Interesting Facts About the Bhutanese Languages | Druk Asia

Interesting facts about the Bhutanese languages

BY Joni Herison
Posted on 09/April/2021

Bhutan is a small landlocked country located in the South Asia region between China and India. The Kingdom is surrounded by stunning Himalayan mountains. Bhutan is a melting pot of diverse cultures and communities. Therefore, many languages are spoken within the tiny Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom.

Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. But there are over nineteen spoken dialects spoken in the country. The richness of the linguistic diversity is due to the geographical location of Bhutan with its many high mountain passes and deep valleys. Communities live in small groups and thus, developing their own unique dialects based on the region they live in.

With its geographical location, Bhutan has over 19 languages. And, we can say that it is a polyglot country, wherein a Bhutanese can speak more than one language.

Dzongkha as an Official Language

Dzongkha has been the national language of Bhutan since 1971. It originated from Sino-Tibetan family. It is a native language of the largest ethnic group in Bhutan – the Ngalops which are dominant in Western Bhutan. Also, it is the native language of over 500,000 people in Bhutan.

Dzongkha is a two-tone language, wherein a word can have two different meanings. It is written using Tibetan alphabets. Writing with Dzongkha is from left to right. In terms of creating sentences, it follows basic subject-object-verb order which is the same as Tibeto-Burman languages.

Ten Interesting Facts about Dzongkha

1. Dzongkha is formed from two words. 'Dzong means ‘fortresses, and Kha means ‘language’. That’s why it literally translates to the “language of the fortresses”.
2. Dzongkha is native tongue to eight western districts of Bhutan (Phodrang, Punakha, Thimphu, Gasa, Paro, Haa, Dagana, and Chukha)
3. Thonmi Sambhota is a founder of the Dzongkha language. He introduced the Devangiri script that has its roots in Indian script.
4. Dzongkha is similar to Sikkimese, a language spoken by the people from Indian state of Sikkim.
5. It is a medium of instruction along with English in the schools of Bhutan.
6. It is one of those languages that codified approximately a half-century ago.
7. It comprises thirty consonants that are also known as Selje Sumchu and four vowels.
8. There is a giant difference between the spoken and written script of Dzongkha.
9. It has a limited vocabulary, and many new words are being added to it day by day.
10. Dzongkha development commission is constantly working on the development of the language. The commission is continually working to prepare the glossary, diction, and computer fonts for Dzongkha.

Example of Useful Dzongkha Phrases

If you want to travel to Bhutan, you might be interested in learning some basic conversational Dzongkha. Although learning the Bhutanese language can be quite challenging to non-native speakers. However, fret not, as most of the Bhutanese can speak fluent English! Language will not be a barrier in Bhutan especially in larger cities like Paro and Thimphu.

Below are some useful Bhutanese phrases that can help you kickstart your journey in Bhutan

1 Hello Kuzu zangpo la
2 Goodbye Log jay gay
3 Sorry Tsip maza
4 How are you? Ga day bay zhu yoe ga?
5 Yes Inn
6 No Men
7 Good wishes Tashi Delek
8 I am fine Nga leg shom bay rang yoey
9 Welcome Joen pa leg so
10 Thank you Kadrinche la
11 My name is Nga Ley in
12 How much is this? Gadem chi mo?
13 Where Ga tey
14 Which Ga dee
15 I’m pleased to meet you Nga choe da chebay sem ga yi
16 What time is it? Chutshoo gad emci yasi?
17 Where are you from? Chhoe gatey lay mo?
18 Please say that again Yang char sung nang pa chin la?
19 I don’t understand Nga gi ha migo wai
20 Please speak more slowly Ah tsi due ki bay sung nang
21 See you tomorrow Naba che gae
22 Where is the bank? Ngyul khang gathey mo?
23 What is the problem? Chhoe gi ka Ngyel ga chi mo?
24 No problem Khe mi

Counting in Dzongkha

If you are fond of numbers and you are also fascinated to learn it in other languages, you might be interested in learning how to count in the Dzongkha language.

Counting from one to ten in the Dzongkha language presents below.

Chi One
Nyi Two
Sum Three
Zhi Four
Nga Five
Dru Six
Duen Seven
Gay Eight
Gu Nine
Chu Tham Ten

Aside from Dzongkha, there are two major languages spoken in the country, namely Tshanglakha (also known as Sharchopkha) and Lhotshamkha.

1. Tshanglakha / Sharchopkha

Tshanglakha, also known as Sharchopkha is primarily spoken in the eastern part of Bhutan. Which is why it is also called the ‘Language of Easterners’. The language is native tongue to Samdrupjongkhar, Pemagatshel, Trashigang and Mongar districts. Today, the language is widely spoken in other parts of Bhutan and is one of the languages used by radio stations and the music industry.

