Rough road ahead for Dzongkha
Dzongkha, which came into existence in 1960s, is at the crossroad either to collapse or get strengthened. Repeated conferences, discussions and huge investments failed to attract youngsters into this national language.
In over half a century, the national language of Bhutan has developed defiance than attraction among young people who lure to learn English – thanks to their efforts that these young people from Bhutan have well established their reputation in South Asia in terms of English standard.
The Dzongkha Development Commission usually calls for two debate series annually and make recommendations to the government for promotion and development of the national language. However, owing to its responsibility towards other development and policy level activities, the government has not been able to concentrate to what is recommended thus develops no proper plans.
In addition, selling the idea of Gross National Happiness, that has received enthusiastic response from some countries, has diverted much of the resources of the government meant for national language. While Dzongkha was a priority for the government in 1970s and 80s, GNH has replaced it since the turn of new century.
Trends have adequately reflected of dying age for his young language. The new generation of the country produces countable number of personalities giving interests to it while majority not only ignore but feel superior to using English as their language of communication.
Media repeatedly reported that the language problem begins with a shortage of teachers in primary schools, where foundations are to be built. Last year education ministry reported that 150 out of 523 schools across the country did not have a language teacher while other 72 primary schools this year do not have a single language teacher and 116 schools have just one even after the ministry recruited additional language teachers to address the shortfall.
The Light Druk Yul campaign launched by the education ministry to draw volunteer teachers also invited only those willing to take up other subjects. As a result shortage of Dzongkha language teachers, especially in primary schools, has forced the general subject teachers to take up the classes of Dzongkha as well thus further degrading the standard in foundation classes.
The crisis is unlikely to end in near future. The newly elected government has other priorities – to meet the aspirations of the people as promised during the election campaigns and has little time to devout for Dzongkha compared to governments in the past years. Considering the lack of enthusiasm from political leadership even during the absolute regime years, the new leaders are obvious to sideline the issue.
During the DDC’s recent conference in Thimphu, 75 Dzongkha experts and the commission members made 62 recommendations to simplify and promote the language, make school curriculum interesting, implement uniform spellings and, overall, make Dzongkha easier to read and write. The pronunciations should also be based on spellings.
The conference recommended simplifying Dzongkha by making the words easier to understand and use. How this will be done is to be decided at the Dzongkha Development Committee meeting later this year.
The conference has further recommended that Dzongkha textbooks and dictionaries should be also standardized according to the level of the students so that it builds interest in reading and writing. They conceptualize the possibilities of writing mails in Dzongkha.
Difficulty of the language due to differences in tone and spelling in different places, no uniformity in the meaning of words and lack of further opportunities in the careers discourages people to choose Dzongkha teaching.
In many discussions of this kind, the government has been recommended to allocate more budgets so the additional experts can join the mission. However, with the change in form of government, advancement of the information technology that already entered deep into the closed Bhutanese society as well, has replaced Dzongkha as the priority sector for the government and the people.
Though the political leadership has lip service for culture, national language and Buddhism, it is their offspring who ignore these. Commercialism has filled the thought of young people and they know Dzongkha takes them nowhere. Even Secretary of the Dzongkha Development Commission Sherub Gyeltshen admitted given its bleak future prospect, the national language is being neglected when the students pursue higher education.
And Prime Minister Jigme Thinley says it is also important that a balance is being achieved given the aspect that the world is being a global village each day hinting that government gives priority to the international language.
Importance that government lays on Dzongkha language is reflected in Dzongkha language newspapers. Government provides public advertisement only to English versions while Dzongkha versions are to use these ads as supplementary. Contrarily, the law has made it mandatory that any newspapers should have its national language edition. Media owners had to fight to get government ads for their national language edition.
Merging of Dzongkha edition of the Kuensel newspaper with English is in one compelling readers for the language. It was proven in the first year of private media publications that Dzongkha readers are very few and that national language editions are unlikely to sustain, owing to poor response from the public.