Dzong-Kha: The National Perspectives

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thinley-smallReading through the June 19, 2013 Kuensel, it is sad to take note the kind of hurdles the candidates are facing in the country while struggling for election in the so-called democracy of Bhutan. Why should one give speech only in Dzongkha when they do not know themselves? How could the listeners understand what the speakers mean to convey to the mass?

Dzongkha is our National Language. However, that does not mean that languages of other regions should be banned for official communication.  Democracy gives the right to language, religion and thoughts of each and every citizen of the region where they belong.  It is therefore obvious that the locals expect their aspiring candidates to speak in the language they understand.

As this article is concentrating towards the aspects of language, it is essentially vital to highlight a brief perspective of language and its utility.

Language is important not only for the people or a country but also for all those living in all the six realms of Gods, Demi Gods, Human beings, Animals, formless beings of the hungry ghosts and those in the realm of suffering. Perhaps, that is the reason why human beings of this world have different languages making diverse community to understand each other thoroughly.  That is the reason why a common language is also developed for the convenience of the providers and the recipients.

Bhutan has major languages viz.: Tshangla-lo of the Sharchhokps, Kheng-kha and Bumthapi-kha of the half of Central region, Ngalong-kad of the west and Lhotsham-kha of the south besides several other dialects without forgetting the nomads or the Yak herders of the upper valleys and those in the pockets of different rural valleys like Taba-Dramtep or Lhopi-kha.  Until last four decades, means of written communication used to be Chhoe-kad, the scriptural language like Devanagari for Lhotsham-kha the Nepali.  Over the years, Dzongkha has grown to be the only spoken language consistent in the official use in all district headquarters even from the time of Dzongpons in the erstwhile Zhabdrung era that continues growing along the passage of time.  When Bhutan got registered in the United Nations, one of the presumed criteria  to qualify for the UN membership being to have an official language, Bhutan registered ‘Dzong-kha’ as our national language.

Ever since then every efforts have been made to teach and learn Dzongkha which however seems to have not progressed even to this day.  Although it is important that everybody must know the national language, those would be lawmakers not being thorough with the language should use the language they can best reach the mass without any difficulty. Moreover, one of the reasons to nominate candidates from respective constituencies is also to best represent the people of the region and thus is expected to speak the language of that region irrespective of whether he or she comes from a different language speaking community.

There had been complaints from various corners about the difficulties being faced by the people with modern education to understand Dzongkha, which is again ridiculous though, it is the draw-back of the government for not provisioning any incentives or giving equal weightage to the academic background by recognizing Dzongkha as working language in relevant service oriented departments of the government.

Otherwise, adaptation to Dzong-kha will continue to be a problem even after several coming decades. There are several opinions expressed through internet blogs and chats about the source and fate of Dzongkha. Those in the high ups speak rhetorically high about promoting and preserving the national language and give virtually less importance at the implementation level or while translating their commitments into reality.

Many people discuss online about learning of Dzong-kha not a necessary since it does not yield advantages at the end of their graduation.  The Dzong-kha teaching method continues to be traditional and primitive with no adequate references available in the open market.  The school and college pass outs holding university degrees and people with equivalent background in Dzong-kha are not given equal weight-age at the time of seeking employment in almost all sectors of private and the civil service.

Disuse of Dzongkha: Mistaken minds
Government has not been able to give any priority to learning to use Dzong-kha, nor has it limited English language for communication to diplomatic missions, international agencies and for scientific, medical and technological expressions.  If Dzong-kha is used for correspondences with our overseas missions in different countries, every Bhutanese, particularly those neglected   people of  Dzong-kha background could also get equally a competitive and responsible opportunity to work in those missions as a person of any educational background. That is what the democracy is all about! On the other hand employment problems can also be taken care of to a certain extent in the long run.  It is, therefore, essentially important for every Bhutanese to learn Dzong-kha as national language in addition to English.