2. Lhotshamkha

Lhotshamkha is spoken by the Lhotshampa communities in Bhutan, people with Nepali origin. It’s spoken in the southern region of Bhutan. Over the years, the Nepali language has been modified to create the Lhotshamkha language spoken in Bhutan.

List of other languages spoken in Bhutan

Below are the different dialects and languages spoken by inhabitants of Bhutan.

3. Brokpakha

Eastern Bhutanese speak the Bropakha, also known as Merak-Sakteng language. It has approximately 5,000 speakers in Bhutan. The Brokpas are famous indigenous tribes with distinctive cultures and lifestyles living in eastern Bhutan. You can interact and observe the Brokpa communities if you opt for the Merak-Sakteng trekking tour.


The lakha is a dialect closely related to the Dzongkha. It’s spoke within the Laya highlanders’ communities, known as Layaps living in the villages of Laya in Gasa district. It has over 1000 speakers in northwest Bhutan. Most of these inhabitants are living in the high altitude around 12, 360 ft. You can interact and meet the interesting semi-nomadic Layaps by taking up the Laya-Gasa trekking tour. They are mostly yak herders.

Choca Ngacha

The people of Kurichu Valley that is located in Lhuentse and Mongar districts in eastern Bhutan speak Chochangachakha or Chocha Ngacha. It has a community of 20,000 speakers. It resembles the Dzongkha language.


Lakha is the regional language of Bhutan, and it has around 8,000 speakers. It is the language of the inhabitants of Central Bhutan in the village of Dhur in Bumthang Valley. Lakha literally means the “language of the mountain pass”.

4. Brokkat

Brokkat are spoken by residents of Central Bhutan in Bumthang district. It has only 300 speakers. The language is on the verge of being extinct.

5. Bumthangkha

The language spoken in Bumthang, central Bhutan is known as Bumthangkha. It is a Tibeto-Burman language which is spoken by over 20,000 speakers in central Bhutan.

6. Kheng

The Kheng dialect is associated with the Bumthang language. There are around 40,000 speakers of the Kheng dialect. It is spoken in the South-Central districts of Bhutan such Zhemgang, Trongsa, and Mongar.

7. Kurtopkha

Just like the Kheng, Kurtop language is closely related to Bumthangkha. The Kurtop people inhabit areas of northern Bhutan, as far north as the border with China. Lhuentse is home to the Kurtop. It is spoken by over 10,000 speakers in the Kurtoe Gewog, beginning from the village of Tangmachu in Lhuentse in eastern Bhutan.

8. Dzalakha

Dzalamat, or Yangtsebikha are the other names of Dzalakha. It is a native language in Trashiyangtse district of eastern Bhutan. The Dzala language is spoken as far west as the Kurichu River in Lhuentse district. There is also the Khomakha dialect from the Dzala language spoken by people living in Khoma Village, located about 8 km upstream from the confluence with Kurichu.

9. Nyenkha

Nyen language is also known as Henkha or Mangdebikha. The number of speakers of the Nyen language is about 10,000 speakers in the eastern, northern and western areas of the Black Mountains. The community lives primarily between Tang Chhu to the east and Mangde Chu to the west, from the town of Trongsa district.

10. Olekha

This language is also called the Black Mountain Monpa. It is a native language of the people in at least six villages of Wangdue Phodrang and Trongsa Districts situated in Western Bhutan. It’s currently a highly endangered language in Bhutan.

11. Lepcha language

It is also known as the Róng language. It is mainly spoken by minorities in the southwestern Bhutan, in the Samtse district. The language is also spoken in some parts of Nepal and India. There are approximately 11,700 Lepcha speakers in Bhutan.

12. Lhokpu language / Lhobikha

A language spoken by the Lhop people in the southwestern Bhutan along the border of Samtse and Chukha districts. Lhop means ‘southerners’ and they are considered aboriginal Dung population of western Bhutan.1

13. Chali Language

Chali or also called as Chalipkha or Chalikha is spoken by the people in the eastern Bhutan, particularly in the Wangmakhar, Gorsum and Tormazhong villages in Mongar district. The language is also closely related to Bumthangkha and Kurtopkha.

14. Dakpakha

Also known as Takpa, is another language in the northern Trashigang District which is situated in the eastern part of Bhutan. The population of Dakpa is around 2,300 people. Dakpakha is also the spoken language of the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh in India.

Can Bhutanese speak Hindi?

Aside from the languages above, Hindi is also somewhat spoken in Bhutan. Most Bhutanese can understand some Hindi due to the influence of Hindi newspapers and Bollywood movies being available in the country. The popularity of Hindi language in Bhutan is also owing to the influence of sharing its borders with one of its closest allies, India.

Want to experience the diversity of Bhutanese cultures and languages?

You may consider taking a 7 Day Essential Bhutan Travel Plan, or spend 10 day to discover Bhutan. You may also check the best time to visit Bhutan. Check out our tips when you’re planning a trip to Bhutan.

Find out the 13 unique facts about Bhutan.

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