Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Do Bhutanese Need Two Languages to Communicate?

Dzongkha is the National Language of Bhutan. For those who are not born into Dzongkha speaking community, the language is taught from the primary level of education and it is mandatory for the students to get at least pass mark to go to the next level of grade. Despite experts simplifying the language over decades, children and even adults face difficulties in learning Dzongkha with ease. Our own and only language is always a subject of complexity, ridicule, general apathy and lost enthusiasm.

Dzongkha is not a language that is borrowed or imported. Our forefathers originally developed and evolved it over centuries. But in the current scenario of a transient Bhutanese society, the language doesn’t seem to create a quest among the young learners and the people in contemporary Bhutanese (mentality) society. For instance, among the current generation of Bhutanese, there are not many who can speak the authentic language of Dzongkha without errors, leave aside the number of those who can write a piece that has correct grammar and linguistic elements. 

Bhutanese today in general take pride in declaring as of not having sufficient knowledge on Dzongkha, and can not complete a sentence without adding a small supposed spice and elixir of English vocab. Bhutanese today associate authentic and accentuated Dzongkha speaking in day to day communications as being natively backwards and of not having been able to gain exposure to the supposed developed and modernized western culture. And therefore the more you are able to speak fluent English with western accent the more exposed, modernized and developed one is perceived.

Illiterates, who have not learnt English at all, thrive hard wide eyed, to utter English vocabularies as much as possible against the odds of not having learnt nor adapted to pronounce words correctly.

Does that mean Bhutanese are so proficient in English? No, Its not. But true, comparing to Dzongkha. Many Bhutanese can write in English but with so many grammatical mistakes.   They start speaking in English only to end the sentence in Dzongkha.   

In the current scenario, the aforementioned situations have resulted in making Dzongkha language volatile to degradation whereby already it is diluted with English vocabulary.

The Bhutanese take invincible effort and pride in preserving and promoting the external tangible elements of culture. Seldom does our fellows realize that it is the intangible elements of culture i.e., our native language which is inextricably  inter-wined with other intangible cultures like our principals, morals and attachment to ones native land, thus these compound together to form the outer tangible culture. Therefore all in all, the intangible cultures in the bigger picture, gives firm ground to the outer tangible culture.

Else it doesn’t require much investment of time, resource and effort to wear gho and kira, build Bhutanese architecture coded buildings and call ourselves truly Bhutanese whilst using a foreign language to communicate within the fellow Bhutanese people with a lost national and indigenous dialect.


  1. That's what is happening today and for sure we cannot live with it. needed to follow the steps the world is heading into...Aptly put...thanks

  2. I've lived in Bhutan for a number of years, and hope you don't mind me commenting on outside observations. I find that people naturally speak Dzongkha here by preference, that they are more comfortable speaking Dzongkha. However it's true that there are a lot of English words slipped in. Afterall, English is the language of instruction. This is an unfortunate necessity for an education in Science, Math or Physics, because of differences in abstract volcabulary. Similarly, Dzongkha is the only appropriate language to learn about Bhutanese culture, religion and history - because it to has unique elements and is deeply intertwined with these. What I'm saying is it would be best for Dzongkha (or English), not to seem to advocate some kind of rivalry or better/worse distinction between the two languages, but to recognize that both have a place and strengths, and both are necessary for a relevant/empowering education (English) and a proper understanding of ones self and one's valuable cultural inheritance (Dzongkha), if one is to be Bhutanese. I would like to see both very much encouraged and placed on equal standing, from my point of view. I hope that people who think English may be better, could think on the example of a person who admires the Dzongkha language as an ideal form, while being a fluent English speaker, and come to see that the grass is simply greener where you water it, and better to water it all (that said, I need to work on my Dzongkha!).

  3. Well written but what is the solution for this. Simply pointing out the problem will not solve it. I see two solutions for this problem which is threatening our national language. Either we simplify the way we write or we have more hours of class in the school. typical scenario at present is that dzongkha is taught for just 40-60minutes per day and students hardly understand them. the other factor is contributed by complexities of grammar and spellings. It is my wish that dzongkha is as easy as writing Hindi or Nepali.

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  5. Honestly, in my observations, the instruction quality, vis a vis the methodology, of Dzongkha, could be vastly improved. This opens up a can of worms however which might not be welcomed when coming from a chillip, so I will leave out some points. But one key point I won't neglect is this: At least understand that English instruction has evolved for centuries to it's current point, but historically Dzongkha was taught as a privilege and it's method of instruction (even it's design) was designed to be very much esoteric and time consuming when it comes to 'pure' and written Dzongkha, rather than designed for accessibility or efficient instruction, because historically it was meant as a tool of the upper class and it's servants, frankly... English was once more like that but changed completely in the last two centuries... It's an interesting subject which needs analysis before assuming the two languages are comparable in terms of time/method of instruction or even contemporary design...