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Mixing languages

Dzongkha, the national language, is the preferred spoken language but English dominated as the language for reading and writing among Bhutanese high school students and educators according to a study by a non-formal educator.

"Students and educators shy away from reading and writing Dzongkha," said the joint director of non-formal and higher education, Singye Namgyel who presented a paper titled "Linguistic choices in a multilingual society: a case of Bhutanese high school students and educators domains of language use", during the Xth Himalayan language Symposium in Thimphu.

The socio-linguist speculates insufficient exposure in terms of materials for reading and instruction, and the difficult nature of reading and writing Dzongkha script for its lack of popularity as a written language. "Ninety percent of the respondents wrote and read in English as they found it 'comfortable," the survey report stated.

The survey was carried out using a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and participant observations on linguist choice in five domains; family, friendship, work/school, religion and recreation.

The survey noted four languages; English, Dzongkha, Sharchop, Nepali and Hindi were dominantly used. For example, a high school student spoke in his or her mother tongue at home with family and spoke English with the teachers, Dzongkha or a mix of different languages among friends, and preferred watching Hindi programmes on television.

Singye Namgyel says the study also revealed that there was a decline in the use of mother tongue especially among the minority languages. They include the Brokkat, Lakha, Bokha, Chalikha, Dzalakha, Monpa Olekha among 15 such dialects which remained confined to grandparents. The maximum spoke Dzongkha, estimated at 160,000 people.

Dzongkha and English were also used as a language of formal forum, Dzongkha as a lingua franca and English as a matrix language, a language of science, technology and international communication and a source of pressure on local language and culture, the study said. "This may be telling that they mixed or switched between these two languages in which they felt more comfortable, or when they lack the vocabulary to express better," Singye Namgyel's study paper stated.

In the survey, the respondents had reported that they used English more than Dzongkha when expressing views, talking to teachers which was seemingly influenced by the medium of instruction in the schools.

TA comment of the study report read, "90 percent of the language that I use during work/school hours is English embedded with Dzongkha and Sharchop". A lot of 'mixing' and 'switching' was also noticed between dominant languages like Dzongkha and English in the work and school domain. "These library books, dato sarp yoe" (these library books are still new) was an example of mixing languages as recorded by the report.

Such mixing was a trend among the qualified, the lesser educated like peons and drivers more frequently used only Dzongkha.

The study further states that while Dzongkha was a dominant language in religion and recreation domain, Nepali was the language of transportation where most public transport drivers spoke Nepali and Hindi was the preferred language of media and entertainment. Respondents listened to news on radio in English but preferred Dzongkha songs while Hindi dominated television programmes.

Another aspect reported by the study was the mixture of language used especially among friends. A respondent wrote "when I have problem in expressing things in one language, I use different languages like Dzongkha, Sharchop, English, Kurtoep and Nepali depending on the language that my friend is most comfortable with." "It implies that language use is whichever came handy since there existed no barrier in the use of languages," according to Singye Namgyel.

"The findings not only inform the language policy makers and language planners but can also build a clear ground for curriculum developers, as language policy is a learning policy," says Singye Namgyel. "Such an understanding is more important and useful in a multilingual society as Bhutan."

Contributed by Bishal Rai, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2004
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