DZONGKHA, Bhutan ’s National Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jul 5 13:30:47 UTC 2007

*DZONGKHA, Bhutan's National Language*

For aspiring parliament members a formal university degree qualification or
even the assurances of a large voter base may not be enough. Equally
important is a strong command of the national language, Dzongkha. A strong
command of Dzongkha is not a 'compulsory criteria' to become an MP but not
fulfilling it may mean playing the role of bench warmer MPs in the new
parliament of 2008. At least that is what aspiring MPs feel and some have
already begun to improve their skills in the national language. "I started
talking to my wife in formal Dzongkha," said a candidate for People's
Democratic Party (PDP). "I even got myself a Dzongkha dictionary."

There are others who are reading newspapers published in Dzongkha,
newsletters, and pamphlets, almost anything that is written in Dzongkha. The
pressure is more for the new parliamentarians because expectations are high.
By being the first batch of elected, qualified, and well educated MPs,
discussions and deliberations in the Assembly are expected to be intense and
qualitative. But a weak command over the national language could pose a big
hurdle to direction and decision of crucial debates that could become
policy. "They are a group of bureaucrats who were trained and conditioned to
think and speak in English," said an analyst. "Which means the first few
years we may not get to see intense debates in the Assembly."

"We should look for substance, ideas, content in the deliberations not the
delivery," said an aspiring MP. "As long as the message is conveyed the task
is done. We can do away with the cliches, jargons, and get to the point."
But most aspiring candidates Kuensel spoke to agree that the national
language should be given the utmost importance. "There might be terms that
we may be forced to use in English, we should not let the language barrier
dilute the importance of the Assembly," said a MP candidate.

Former Assembly Speaker, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, said that Dzongkha could
never become a constraint in discussing policies or issues. "The National
Assembly discussed and passed hundreds of Acts and discussed numerous
national policies and there was never a problem," he said. Dzongkha is a
rich language and the National Assembly had helped in the development of the
language, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji said. "Assembly deliberations has changed
tremendously in recent times with members being able to understand and
articulate issues," he said. However, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji also admitted
that nuances of debates were lost when members of Assembly in the past tried
to be too eloquent.

Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji said that aspiring MPs need to do a lot of homework for
the new Assembly. "Even senior government officials and ministers used to
read out dzongkha written in English," he said. "We used to devote extra
time to improve our spoken Dzongkha." The National Assembly might be
dissolved but most of its members (chimis) would be watching the new
assembly unfold. "The new set of parliamentarians will be people who were
educated in English medium schools both within and outside the country,"
said veteran chimi Namgay Phuntsho. "Today there are many people with
degrees and masters who cannot speak a sentence in correct Dzongkha. Our
greatest concern is if the importance of Dzongkha would be neglected in the

Source: Kuenselonline

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