The Dzongkha dilemma

The issue of the declining quality of Dzongkha, our national language is back again. It will be another agenda in the Parliament when they meet next month.

Fingers are pointed at policy makers for not using the national language in official correspondence, meetings and conferences, thereby not helping the promotion of Dzongkha. This is not an new issue or the first time that the importance of official correspondence in Dzongkha was stressed.

After decades of discussions on the promotion of the language, we are still discussing the same issue. If reading and writing in Dzongkha is difficult, speaking in the national language is still a problem with many.  A majority still cannot speak Dzongkha in its purest form. This includes members of Parliament who practice and hone their skill as the deliberations are in the national language.

However, it would be unfair to say that the usage of Dzongkha has worsened. Thanks to the change in political landscape, the media industry, especially the entertainment media and making Dzongkha a priority subject in schools to qualify for higher studies, the spoken Dzongkha, although it is a mix has improved.

The means of communication is still Dzongkha, although the younger generation speak a different version. A sentence in Dzongkha is not complete without using some English words. This is because the Bhutanese population is already up against a tide of language influence from the media. If our language is already difficult, it is too easy to pick up another through the television, music and films. That’s why we have young children who speak fluent Hindi and not Dzongkha.

There is no easy solution to make Dzongkha an attractive language. When we are bombarded 24 hours with TV programmes in so many languages, majority being Hindi, we will have a Hindi speaking young generation as they spend most of their time watching cartoon movies- in Hindi.

As they grow up to become high schools students, the priority is mathematics and science subjects because mastering in Dzongkha will not take them far. A pass mark in Dzongkha and good marks in science could guarantee a government scholarship to study abroad.

Besides Dzongkha is perceived as a difficult and therefore a boring subject. This is made worse by the new terminologies added as we keep up with scientific and technological development. A computer is called computer in many languages. In Bhutan it is logrig and many cannot even remember it. We have volumes of translated words, terminologies and dictionaries, but not many use it unless they are writing an application in Dzongkha or at the Assembly floor.

Legislation is being proposed to promote Dzongkha effectively. We can guarantee that it will not help much even if people are penalised. What we need is to make Dzongkha more attractive. How we do it is the biggest question.

Dzongkha had already made some progress in schools and is widely spoken today than ever before. If we can promote our national language so that our youth do not lose contact with their families and communities, it is already an achievement.

7 replies
    MIGNIEN says:

    Dear bhujolokia : even if we are far away than 13.000 Km , i will make my best to answer and sustain your comments with my ideas and my words. Do not worry if you have ever difficulties to express every day life problem ; I will send you some of my ideas if i can . The main importance is to send you ideas you can adapt to your environment . I feel you are a good bhutanese who is searching how to participate to give ideas to authorities . Do not be discoraged by a setback ; fight for your ideas !!
    Let you know you are not alone ; you are linked by a lover of your country as you are . If ever you want express delicate questions of subjects , use my mail . Go on my dear ! Hurry up guys ! Do not be shy as many of you when they are in front of a foreigner as french reputed as cultivated men ! Do not forget I was a teacher . Who must help his neighbours even far away ! That a christian observance and duty a

  2. bhutjolokia
    bhutjolokia says:

    hi,mr mignien. i follow your comments from the beginning, because it is interesting what non bhutanese
    feel about the country …”you love so much”. very seldom we find foreign members in the forum, but whenever a chilip writes, he/she gets lot of criticism, sometimes even asked to “just shut up”. that is not the case with your initiatives. so please carry on. why don’t you put a picture in your file, would like to see your face. cheers…

      MIGNIEN says:

