Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. The word Dzongkha means the language (Kha) spoken in the Dzong. Dzongs are the fortresses established throughout the kingdom by Zabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century.
Although there are over 18 languages in Bhutan that belong to the Tibeto-Burman group and Lhotsamkha (Nepali) – Indo-Aryan group, the lingua franca of Bhutan is Dzongkha which is the native language of Bhutan.
Written Dzongkha follows a script similar to Tibetan and consists of 30 consonants and four vowels. The modern Dzongkha writing uses the alphabet system first introduced by Thonmi Sambhota. He was the son of Anu of the Thonmi clan from central Tibet; Sambhota was a minister of the religious Tibetan King Songtsen Gambo.
After mastering linguistics in India, Sambhota returned to Tibet and introduced the Tibetan alphabet system which comprises 30 consonants and four vowels. The sound system and the structure of the alphabets were based on Devangiri, a script used for many modern and older languages of India, including Sanskrit, Hindi and Nepali. Although the writing system of modern Dzongkha namely Jogyig was brought to Bhutan by Dematsema on the invitation of Sindhu Raja, the origin of the Bhutanese alphabet has to be traced back to Sambhota.
Dzongkha consists of 30 consonants termed as Selje Sumchu. These are used in combination with prefixes, suffixes and post suffixes. The words are formed with characters which are sub-joint and surmounted on the basic letter. Thus a simple word in Dzongkha may look complex with sub-joints, surmounts, prefixes and suffixes.
Written Dzongkha may be similar to Tibetan but spoken Dzongkha is very different. Spoken Dzongkha consists of various articulations and is relatively easy to learn, speak and follow. Dzongkha has limited vocabulary and many modern words are still being introduced and some are still made up by a combination of terms. The separate honorific vocabulary exists for use in respect with the elders, for example the Dzongkha verb ‘to speak’ when used with people with same status is Lap where as when used in reference with elders it would change to Zhu.
Like many other languages of the region, Bhutan too has many dialects depending on the region in which they are spoken. The difference is very minimal and can be understood. As the language is still developing, the vocabulary is limited and influenced by a combination of terms. There is an increasing trend of usage of English with Dzongkha in day to day conversation as the mixing of languages is easy to speak and understand.
Dzongkha is a developing language and the Dzongkha Development Commission is the body which is implementing the language policy and making it more user friendly through many projects like dictionaries and glossary of terms and computer fonts.
Examples of conversational Dzongkha:
Hello: Kuzuzangpo la
Welcome: Joen pa leg so
How are you? Ga day bay zhu yoe ga?
I am fine: Nga leg shom bay rang yoey
Good wishes: Tashi Delek!
Thank you: Kadrinche la