Further, knowing to speak different languages is always a plus point in this shrinking world of science and technology. On the other hand, major regional languages like Khengkha, Sharchhokp’s Tshangla-Lo, Lhotshampa’s Nepali and Kurtep’s Cho-cha-nga-cha would be handy if every Bhutanese can understand or speak them given the fact that the small regional demography would at times be found not knowing to speak or understand Dzongkha, the language of the forts.  The glaring example is the declining population of today’s generation who are reluctant to speak or understand Dzongkha. Even the MP candidates campaigning for the upcoming general elections have been finding difficulties in keeping their flow of the official language with the common forum. It is therefore good that they preferred using local languages to communicate with the people of their respective constituencies while campaigning to garner support for voting during the election.

One of the values of democracy is not only to ensure the liberty of every citizens but also to grant special mandate to demand, develop and preserve the language of his/her own community as one of the identities and to utilize the same as widely as possible.  However, in the context of Bhutan, some sources in the internet debates reveal the need to replace Dzong-kha by English for the reason that English is not only easy to learn but also being international language.  Paradoxically, if such a change comes to Bhutan, then the fate of its sovereignty will be at stake and no anchors on earth can save the country from vanishing from the map. It is sad to note that the person who debates so in the internet have not got the least of the idea about the importance of our national language.

Countries like Japan, China, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Russia and many such advanced nations use their own languages not only for correspondences in their own countries but also encourage people visiting or taking interest to working in their respective countries to learn and use their language.  Even in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar, they use their own languages for internal correspondences while English is used for the convenience of diplomatic relations and for multi-regional and international level communications.

There are also people on the internet blogs mistakenly claiming Dzongkha as the language of the Ngalongs.  It surely resembles their Ngalong dialects to the extent of 40%, but the writers and scholars of the Dzongkha language had researched adequately to ensure that Dzongkha does not totally resemble any other Bhutanese language because it has amalgamation of Chhoekad like the Sanskrit and Urdu in Hindi, Latin, French and Spanish in the English language.  Dzongkha is not the language of the Ngalongs, but it is the language of the Dzong goers or the fort language of the erstwhile era of the Dzongpons.

People much talk about the values of country’s sovereignty, independence, democracy and self-reliance, but seems to forget that the language is one of the main organs of our country’s democracy, which we cannot afford to think about replacing it under any circumstances.  Unless Bhutan has some other popular languages unique enough to replace Dzong-kha, the idea of simply replacing it by English would mean submitting to the English colonial world which would jeopardize the traditional values of our nation.  Although, Dzong-kha remained a spoken language until 1971, the 3rd monarch Jigme Dorji Wangchuk gave us unified tongue and lips to communicate easily in the country and show to the outside world that we have our independent language and script, which has its own literature, history and background. Hence, it is our moral duty to promote Dzong-kha as official working language in whatever way it is possible from our end not forgetting at the same time that the democracy gives us opportunities as well as responsibilities to recognize, respect and promote existing major languages like Lhotsham-kha, Sharchhokpa’s Tshangla-lo, Kheng-kha, Kurtep’s Chhocha Ngacha and other major tongues to the mainstream of national language.

It is saddening to see our MPs and those higher ups feeling uncomfortable communicating in Dzong-kha and facing acute pain for want of appropriate vocabularies on their lips for witty, critical and spontaneous debates.  Even the parliament debates are sometimes limited to mere resolution without discussing thoroughly on the issues of national importance and often conclude in confusion fallen short of adequate idioms and phrases during mass communication for convincing, appealing, influencing and effective deliberations.  Except for a few vocal Dzong-kha speakers, many of the people’s representatives end up without being able to put people’s demands over the forum for a healthy deliberation and result-oriented resolution.  However, that does not justify at all for changing the media of official communication and that Dzong-kha should be shunned in the interest of those who cannot speak fluently is a fatal blow on the national language.

