You are here: Home > Bhutan > Topics > Culture > Dzongkha > New Terms
Bhutan's Culture
Dzongkha: Bhutan's national language
Bhutan's Culture: Dzongkha
National Language Dzongkha: New Terms
The 'minting' process
Dzongkha Development Commission
Bhutan Information
Video Bhutan Videos
Bhutan Tourist Destinations
previous pagetop
Dzongkha: New Terms

Logrig stands for computer, gyangthong for TV, yongdrel for internet and numkhor for vehicle.

These are among the hundreds of new Dzongkha terms coined by the Dzongkha expert committee (DEC) for commonly used English words. But only a handful know of these Dzongkha words and an even smaller number actually use them.
Dzongkha Terms English Terms

The question many people are asking today is whether it is worth the trouble of coining Dzongkha terms for common English words.

The Dzongkha expert committee meets twice a year. The Dzongkha expert committee is convinced that it is a must for the development and survival of Dzongkha in the future. More importantly, coining Dzongkha words gives people an option say experts. "Our generation has seen English terms first and Dzongkha terms at the later stage. But when we have all these terms coined in Dzongkha our younger generation will have two options at the same time. They will have TV as well as gyangthong. If these two words are given equal importance both the words will reflect. So it will be a matter of choice. At the moment it is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of what we are used to."

The expert committee agrees that the usage of the new Dzongkha words is limited in comparison to the English words that already have widespread usage and acceptance. But they are optimistic that in another 10-15 years the new Dzongkha words will have diffused into the mainstream written and spoken Dzongkha. Lungtaen Gyatso says that it might also depend on how rapidly Dzongkha becomes popular and user friendly. "At the moment we already know that the present school system does not allow much of Dzongkha studies. People are in more contact with English. The pace could be hastened with more school hours in Dzongkha."

The experts admit that although Dzongkha as a language in the context of Bhutanese culture and religion is very rich, it fails when it confronts a different culture and technology. "Our language is not adequate there," says Choki Dhendup, a member of the expert committee. "I also strongly feel that words which did not originate in Bhutan could be left as such." Coining a particular word is not easy. Especially since Dzongkha has compound word structure. In Dzongkha two or three independent words put together becomes a single word. For example, the word "hope" in English is a single word with complete meaning in itself. But "rewa," the dzongkha equivalent of hope, is composed of two independent words "re" and "wa" put together.


The 'minting' process

The authority started coining Dzongkha words after the Dzongkha lhengtshog was formed in 1986. First the representatives of the DDA working committee, representing various government and private organisations, come up with their individual list of English words to be coined in Dzongkha. For example, the education representative will come with educational terms, the judiciary representative will come with a list of legal terms and so on. The committee then debates, deliberates, decides and coins the words.

The list is then passed on to the expert committee which goes through and often refines them. If the words coined are appropriate we simply accept them. But if they are not appropriate the expert committee debates on the word and decide on a word that is most suitable.

The committee tries to coin words that are closest to the English equivalent and that can be understood by people in the country. But there are some words we have to use even though most of our people can't understand. The committee usually takes a longer time to coin words that are difficult to understand. The committee normally ask the specialists. If the word is a medical term we have a medical specialist to direct the committee at coining the most fitting word. Sometimes various organisations, while translating their works, coin their own Dzongkha words. Because of this, a Dzongkha word used for a particular English word at times tend to differ from organisation to organisation creating discrepancies. Often there is a clash when there are a couple of words against a single English word. But now it has been made mandatory to route the coined words through the DDA before it is passed on for the mass usage.

The DDA has already compiled a draft English-Dzongkha dictionary which, according to the secretary, will take another four months for editing. There are about 30,000 words in that dictionary and not all the words are new. Thus, Dzongkha's segmented pattern makes the job of coining words difficult. The committee has to look into the consistency of the word too, because the words were not coined earlier. When the committee coins a word, it also looks at different aspects of the word. One is the etymology of the term in English. For example, why is tree called a tree and not a dog or vice versa? What does this particular word mean? What sense does it give? Is it acceptable to Bhutan? "If it doesn't, we go into the meaning translation rather than the literal translation," says Lungtaen Gyatso.

"Also after we coin, we see how it appeals to our people. We also try to simplify it to the extent possible at the same time give full meaning of it."

