Bhutan, a small landlocked country between China and India, with population of just over 0.7 million, has over 20 languages.
Languages in Bhutan are members of the Tibeto-Burman language family except for Lhotshamkha (Nepali) which belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family and Kurukh Language, to Dravidian family.
Languages in Bhutan are categorized in into major, minor and endangered in accordance to the number of native speakers.
Major Languages of Bhutan
Dzongkha is spoken by the people of western districts of Bhutan known as Ngalop (Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Chukha, Gasa, Punakha, Wangdi Phodrang and Dagana).
Dzongkha is split into different dialects among regions with variation in accent, tone, pronunciation and lexicon.
Dzongkha literally means ‘the language spoken in the Dzong’. The Dzongs are administrative and religious centers.
Dzongkha is the official and National Language of Bhutan and the only language with a native literary tradition. Dzongkha is compulsory in schools and colleges.
The native Dzongkha speaker counts to around 0.17 million but almost all the Bhutanese speak Dzongkha.
2. Tshangla Lo
Tshangla Lo is the native tongue of 5 eastern districts (Tashigang, Pema Gatshel, Samdrup Jongkhar, Mongar and Tashi Yangtse). People who speak Tshangla Lo are called Tshangla by themselves and Sharchops by Ngalops.
Tshanglas believe they are descendants of Lha Tshangpa (God Brahma) and therefore, Tshangla.
Tshangla Lo does not have literary tradition. If required to document, Dzongkha alphabets are used.
There are approximately 0.17 million native speaks of Tshangla Lo.
3. Lhotshamkha (Nepali)
The Lhotshamkha language is spoken by people in Samtse, Sarpang, Tsirang and other places in the southern districts. Its native speakers inside Bhutan are called Lhotshampa, a Bhutanese people with Nepalese descent.
Influenced by Sanskrit and documented with the Devanagari script, Lhatshamkha was used to be taught in the schools and was official language in southern Bhutan until the 1980s.
Close to 0.2 million in Bhutan are estimated to be the native speaker of Lhotshamkha.
Minor Languages of Bhutan
Khenkha is the native tongue of people of Zhemgang District. Some places in Mongar and Trongsa also speak the Khenkha. In total, there are roughly 40,000 Khenkha speaker.
2. Chocha Ngacha
Chocha Ngacha, a sister language to Dzongkha, is spoken by around 20,000 people living along the Kurichu River in Mongar and Lhuntse. It is also spoken in some parts of Tashigang and Tashi Yangtse.
People of Bumthang, a district in central Bhutan, speak Bumthangkha. Around 20,000 speak Bumthangkha. The language is similar to Kurtoepkha and Khenkha.
Zalakha or Yangtsibkha is spoken by some 18,000 people of Lhuntsi and Tashi Yangtse.
Kurtoepkha, a cousin of Bumthangkha, is spoken in some places in Lhuntshi by around 10,000 natives.
Lakha is spoken by descendants of yak herders in Wangdi and Trongsa districts in central Bhutan. The native speaker of the Lakha is estimated closely to 8,000 people.
Nyenkha, sometimes called Mangdebkha, is spoken by the natives of Trongsa and Wangdi Phodrang. The population of the Nyenkha native speaker comes closely to 8,000.
Brokapakha is spoken by about 5,000 people in Merak and Sakteng in Tashigang.
9. Lepcha Language
Lepcha Language is spoken by Lepcha people in the borders of southern districts of Bhutan. There are roughly 10,000 native Lepcha speakers in Bhutan.
10. Kurukh Language
Kurukh Language, also called as Kurux, is a native tongue of people living in the southern Bhutan. Around 5,000 speakers are native to Bhutan.
Endangered Languages of Bhutan
Dakpakha is spoken by some 2000 people in the Tashigang district.
Although with limited mutual intelligibility, Layakha is considered a family of Dzongkha. Descendants of yak herder community in Laya in Gasa and Lingzhi in Thimphu are native speakers. The native speaks are estimated to be 1,000.
Also called as Bjokey, Brokkey language is spoken by yak herd community of Dhur in Bumthang. Only around 300 people speak this language.
Nubikha language is spoken in a remote village in Trongsa. The native speakers of Nubikha is estimated to 900.
Lunanakha language is spoken by people of Lunana in Gasa and estimated to be around 600 native speakers.
Chalikha is spoken by people in Chali on the east bank of Kurichu River in Mongar. Around 2,000 native speakers alive.
Lhokha language is believed to the native to Bhutan. It is spoken by people in Samtse and Chukha known as Lhop. The number of native speaker is estimated closely to 1500.
Spoken by 1000 people of remote village of Gongdu in Mongar, Gondukha is a complex and endangered Sino-Tibetan Language.
Olekha is spoken by people in remote villages of Wangdi Phodrang and Trongsa. Only around 1000 people are believed to speak the language.
Other Languages spoken in Bhutan
English language is a medium of instruction in schools and colleges. Therefore, majority of Bhutanese speak English.
2. Tibetan Language
Tibetan language is spoken by Tibetans who migrated and settled in Bhutan in the late 1950s. Some Tibetans are now granted Bhutanese citizenship. There are approximately 3000 people who speak Tibetan language.