Dzongkha (or Bhutanese) is the official, national, and most widely spoken language in Bhutan having become a national language and mandatory in schools in 1971. This language belongs to the Siro-Tibetan linguistic family with over half a million people speaking it in Bhutan. Written Dzongkha uses the Tibetan alphabet but in the Uchen script. Dzongkha simple mean the “language of the district.” The Tibetan alphabet takes an abugida (segmented) form and has thirty letters. Words are monosyllabic and a tsek separates syllables. Some consonants are “radicals” while others consonants assume an inherent vowel. Dzongkha is more popular in the western part of Bhutan since it is the native language to the residents of the region.

Dzongkha, together with its many dialects, is popular within the eight districts that make up the western region of Bhutan and is a lingua franca in the districts to the east and south of the country. These districts are Chukha, Dagana, Gasa, Ha, Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, and Wangdue Phodrang. 2013 statistics indicated that, at the time, 171,080 people spoke this language as their first language while approximately 640,000 people spoke it as a lingua franca.

Generally, the people of Bhutan add the suffix “la” to make words sound respectful and not harsh. Basic greetings, words, and phrases include Kuzoozangpo La (hello), Joen pa Leg So (Welcome), Nga Leg shom Bay Rang Yoey (I am fine), Chhoey ga te lay mo? (Where are you from?), Lam dig a thay jow mo?, Dilu gadem chi mo? (How much is this?), and Nga choe da chebay sem ga yi (Nice to meet you).

The linguistic landscape of Bhutan is diverse with several local and international languages. English is gaining momentum and is currently taught in schools. Tibetan language groups of Chocangaca, Lakha, Brokkat, Brokpa, Laya, and Khams Tibetan are common within specific districts and so are the East Bodish languages like Bumthang, Kheng, Kurtop, Dzala, Ole, Nyen, Takpa, and Chali. Other minority languages include Tshangla, Gongduk, Lepcha, and Lhokpu. There are also Indo-Aryan dialects such as Nepali and border languages like Sikkimese, Groma, and Toto.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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