The system of interpretation, right to interpretation and availing interpreters is the sovereign right given to the people by democracy.  Those going through difficulty speaking and communicating in Dzongkha should speak in regional languages and use interpreters to facilitate bridging the language communication gaps by using the skills of interpreters.  Every patriotic citizen should be rather proud to realize that Bhutan has come all the way from self-imposed isolation to not only becoming member of the United Nations but also, despite it being small both in terms of population and geophysical structure, been able to protect its national sovereignty, territorial integrity and social harmony with its own identity of language, culture and tradition, which requires to be protected and preserved at all times to come.

Evolution and Development of Dzongkha
Prior to emergence of written Dzongkha, the Rigzhung Lobdra established in 1961 in Semtokha, which was renowned for the scholastic values of higher skills of scriptural Chhoekad learning produced M.A., B.A. and Matriculation equivalent certificate holders.  The products of Semtokha had been highly valued for their expertise both in the teaching, practicing and strengthening administrative functions of the government machinery.  The exemplary results of Semtokha are numerous, who held important positions in the highest bureaucratic system.  Its products were highly commendable for being among the highest contributors to the evolution of Dzong-kha, which today continues to struggle for its deserving space in the country’s democratic system.

The Text Book Writing section was established in 1961 within the Education Department.  It received the esteemed instructions from the government to write all school language text books in spoken Dzong-kha.  So, in addition to the prevailing school text books in Chhoekad, the first Dzong-kha hand book titled, “Dzong-kha Rabsel Chareng Dangpo” was published and the in-service refresher Dzong-kha courses were conducted in 1972 for all the School language teachers.  The main aim was to familiarize them with the new method of Dzongkha teaching in the schools based on the newly published Dzong-kha book, which were widely distributed to the schoolteachers countrywide as a guidebook.

The Dzong-kha Development Commission has a legacy of several accomplishments like Dazhung and Dzong-kha Dictionary publications.  While attempts continue to prevail for a better quality of consistent Dzong-kha tradition, the language has been left hanging in the empty space of debates from the emerging modern era critiques.  One of the major agonies perceived is that it continues to be looked down as an impediment rather than a tool of national identity to tow its policy of developing a stable and consistent state of an enriched Dzong-kha as an official language. On the other hand, its policy of promoting other major languages to the status of national language too continues to struggle with least attention from the so-called responsible think tanks, who hold such esteemed positions and getting lost in the social adversity of English influenced mass.

Changing and naming places with the Dzongkha phonetics may help promote and dominate regional languages if the policy of the government is so, but it will not help create comfort ability to the people of the concerned region to get familiarized with the new names by substituting older ones.  This articles contention is, when the people are not thorough with the Dzongkha language, what is the need to change names and further jeopardize people’s life in those regions unless necessitated for serious reasons like places that has no names at all.  Otherwise it does not make any sense changing and giving new name, rather it only goes to erase footprints of the historic settlements of people in those given times.

Conclusion
It will be one of the achievements of the democracy if the new government who so ever could successfully bring about an addition or amendment to the Constitution in terms of giving right to access to communication through recognition of major languages into the mainstream of national language.  Demographically, majority of the population understand and speak Tshangla-Lo of the Sharchhokps and Nepali, which having incorporated in the Constitution will be able to ease the existing language hurdles when it comes to communicating with the mass as well as regions that less speak and understand Dzongkha.  On the other hand, it will also help promote quality spoken Dzongkha if the government introduces teaching of Dzongkha at the level of Non-Formal Education programs for the regions that understand and speak less dzongkha.

The teaching and learning of Dzongkha is perhaps difficult given the traditional culture of teaching with corporal punishments, which no more exists in view of change of times.  The bitter example of corporal punishment is however visible in the Dratshangs and Gonpas even to this day.  The % of pass outs from such institutions has been better compared to modern school days where we have lifted corporal punishments.  To pick up learning through by-heart recitations is an uphill task as the message expressed in Dzongkha need to be understood as thoroughly as in English. Thus the corporal punishments received by children in those schools create a fear in the student not just because of pain but because of demoralization one has to face in front of other students.   The drawback caused by the reasons of being lack of proper illustrations, it would be more appropriate if the Dzongkha handbooks for the Non-formal education are made available with adequate illustrations.

