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.