from the toponym you asked about, the OED provides pronunciations of /mɔːlˈdɪvɪən/, /mɒlˈdɪvɪən/, and /mɑlˈdɪviən/, which all rhyme with "Vivian" no matter how they start out.

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  • Thanks! The dictionaries seem to be wrong in the pronunciation stress, too. I didn't notice that until you pointed it out here.
    – yaobin
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 14:13

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