When English Oxford Dictionary continues to evolve with scores of new entries of vocabularies periodically either created by scientific inventions, archeological discoveries or borrowed from other popular languages, why can’t Bhutan shape our Dzong-kha by helping to contribute for its improvements giving priorities at the government circle with emphasis to learning, improving and developing for the sovereignty, stability and continuity of the Bhutanese legacy as an independent entity in this high Himalayas, popularly described as the “Last Shangrila” on earth.

26644 COMMENTS

  1. However, in the context of Bhutan, some sources in the internet debates reveal the need to replace Dzong-kha by English for the reason that English is not only easy to learn but also being international language. Paradoxically, if such a change comes to Bhutan, then the fate of its sovereignty will be at stake and no anchors on earth can save the country from vanishing from the map. It is sad to note that the person who debates so in the internet have not got the least of the idea about the importance of our national language.

    Sir,
    I seek your attention and explanation on the above statement that makes blatant accusations against reasonable, balanced views. If Dzongkha could ANCHOR the sovereignty of Bhutan, we all Bhutanese have cause to support for sovereignty and security of our nation. It gets treatment of value and care for its usefulness. But glaring evidences in open view makes clear that having something UNIQUE and depending on this aggressive weakling makes us lonely and easy target for aggressive powers in the neighbourhood. It may give us advantage against India (that have shown no ambition to annex us) but not against China that seem to consider us as Southern Tibetan.

    Just look at Tibet if they have Nation or Sovereignty status today for having UNIQUE language and culture. How secure will our pride be building from the same source, making ourselves look like part of them? Shall we not be striving to legitimize doubtful claims and suffer loss of ourselves? It will be reasonable and useful if we first advocate the causes of our Northern neighbor (Tibet). If they have secure home in their place, Dzongkha will be more useful as national tool only then as we have the proof of them (Tibetan) respecting our sovereign status in the past.

    There are internal problems due to advocacy of singular Dzongkha. Many at home at the moment suffer under the tyrannical boots of few DZONGKHA fans taking advantage of knowing this UNIQUE language attaining NATIONALITY status. This is acting as ferocious predator to the rest with the guts of chastising the rest as “alien” and “anti-national”! It is emotional issue to over 70% of the Bhutanese citizenry that are aware of the history of this dialect of our north-western Bhutanese that began its forceful journey with fixed peg mark just from fourth quarter of1971! Was Bhutan not a nation before that? Dzongkha then meant plural, taking major regional languages. Language was not the dividing factor for the Bhutanese in those days as it builds that way now. Lhotshamkha was the only language with scripts among national population in the country with convenience of being national lingua-franca having no aim of trampling the rest. That was opted out by the hierarchy for their own reason. But their choice has the potential of legitimizing the nation as “SOUTHERN TIBET”! Then where is the anchor for desired Sovereignty and Security with singular Dzongkha in place as argued above?

  2. However, in the context of Bhutan, some sources in the internet debates reveal the need to replace Dzong-kha by English for the reason that English is not only easy to learn but also being international language. Paradoxically, if such a change comes to Bhutan, then the fate of its sovereignty will be at stake and no anchors on earth can save the country from vanishing from the map. It is sad to note that the person who debates so in the internet have not got the least of the idea about the importance of our national language.

    Sir,
    I seek your attention and explanation on the above statement that makes blatant accusations against reasonable, balanced views. If Dzongkha could ANCHOR the sovereignty of Bhutan, we all Bhutanese have cause to support for sovereignty and security of our nation. It gets treatment of value and care for its usefulness. But glaring evidences in open view makes clear that having something UNIQUE and depending on this nagging weakling makes us lonely and easy target for aggressive powers in the neighbourhood. It may give us advantage against India (that have shown no ambition to annex us) but not against China that seem to consider us as Southern Tibetan.

