Dzongkha: How well are you?
In 1969 a new lingua franca was founded in the eastern Himalayas. Instantly, it was recognized as the national language. Some 40 years later, the lingua franca is yet to emerge as full fledged language through which you can express everything seen or felt.
When the constitution was drafted, Dzongkha came short of fundamental words especially those describing political and judicial matters. The Dzongkha Development Commission and its few experts had to coin new words to match the changing circumstances. The subordinate to Tibetan language, Dzongkha still deserves to be a dialect than a complete language.
Dzongkha has been burden for many within the community it is spoken. For the last few years, government faced tough time finding Dzongkha teachers. Until later 1980s, just literate Dzongkha speakers or the Buddhist gelongs were sent to schools to teach this language. I recall interesting days while writing Dzongkha examination in those years. Most of us who speak Nepali were not fine in getting used to with it and it was harder for us to get good marks. Solution to this frustration: we found one trick and it came handy for us in such a way that we were well off than Dzongkha speakers in securing marks in that subject. The simple trick was: for all questions our answers used to be the national anthem and for the Dzongkha teachers denying marks to the national anthem was disrespecting it.
Under such tunnel, Dzongkha continues its race for a complete language. Yet, the recent indications have shown, the race would not go well. Several reports by education ministry and Dzongkha development commission have shown the youngsters are not fond of learning Dzongkha. The government itself has admitted, students secure good marks in English but not only lack knowledge of Dzongkha rather ignores it. In that sense, English is overtaking the seat of Dzongkha in Bhutanese society.
The expertise of Dzongkha scholars at the commission was vividly reflected in the recently published textbooks for school children. Teachers and parents have cited arrays of mistakes on the books for grade V and VI, subsequently compelling the authorities to make urgent reviews. The DDC had said the textbooks went thorough massive review and scrutiny before sending to press. Over 19 books are in line, and it won’t be surprising to expect errors in upcoming publications as well.
Over the years, the number of students preferring Dzongkha language studies has substantially decreased while this has been reversed case in English.
The Citizenship Act of 1985 makes is compulsory that anyone willing to obtain Bhutanese citizenship must have sound knowledge of Dzongkha and history of the country. However, it was exclusively implemented in southern districts only.
Medium of instruction in Bhutanese schools is English, except Dzongkha as language study. Nepali, taught in southern districts was banned since 1990 whereas Tshagla has not been accepted as language of the country.
Dzongkha and history has enmity relations. For years history in schools and colleges were taught in English and now the fundamentalists have pressed the government to strictly implement the earlier decisions that history must be taught in Dzongkha. Interestingly, those who teach Dzongkha lack knowledge of history and those who teach history are completely out of touch from Dzongkha. Bhutan, that hardly has its own history, has nothing to teach in Dzongkha other than the stories of lamas and Tibetan travelers who came down to spread Buddhism.
Literature of Dzongkha is rather non existence. Most Dzongkha speakers choose English to write any stories, even not having Dzongkha version of their write-up. You quest for Dzongkha poets, story writers or book writes will result into nothingness. Criticism, commentary and analysis are beyond expectation. It is most frustrating that a ‘national language’ has no literature to read. All we get is the volumes of Buddhist sculpture, which in fact are written in Tibetan language.
The newspapers that came into market have bitter experiences on Dzongkha. For instance, Bhutan Observer nearly closed its Dzongkha edition early this year, citing lack of readership and advertisers interests to place ads only in English tabloids. For years, government made tireless efforts to popularize Dzongkha and claimed most Bhutanese have instinct to learn it. However, when the market opened up, facts came transparent what number of populace embrace the language.
The fact that makes Dzongkha so complex and incomplete is the differences in tone and tongs that changes with valleys. Dzongkha in Bumthang, Haa and Wanngue have big differences. Every river you cross, every mountain you pass, you will find a different language and culture. The ‘Dzongkha experts’ have rarely given attention to this problem and taken initiatives to harmonize the dialect. Many experts who ‘standardize’ the dialect from headquarters in Thimphu assume what they know and finalize is the correct form of Dzongkha. There are no reports DDC sending its expert teams to districts to linguistic studies.
Bhutan is yet to run a long distant before developing Dzongkha as a language and increasing ignorance towards it in favor of English, might become greatest barrier for the ‘Dzongkha experts’ to achieve what they aim. Hedge your bets.