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Dzongkha : Why it is not taken seriously
road sign "The future of the national language, Dzongkha, looks rather bleak. As more people trickle into urban Bhutan and as the number of wealthier, better educated and cosmopolitan Bhutanese increases, Dzongkha is forced to a retreat. People investigated said that Dzongkha "is under severe risk of being discarded.

The status of the national language today is nothing to write home about," said Chencho, a Dzongkha writer and translator. "It is losing out to foreign languages, especially English. The government has adopted many innovative initiatives and activities to develop and promote dzongkha, and in that sense Dzongkha has progressed. But in terms of popularity, it has not gained much," said the editor of Kuensel's Dzongkha edition, Mindu Dorji.

Many people pointed out that the foremost undermining factor against Dzongkha is "its lack of utility". "Students learn Dzongkha "just to pass'," said a parent. "When I question my children about their low grades in Dzongkha, they tell me that being or not being proficient in Dzongkha will hardly matter. They say, "what use will it have if I decide to become a doctor?'" "The reason why students, or for that matter any Bhutanese, do not take Dzongkha too seriously is because one can get by without it," an engineer told. "In fact, it is perceived that one will be better off." Dzongkha's increasing unpopularity is also attributed to the fact that it is not "practically applied".

A former clerk, who now sells vegetables, said: "I may be an expert in Dzongkha but if I have to wait for ages at the bank for an acquaintance to show up and fill my withdrawal form, it makes me wonder whether learning dzongkha serves any purpose at all." The Dzongkha literary editor of Kuensel, Goembo Dorji, said that while Dzongkha may be the national language, it is still not the official language. "If an application or note to an official is written in English, it will be quickly attended. If it is written in Dzongkha, it will probably be lost or misplaced."
Another major reason for Dzongkha's unpopularity is said to be its difficulty. In fact, some describe it as "the scholar's and not the commoner's language". "As long as it remains difficult and complicated, Dzongkha will never become popular," said a civil servant, who added that he has not "mastered" Dzongkha "even after 16 hard years of speaking and learning it".

Experts however dispute such a claim. "No language is meant for scholars," said Pema Wangdi at the Australian National University, the first Bhutanese studying "descriptive linguistics". He said that Dzongkha, over the years, has actually been made "easy and lucid" by scholars. "If Dzongkha remains complicated, it isbecause people do not show interest in learning it, supposedly because of the psychological fear that it is difficult." Dzongkha, he said, will become the language for the commoner only if people try to eliminate the psychological fear or combatthe "dzongkha phobia".

There are people who say that it is not psychological fear but another "determinant factor" that is undoing Dzongkha. "It is the attitude problem," Dorji, who has been teaching Dzongkha for over two decades, told. According to him, the upper class Bhutanese viewed Dzongkha with an unexpressed and subtle disdain. "You will notice that students who are very weak in Dzongkha are often those who come from affluent English-speaking homes."

Others point out to the curriculum flaws in the education system as one of the causes of the falling popularity of Dzongkha. "In schools the subject, number of periods, and teachers for Dzongkha are limited," said Mindu Dorji. "Students also say that the textbooks are dull, difficult, and uninteresting." Many students in the capital in fact listed Dzongkha as their "least interesting" subject.

On the contrary, English was the "favourite" subject for many. Pema Wangdi, however, feels that the cause of Dzongkha is not lost. Dzongkha, in his view, has regained its status as the national language. It is presently under the process of "vernacularisation". "Grammars have been written. The media has adopted it and teaching and learning materials have been developed," he said. All these are progressive developments. He feels that it is "too early to expect solutions to language problems" in a short span of time. "If Dzongkha is not attractive, it is because language planning is relatively new to our system," he said. "Language has to evolve and it may take centuries before it becomes attractive to all speakers and non-speakers."

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National language: Book may help Dzongkha development

A new guide book on report and letter writing, written by Namgay Wangchuk, would not only help standardise the day-to-day official correspondence but is yet another significant contribution to Dzongkha literature. A lecturer at the royal institute of management (RIM), Namgay Wangchuk's guide book comes at a time when the government is stressing the use of Dzongkha in official communication.

The government has directed that the national language should be used in official meetings within the country and for all correspondences including appointment orders, transfer orders, promotion orders, and circulars. Even store registers and personal files are to be maintained in Dzongkha. According to the author, the idea of writing the book came when he found that the traditional style of correspondence was deteriorating.

The book contains, among others, the guidelines on how to write reports, note sheets, circulars, letters, and applications. Written in simple Dzongkha with examples, the book would be especially useful to first time users. It is available in the market at Nu 205 a copy. Publications of literature in Dzongkha have been identified as crucial to promoting the national language. Besides textbooks, an increasing number of comics, books on grammar, short stories, dictionaries, lozeys, song books and namthars have been written in recent years.

Meanwhile, the editorial board comprising of experts in Dzongkha and English is continuing discussion on Bhutan's first comprehensive Dzongkha-English dictionary. The dzongkha development commission is planning to publish and release the new dictionary in 2002. But the publication would be "provisional" and subject to further discussions and changes as per the feedback from readers.

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