Languages in Bhutan are categorized in into major, minor and endangered in accordance to the number of native speakers.

Punakha Dzong, the Ancient Capital of Bhtuan

Bhutan, a small landlocked country between China and India, with a 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, and the 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   

1. Dzongkha

Monks in Bhutan promote Dzongkha

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 Sino-Tibetan language and split into different dialects among regions with variation in accent, tone, pronunciation and lexicon.

Considered as South Tibetic language, Dzongkha is closely related to Sikkimese and other languages spoken in Bhutan such as Chocha Ngacha, Brokpa, Brokkat and Lakha.

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, colleges and courts.

The native Dzongkha speaker counts to around 0.17 million but almost all the Bhutanese speak Dzongkha. 

Basic Dzongkha words and phrases

Hi/Hello.Kuzu zangpo.
Welcome.  Joenpa lekso.
Thank you.  Kadrinchey.
How are you?Choe gadebey yoe?
I am fine.Nga leshombey yoe.
I am Karma.Nga Karma in.
What’s your name?Choegi ming gachimo?
Where are you going?Choe gatey jonimo?
I am going to Thimphu.Nga Thimphu joni.
Good bye.Log jegey.

2. Tshangla Lo

A Tshangla couple

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.

Although considered a Bodish branch within Sino-Tibetan Language for having derived much of its vocabulary from Classical Tibetan, Tshangla is yet unclassified within the Sino-Tibetan Languages.  

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.  

Basic Tshangla words and phrases

Hi/Hello.Kuzu zangpo.
Welcome.  Joenpa lekso.
Thank you.  Kadrinchey.
How are you?Nan Hangten cha?
I am fine.Jang Lekpu rang cha.
I am Karma.Jang Karma gila.
What’s your name?Na ming hangya?
Where are you going?Nan oga dencha ya?
I am going to Thimphu.Jang Thimphu dencha.
Good bye.Log rumey.

3. Lhotshamkha (Nepali)

His Majesty the King granting Dasain Tika to Lhotsham women

Indo-Aryan and the sub branch of Eastern Paharu language, Nepali Lanaguage is known as Lotshamkha.

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.  

Basic Nepali words and phrases

Welcome.  Swagatam.
Thank you.  Dhanyabhad.
How are you?Tapai kasto cha?
I am fine.Mo ramro cha.
I am Karma.Mo Karma ho.
What’s your name?Tapaiko nam keho?
Where are you going?Tapai ka jani?
I am going to Thimphu.Mo Thimphu janey.
Good bye.Namastey.  

Minor Languages of Bhutan

An isolated village in Eastern Bhutan

1. Khenkha

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.

Basic Khengkha words and phrases

Hi/Hello.Kuzu zangpo.
Welcome.Jonpa lekso.
Thank you.Kadrinchey.
How are you?Wey ata nayo?
I am fine.Nga kachan na.
I am Karma.Nga Karma wen.
What’s your name?Weygi ming zhayo?
Where are you going?  Wey aw gaisang?
I am going to Thimphu.Nga Thimphu gaisang.
Good bye.Loksi Dom warey.

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.

Basic Chocha Ngacha words and phrases

EnglishChocha Ngacha
Hi/Hello.Kuzu zangpo.
Welcome.Jonpa lekso.
Thank you.Kadrinchey.
How are you?Chod kata yodpi?
I am fine.Nga lekpu ra yodpi.
I am Karma.Nga Karma yin.
What’s your name?Choi ming chiyin?
Where are you going?  Chod Ke songsang?
I am going to Thimphu.Nga Thimphu songsang.
Good bye.Loksi phradpa.

3. Bumthangkha

Lady from Bumthang

People of Bumthang, a district in central Bhutan, speak Bumthangkha. Around 20,000 speak Bumthangkha. The language is similar to Kurtoepkha and Khenkha.

4. Zalakha

Zalakha or Yangtsibkha is spoken by some 18,000 people of Lhuntsi and Tashi Yangtse.

5. Kurtoepkha

Kurtoepkha, a cousin of Bumthangkha, is spoken in some places in Lhuntshi by around 10,000 natives.  

6. Lakha

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. 

7. Nyenkha

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.

8. Brokpakha

Students in Merak and Sakteng

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

1. Dakpakha                

Dakpakha is spoken by some 2000 people in the Tashigang district.

2. Layakha

People of Laya

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.

3. Brokkey

Also called as Bjokey, Brokkey language is spoken by yak herd community of Dhur in Bumthang. Only around 300 people speak this language.

4. Nubikha

Nubikha language is spoken in a remote village in Trongsa. The native speakers of Nubikha is estimated to 900.  

5. Lunanakha

Lunanakha language is spoken by people of Lunana in Gasa and estimated to be around 600 native speakers.

Dense forests in prevented communities to merge

6. Chalikha

Chalikha is spoken by people in Chali on the east bank of Kurichu River in Mongar. Around 2,000 native speakers alive.  

7. Lhokpukha

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. 

8. Gongdukha

Spoken by 1000 people of remote village of Gongdu in Mongar, Gondukha is a complex and endangered Sino-Tibetan Language.  

9. Olekha                  

Olekha is spoken by people in remote villages of Wangdi Phodrang and Trongsa. Only around 1000 people are believed to speak the language.

Students are taught in English medium in Bhutan

Other Languages spoken in Bhutan

1. English         

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.  

Leave a Reply

Next Post

Prayer Flags: Tradition and Significance in Bhutan

Sun Nov 3 , 2019
Not all flags carry prayers. Some flags are a piece of white rectangular cloth. At least, five kinds of prayer flags hoisted in Bhutan excluding the National Flag.