The committee also tries to look into other regional languages, especially the tibeto-burman languages where there could exist similar words pointing towards the meaning. The other trick is pulling certain words spoken in the villages which have not been adopted in written Dzongkha. But the bigger challenge to the committee is the new technological English terms that have a particular meaning, like computer and Microsoft. For example, computer in English means a machine thA computes. But that could not be translated literally like TV. So the committee thought differently. "Given that certain formula are programmed into it, it works like an intelligent being. At the same time it operates by electricity," says the chairman. "So we decided to call it logrig, literally meaning an intelligent machine run by electricity."

But there are others who feel that the DDA should leave the names of inventions as they are. "There is no need for the experts to coin a word for computer or football or television," says a senior translator. "Every Bhutanese understands computer better than logrig. Our so-called experts should understand that certain things are best accepted as they are while others are irrelevant to our context."

Others complain that when the experts themselves fail to make use of the words they coin they should not expect common people to use them. Some complain while Dzongkha is already a difficult language creating new terminologies is making it worse. The committee, however, leaves the international unit like kilogramme, kilometres, as it is. It also does not coin an equivalent for words named after people like Celsius and Fahrenheit.

While most older Bhutanese share the common concern that Dzongkha faces an imminent threat of being neglected by the younger generation and that one's language is a critical part of one's identity, the younger group, it seems, will continue calling their apa dad and ama mum. Dzongkha, though still a mixture of Dzongkha and Choeked (classical Tibetan text), today has about 30,000 words, thirty percent of which is unique to Dzongkha and the rest common to both Dzongkha and Choeked.


Dzongkha Development Commission

The 9th Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) Conference, that ended yesterday, has made a series of recommendations to promote and simplify the national language so that people not only speak it but also find it easier to read and write it.

In total, the 75 experts and members attending the conference made 62 recommendations ranging for simplifying the language, making the curriculum uniform and interesting to future policies and plans.

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 some time later this year. The pronunciations should also be based on spellings.

The Dzongkha textbooks and dictionaries should be also standardized according to the level of the students so that it builds interest in reading and writing.

"The problem with most of the Dzongkha curriculum today is that it is of a very high level and most students do not understand and therefore do not like studying it," said a Dzongkha expert. "For example a commonly used Dzongkha word ngeo thong (live) would be difficult for a pre-primary student to understand but if the word is changed to migthong (seen with the eyes) it’ll become easier for them to grasp."

To make the curriculum more interesting it was also recommended that school textbooks should contain more words of daily use and also have a lot of pictures with interesting short stories.

To understand and use Dzongkha more effectively the experts recommended continuing the memorizing methodology in teaching Dzongkha subjects.

It was also recommended that except for commonly used English words it was not necessary to translate and develop new Dzongkha words for every English terminology.

However, one recommendation is that each and every goods and service imported by Bhutan should have an equivalent Dzongkha word to promote the language.

To promote the national language as many Dzongkha, English and Buddhist language dictionaries will be produced as possible. All official forms and official correspondence should be in both languages and emails should also be made possible in Dzongkha.

To bring about standardization all ministries, departments, private and corporate offices should seek the permission from the DDC to create a new word. It was also recommended that newspapers and broadcast stations meet from time to time to bring about standardization in Dzongkha spellings and pronunciations.

"The recommendations will be reviewed and decided by the DDC committee," said the prime minister, Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley who is the chairman of the DDC and attended the closing of the conference. "Although many of the recommendations were repeated it will be a reminder to the experts to discuss the issues again."

The prime minister said that although Dzongkha is being promoted yet with changing times much more effort was needed to promote the national language.

Dzongkha experts said that every year the same points are recommended but implementation is hard to come by.

By Tenzin Namgyel , KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2009

Information on Bhutan
Religion in Bhutan
Culture in Bhutan
People in Bhutan
Tshechu Festivals
Bhutan Photo Galleries
Mountain Biking
Punakha Dzong
Dzongs in Bhutan
Lhuentse and Mongar
Laya-Gasa - Lingzhi - Lunana
Trongsa and Zhemgang
Paro and Haa
Southern Bhutan
Photo Galleries
Dzongs and Monasteries in Bhutan East-West-Highway by motorcycle
Dochula - Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chhortens
Mongar and Lhuentse
Videos: Rafting, Tshechu, Motorbiking, Roads ...

External Links
Dzongkha Development Commission DDC
previous page Bhutan Home