    Just look at Tibet if they have Nation or Sovereignty status today for having UNIQUE language and culture. How secure will our pride be building from the same source, making ourselves look like part of them? Shall we not be striving to legitimize doubtful claims and suffer loss of ourselves? It will be reasonable and useful if we first advocate the causes of our Northern neighbor (Tibet). If they have secure home in their place, Dzongkha will be more useful as national tool only then as we have the proof of them (Tibetan) respecting our sovereign status in the past.

    There are internal problems due to advocacy of singular Dzongkha. Many at home at the moment suffer under the tyrannical boots of few DZONGKHA fans taking advantage of knowing this UNIQUE language attaining NATIONALITY status. This is acting as ferocious predator to the rest with the guts of chastising the rest as “alien” and “anti-national”! It is emotional issue to over 70% of the Bhutanese citizenry that are aware of the history of this dialect of our north-western Bhutanese that began its forceful journey with fixed peg mark just from fourth quarter of1971! Was Bhutan not a nation before that? Dzongkha then meant plural, taking major regional languages. Language was not the dividing factor for the Bhutanese in those days as it builds that way now. Lhotshamkha was the only language with scripts among national population in the country with convenience of being national lingua-franca having no aim of trampling the rest. That was opted out by the hierarchy for their own reason. But their choice has the potential of legitimizing the nation as “SOUTHERN TIBET”! Then where is the anchor for desired Sovereignty with singular Dzongkha in place as argued above? Can we really maintain our sovereign status just by choosing one of the languages and seeking to build it overnight by adopting scripts and grammar from Tibetan Choekey as if it were a mushroom to grow so fast?

  3. Thinley jee,

    It was good to know your views about Dzongkha – Bhutan’s national language.

    While no one disputed that – my take on the issue is that the State itself is responsible for pushing Dzongkha into controversy. The very aggressive tactics and ambitions of the State to make Dzongkha (a regional language of western Bhutan; just as the Nepali language of southern Bhutan and the Tshangla language of eastern Bhutan) a national language had intentions that would not forebode well for the speakers of other languages. Percentage wise, a majority of the Bhutanese population do not know or speak the Dzongkha language. However, the State ignores this fact.

    From ‘One Nation, One People’ to ‘One nation, One Language’ – the State has tirelessly made efforts to promote one language- Dzonglkha – a language of all. And that is the problem.

    On a second note, I respectfully wish to disagree with you on your statement that Dzongkha language is also the pillar of Bhutan’sovereignty. I think the connection was too much far from reality. Countries that use English as their national languages other than UK are not less sovereign than UK itself. Countries that are today 100% Christian (even though not traditionally Christian countries) are not less sovereign than the white Christian countries of the west.
    Bhutan was not less sovereign in the days when Choe-ked – a language more popularly used in Tibet (Bhutan’s traditional enemy) was in use in Bhutan. The evolution and development of Dzongkha has not stopped JYT’s from ceding Bhutan’s sovereign mountains to China.

    However, if you were talking of identity, language and people – that would have been a good connect., but such a connection is missing in your article.

    I also find it difficult to relate to your etymological reference to the origin of Dzongkha, as the ‘language of the dzong goers’. My belief is that, a language belongs to the people before it belongs to an institution. It cannot be independent from the people who speak it. As you indicate, it was the language of the Ngalongs (though just a dialect at that time). To rub away criticism by posting its birth in the Dzong will create more problems. There were no Dzongs in southern Bhutan until recently. That means that the southern Bhutanese are not wrong if they did not know Dzongkha. Therefore, the idea of ‘One Nation, One Language’itself had inherent seeds of conflict and contradictions. .