Dzongkha language

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Dzongkha (Jong-kă) is the national language of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The word "dzongkha" means the language (kha, jong) spoken in the dzong (jong), dzong being the fortress-like monasteries established throughout Bhutan by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century.

Dzongkha bears a linguistic relationship to modern Tibetan as that between Spanish and Portuguese. The modern language pairs have lost mutual comprehensibility but they share a common ancestor language which is still used in liturgical contexts. Whereas religious scholars in Spain, Portugal and Italy study Latin, the religious language of Roman Catholicism, monks in Tibet and Bhutan study Old Tibetan, the sacred language of Tibetan Buddhism. In Bhutan this preserved sacred language is referred to as Chöke (ཆོས་སྐད་).

Dzongkha and its dialects are the native tongue of eight western districts of Bhutan (viz. Phodrang, Punakha, Thimphu, Gasa, Paro, Ha, Dhakana, and Chukha). There are also some speakers found near the Indian town of Kalimpong, once part of Bhutan but now in West Bengal. Dzongkha study is mandatory in all schools in Bhutan, and the language is the lingua franca in the districts to the south and east where it is not the mother tongue.

Linguistically, Dzongkha is a South Bodish language belonging to the proposed Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan group. It is closely related to Sikkimese (Template:Bo), the national language of the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim; and to some other Bhutanese languages such as Cho-cha-na-ca (khyod ca nga ca kha), Brokpa (me rag sag steng 'brog skad), Brokkat (dur gyi 'brog skad), and Laka (la ka). Modern Tibetan is a Central Bodish language and thus belongs to a different sub-branch.

Dzongkha is usually written in Bhutanese forms of the Tibetan script known as Joyi (mgyogs yig) and Joshum (mgyogs tshugs ma). Dzongkha books are typically printed using the Ucan fonts developed to print the Tibetan syllabary.

Dzongkha is rarely heard outside Bhutan and environs. However, the 2003 Bhutanese film, Travellers and Magicians is entirely in Dzongkha.

'Bhutan' in Dzongkha

Bhutan is called Druk in Dzongkha. This is related to the imaginary heavenly figure usually referred to as the "Thunder Dragon"; hence Bhutan is sometimes called "the country of the Thunder Dragon".

Historically, the dragon is associated with Tibet. When the Tibetan saint Shabdrung Nwawang Namgyal entered Bhutan, forced by rival kings to leave his kingdom in Kham, he named Bhutan as Druk. As the country was called Druk, its citizens are called Drukpa. As the country has been represented by the name "Kingdom of Bhutan", use of the term "Druk" has gradually diminished.

Today, this word is commonly used to refer the people from the northern part of the country who are of Tibeto-origin. Bhutanese refugees accuse that this identification has been created to disintegrate them from the mainstream and finally expel them. When tension grew between the northern and southern Bhutanese, some influential people from northern Bhutan widely campaigned that Drukpa does not refer to the southern Bhutanese, rather they are called Lhotsampas, which means residents of the south.

Most institutions in the country use Druk in their name such as Druk National Congress, Druknet, Druk Air etc.


In October 2005, an internal Microsoft memorandum barred the term "Dzongkha" from all company software and promotional material, substituting the term "Tibetan - Bhutan" instead. This was done at the request of the mainland Chinese government, who insisted the name "Dzongkha" implied an affiliation with the Dalai Lama, and hence, with Tibetan independentism.[1]Template:Or The Bhutanese, who have never been under the rule of the Dalai Lama, nor revered him especially, were dismayed by the decision.[2]Template:Dead link Linguists have pointed out that the word "Dzongkha" has no particular association with the Dalai Lama.[1]



  • van Driem, George L, with the collaboration of Karma Tshering of Gaselô (1998). Dzongkha. Leiden: Research School CNWS, School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies. ISBN 90-5789-002-X.  (CNWS publications Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region, 1566-1970 ; vol. 1) - A language textbook with three audio compact disks.
  • Dzongkha Development Commission (1999). The New Dzongkha Grammar (rdzong kha'i brda gzhung gsar pa). Thimphu: Dzongkha Development Commission. 
  • Dzongkha Development Commission (1990). Dzongkha Rabsel Lamzang (rdzong kha rab gsal lam bzang). Thimphu: Dzongkha Development Commission. 
  • Dzongkha Development Authority (2005). English-Dzongkha Dictionary (ཨིང་ལིཤ་རྫོང་ཁ་ཤན་སྦྱར་ཚིག་མཛོད།). Thimphu: Dzongkha Development Authority, Ministry of Education. ISBN 99966335. 

See also

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