Languages of Bhutan - A Guide to Familiarise With The Culture

Bhutan is one of those countries that have a firm grasp on tradition and culture even during modern times. It is one of the last surviving monarchies in the world with a parliamentary system. Although a haven for culture enthusiasts, ever wondered what the languages of Bhutan are? Well, let's take a look.

Languages Spoken in Bhutan - National Language of Bhutan

Dzongkha, Languages of Bhutan

There are around 19 languages and dialects spoken in this small Himalayan kingdom. Dzongkha is the official and national language of Bhutan, which literally means 'language of the fort'. More than five hundred thousand people speak it in the country. Being the national language, it is majorly used for administrative purposes, in forts and dzongs. It is the predominant language in western Bhutan.

Prominent Languages
Besides Dzongkha, there are three other prominent languages -
1. Tshanglakha, which is also known as Sharchokpa, the native language of Tshanglas of eastern Bhutan
2. Lhotshamkha also called Nepali is spoken in south Bhutan
3. Bumthangkha is expressed in the central region of the country.

Bhutanese Regional Languages

Here is a brief description of the languages spoken in Bhutan:

1. Dzongkha

Languages of Bhutan
Spoken by half a million Bhutanese people, Dzongkha is a Sino-Tibetan language. It was declared the national and official language of Bhutan in 1971. The name translates to 'Dzong' meaning district and 'kha' meaning language. Thus, 'language of the district'.
Dzongkha and its dialects are native to the people of 8 districts of western Bhutan. However, it is compulsory to study Dzongkha in all the schools of Bhutan, with a national literacy rate of 54%.
Dzongkha has many similarities with the Sikkimese and other Tibetan dialects and is written using the Tibetan alphabet. 
Here are some useful phrases that you must be acquainted with for your stay in Bhutan:
1. Hello - Kuzu Zangpo la
2. Where - Ga tey?
3. Which - Ga dee?
4. Yes - Inn
5. No - Men
6. Thankyou - Kaadin chhey La
7. Welcome - Joen pa Leg So
8. How are you? - Gaday bay zhui?
9. I’m from …. - Nga …. Ley in
10. Goodbye - Log Jay Gay
11. How much is this? - Gadem chi mo?
12. Sorry - Tsip maza
13. My name is ... - Nge gi ming ... in

2. Bumthangkha

Spoken by 30,000 people in the Bumthang and the neighbouring districts, Bumthangkha is a prominent language in central Bhutan. 
Here are some words and phrases useful to know when visiting this part of the country :
1 Hello - Kuzuzangpo la 
2. Please - kuje
3. Thank you - Kadin chay
4. Sorry - gom ma thay la
5. Good bye - lok sey jay gey 
6. I don’t understand - madran
7. How are you? - ah dar nak ke
8. What is your name? - weth key meng sha yo?
9. You’re welcome - tsoro bu si ma sung la
10. Yes - phath
11. No - mengo
12. Hello (informal) - kuzu

3. Tshanglakha

Languages of Bhutan
Also known as Sharchokpa, Tshang language is typically spoken by 170,000 people in the eastern part of the country. It is a Sino-Tibetan language, meaning that it has many similar characteristics and has derived its grammar from the Tibetan language. It is also spoken in the north-eastern states of India by 11,000 people and Tibet by 7,000 people. It was spoken by the native people way before Dzongkha was introduced, and is the most prominent indigenous language of Bhutan.
Some common words and phrases are: 
1. Hello - Kuzu zangpo
2. How are you? - Hang ten cha ya
3. My name is …. - Ja ga ming …. gila
4. Goodbye - Lassola
5. Friend - Charo
6. I live in ... - Jang druk ga choncha
7. I know English - Jang English sencha
8. House - phai

4. Lhotshamkha 

Nepalese language is known as Lhotshamkha in Bhutan. Nepali is spoken in the southern region of the country and was also taught in the schools. However, after a dispute between Bhutanese and Nepalese, Lhotshamkha has become just a language spoken in homes. Over the years, the traditional Nepali language has been modified by Bhutanese people to create a new language called Lhotshamkha. 
Some words of Lhotshamkha translated are :
1. hello /goodbye - namaste
2. Thank you! - dhanyabaad
3. Excuse me, sorry - Maaph garnuhos
4. My name is ... - Mero naam … ho
5. brother - daju
6. wait - parkhe
7. shop - dokan
8. How much? - Kati paisa?
Languages of Bhutan
Regional Languages

English is also easily understood by Bhutanese.
English is the medium of communication and education in the schools of Bhutan. All the legal documents and notices are also issued in English, and local guides use it for a smooth conversation with tourists. Locals also speak it at tourist attractions due to its popularisation in the world. Many locals also understand and converse in Hindi due to its massive Indian and Bollywood influence.  

Is Hindi Spoken in Bhutan?

Apart from this, Hindi is also somewhat spoken in the country. Hindi newspapers are being read, and Bollywood movies are being watched by the citizens. The popularity of the Hindi language in Bhutan is due to its neighbouring country and one of its closest allies, India. Surrounded by India on three sides, the Bhutanese are largely influenced by Hindi and use it for essential communication with Indian tourists as well. Since the Bhutanese are significant fans of mainstream Hindi cinema, Hindi remains to be an often-used language. 

Some other commonly heard dialects are Mangdepkah, Cho Cha Nga Chang Kha and Lepcha. Monka and Gongduepkha are now hardly spoken by the people and hence are on the verge of extinction.
However, in small towns, natives might not be very fluent in English or a foreign language but rather only converse in the local languages of Bhutan. So, here are some of the commonly used phrases for you and their translation in Dzongkha, which might come handy for your use.

Read More About Bhutan's Culture and Ethnicity 

Well, you do not need to bother yourself to learn Dzongkha or any other of the native languages of Bhutan before going there. Language is not a significant barrier there, especially in major cities like Paro and Thimphu, where basic English can be used to converse with the natives. With all this in mind, you are all set to go to Bhutan. So pack your bags and book your tickets! And greet Bhutan with 'Kuzuzangpo' (hello).

This post was published by Tina Garg

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