Preserving Dzongkha: A National Imperative

In the bustling streets of Thimphu, a tale unfolds that resonates with the broader struggle faced by urban Bhutan – the fading echo of our national language, Dzongkha. Two children, raised in a household adorned with the allure of Western education, find themselves estranged from their own cultural heritage, unable to converse fluently with their grandparents in the village due to their lack of command over Dzongkha. Simultaneously, a senior public official, despite ascending the ranks with sophistication in English, stumbles when attempting to articulate even the most basic Dzongkha phrases.

This familial microcosm mirrors a larger narrative of Dzongkha’s diminishing allure in urban Bhutan. Since its adoption as the national language in the 1960s, Dzongkha has grappled with numerous challenges, chief among them being our society’s penchant for English. Regrettably, many Bhutanese perceive fluency in English as the sole benchmark of sophistication and education, relegating Dzongkha to a secondary status.

Despite concerted efforts by successive governments to promote Dzongkha, including royal mandates stressing its importance, the language continues to struggle due to a lack of widespread usage. It begs the question: how do we rejuvenate Dzongkha’s appeal?

The answer lies in fostering a culture that values and utilizes Dzongkha in all spheres of life. Efforts to promote the language should extend beyond the classroom to encompass everyday interactions in homes, offices, and public spaces. Furthermore, Dzongkha must evolve to meet the needs of contemporary society, shedding the shackles of archaic grammar and vocabulary.

Institutional support is paramount in this endeavor. The judiciary, Parliament, and election commission have already set a commendable example by conducting affairs in Dzongkha, thereby introducing new words into common usage. Implementing a national Dzongkha proficiency test for public servants could serve as both a catalyst and a measure of progress in promoting the language.

Nevertheless, championing Dzongkha does not entail diminishing the importance of English. Rather, it emphasizes the primacy of preserving our national identity. While English undeniably offers global opportunities, neglecting Dzongkha risks eroding the very fabric of our cultural heritage.

In the face of globalization, we must remember the wisdom encapsulated in the Bhutanese maxim, “We would have lost our language before learning others.” It is imperative that we strike a balance between embracing the benefits of English while safeguarding the essence of Dzongkha. Our language is not just a means of communication; it is the cornerstone of our identity as Bhutanese.

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