      Dear bhutjolokia . Thank for your reply . Yes I love so much your country ; so , in every of my comments , i try to give ideas to developp your country ; it is my little contribution to get richer your exchanges and comments with your friends. I know that much of you have not the money to make trip over the world . So i tend to give you ideas ; the problem is not to be against of in accordance with my ideas . The main problem is to have ideas : a population who have not any ideas for discussion can decline. And I feel you have well understand . The problem for me is to get to my dear bhutanese interlocutors ideas to get better the organization of the country . If you read attentively my numerous comments , as I feel , you notice that , in every of my comments i never use bad words neither bad ideas . As you know , the neighbouring foreign countries are not always friendly with Bhutan when they use occidental ways of trade . That why i help you by suggesting you ideas in various aeras.
      My little contribution to your country do no only stop to give ideas. I have adopted a bhutanese french speaking TCB guide as a godson ; i have learn him freely french high language as a teacher retired . Over 1300 Guide , i checked that only four can speak basic french ; but they cannot participate to any various discussions . Although my godson speak fluently french about many subjects . And i gon on : every day , i translate for him the best articles of kuensel in high french : so he has directly the words to answer to any questions tourists are asking for . Nowadays , he speaks fluently french and the tourists are very happy . His employers , T.O. , know that . And when visting Bhutan myself once a year , I can check my knowledges over the country practically . So I participate to the Policy of tourism industry in Bhutan ; the occidental tourist fees ( USD 250 a day for each tourist ))is very expensive , but for the finance of the country , it is a way to yield money .So , you see , when I say “i love your country so much “I proof in real facts my feelings to your country.

      Pay attention to every of my comments : that can get you ideas to debate fructifully with your friends .

      Peace on you ; let the Lord give you a wisdom to participate to your country whatever your way . But the goal is to be positive for the country and his future. Do not despair !!!

      Hurry up , bhutanese guays !

      MIGNIEN says:

      Dear Bhujolokia ; i add that the best commentator of ever in Kuensel comments is IRFAN ( a pseudo ) i read it conscienscously at every time he writes because his word are always full of wisdom or realist . That give me more ideas and more knowledge to understant your way of living and mind.
      Thanks to him . ( MIGNIEN is not a anonymous pseudo bur my real name)

      My best regards to you !!

    MIGNIEN says:


    When visiting Bhutan , every shopkeeper I met could speak and understand basic English language .
    Many youths are not interesed with books written in DZONGKHA , they tell me . In kuensel article “BUILDING MODERN TEMPLES OF SOCIETY ” Oct 26 , I quote “the Reading Year ; … this energy is sustained that every year becomes a Reading Year ;…but in that digital age , books are competing with smart phone and tablets , You tube and candy crush . The visual sound an interactivity , that such device offer is more pleasurable THAN READING A BOOK”
    In fact , does DDC decide mainly for the youths , in remote villages WITHOUT THEIR OPINION ?
    Therefore , when I ask few journalists or panelists they tell me that many can understand pure DZONGKHA a little in rural aeras . but they use , in the common life , dialects . And more they have huge difficulties to write this “odd” language.
    Whatever the law which will reinforce the use of DZONGKA ,in every administration ( which is good in fact for the unity of the country and for a better managment of daily living in the future ) , according me , the development of many digital supports like face book , computers , portable phones and tablets and so on will inexorably progress . Whatever the law , the development of Bhutan is to go on ; and Bhutanesses must not look in the rear glass of the past . The youths will embrace all those new technologies , they wait after new possibility of connection with each other . Alas , the oldest buthaneses will be out of that revolution . We have the same problem in occidental countries .
    When the P.M. was pesenting his country at the UN tribune , in his last journey in USA , he says that “Bhutan is now unlocked and linked with the world ” He is right because the country has representatives in many international organizations .
    But the country must avoid to be closed and unlinked if DZONGKHA has the same place than English . DZONGKHA , according me , will be used inside the country only between buthaneses themselves .
    And for international relationships , even for tourists , English language is the best .
    So DZONGKHA for inner relation Inside the country and English to trade and to know every events over the world , technical news comprising !This seem to me an equilibrate status .
    I wish all the best for discussion about DZONGKHA in the likely next session in Parliament .
    Go on , Bhutan , with the wisdom of H.M. the King!!

