Brushing up on Dzongkha

A week from now I’ll be in West Sikkim. Time to brush up on my Dzongkha. All I remember from my trips to Bhutan are three phrases: kuzu zangpo for welcome, kadrin chhe for thank you, and tashi delek for good luck. Tibetan also has the phrase tashi delek with more or less the same meaning. Fortunately, the omniscient Google pointed me to a Dzongkha phrasebook.

Scanning this list of ready made phrases I came across a standard question: Chhoe gi ming ga chi mo which means “What is your name?” The last word, mo, converts the remaining sentence into a question. That is very similar to the word ma, which serves the same purpose in Chinese. The Dzongkha word for name, ming, is also very close to the word in Chinese: mingzi (名字).

Dzongkha is written in the Tibetan alphabet, and it is not hard to learn, because it is laid out in a grid similar to Devanagari (see above). If you know the Devanagari and Assamese/Bengali scripts, then you can begin to guess at written Tibetan or Dzongkha. The vowels are even easier (see image at the top), and are definitely smaller in number than the corresponding set in Devanagari.

On the other hand, the Dzongkha numbers are hard: chi, nyi, sum, zhi, nga, dru, duen, gay, gu, chutham are nothing like the Hindi ek, do, teen, chaar, paanch, chhe, saat, aath, nau, das. Although they seem to be closer to the Mandarin yi, er, san, shi, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to go from the Mandarin to Dzongkha.

With this mixture of Indian script and Chinese loan words, Dzongkha should be a very interesting language to learn.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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