    ( jc MIGNIEN is my real name and not a pseudo anonymous)

    MIGNIEN says:

    Some ideas to help the debate about the country i love so much . But it is not an interference in Bhutan private affairs , sure . I trust in foreign points of view which can give to the debate more thrilling and get a fruitfull discussion !
    The youths of 15/26 about are very concerned by DZONGKHA language if happen a law to use more it likely in the next parliament session .
    But why any consultation , investigation and survey with those youths have not be implemented ? More : let us think to the future times because whithin 3 years ( JULY 2018 ) will happen elections and , among the today 15/26 Youths , there will be new electors who will have the right to vote . Policy makers who want to be elected or reelected , pay attention ! This new generation have habits to be connected with english “system” if they are cultivated and graduates. . Uusing internet , it would be easy to make a Survey . Let us think that the new generation take part of the digital age .
    So why Policy makers do not debate whithout connection with youth ? Even with dropouts students ?
    During my last stay in Bhutan , i ask not only Young guides but some of them in cafés , restaurants , discos near my hotel . I thank them to have given to me answers about their future about English language : some were harsh , other very hard and severe with the Policy makers ; but many of them are very desperate to find a job the will like in or out Bhutan . And all of them say that only English language is the best for any trade and employment.
    Now the facts concerning the state of Dzongkha nowadays :
    The youths do not ignore that Learning English is easier to learn than Dzongkha as it is said in the above article . Because Dzongkha has a poor vocabulary , instable meaning , few grammar rules , and writing it is very difficult . It is an oral language first , out of new technologies created in odd ages out of the digital age. And without any evolution ; altough English is very evoluting because it is used for international trade exchanges .
    We see , deputies temselves say , when there is discussion in parliament session over technical subjects , they use English language .
    Let us have an eye on the society :the rural population use a dialect in about each valley . And the actual DZONGKHA tend to shift thoses différences . H.M. the King is right when he wants to develop DZONKHA He want to unify country via a common language . 60% of the population is peasant we know; so their exchanges are based only on orality . They have no problem with writing because the do not need any writing . And more : they know if they want to sell better their products in the near markets where they live near , it is necessary for them to know at least some words of English to trade .That is a real fact.
    IN the above aarticle “THE DZONGKHA DILEMNA” of oct 28 i quote this information “if reading and writing DZONGKHA is difficult , speaking in the national language is still a problem in many . A ” majority still cannot DZONGKHA in its purest form ”


  5. irfan
    irfan says:

    For a purely person to person conversation, even a dialect is more than enough. Long distance communications forced us to read and write in the last era, but in today’s digital time all we need to know is just to make a voice/video call. Time may have changed a lot, but a language is still about to read, write and speak.

    And a language still may not be just about communication, both written and spoken. If a language is expression, even silence has its own language in a romantic sense. For some, it can also be both medium and result of realisation in a communication. Language has always been used as a strong tool for translation of various literature that exist in different forms, mediums and in different other languages. But can a language be considered just the result of only translation? Literature and language shouldn’t be confused between each other.

    If we leave the non-residential Bhutanese and the expatriates in the country, the projected population of Bhutanese people shouldn’t be crossing the one million mark by 2025. But I don’t have the exact number. And it still remains a considerably smaller population. The biggest concern with parents forcing a foreign language on their children at an early age is that it may hamper their psychological as well as philosophical development. Every subject they learn will eventually be a key part of that development.
    And still, English was introduced as the medium of language at schools and now there is a pressure on the National Language. Same pressure will be felt by other local spoken languages. The youth of Bhutan still faces problem with English as a subject if not as just a foreign language. Good thing is that they are learning different subjects with English as the medium. I just hope that parents can see their children adopt and develop better philosophical values in life than just be busy in translation of languages. As a society, local or global, we require improved and richer literature in various subjects. Gaps and differences in languages can be handled by the translators.

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