Congratulations on taking your first step
to learning Dzongkha (རྫོང་ཁ།).
Before we begin, let's get some
context regarding the language.
Dzongkha is the National language of Bhutan.
Dzongkha means, the language of the Dzongs, which are fortresses that are found throughout Bhutan.
It is said that in the past, the language was originally called Ngalongkha, however, when it became the official language spoken in the monasteries and government offices which are primarily located in the Dzongs, it quite naturally was coined the term Dzongkha.
Dzongkha is the native language of the Ngalop people who migrated from Tibet and settled in the western provinces of Bhutan. When they arrived, they introduced Buddhism and Tibetan culture to the region.
Languages of Bhutan
In addition to Dzongkha, there are many different languages and dialects spoken in Bhutan. The two most prominent are Tshangla and Lhotshamkha.
Tshangla, also known as Sharchop, ༼ཤར་ཕྱོགསཔ།༽ is spoken in the eastern regions of Bhutan. With every language, there are variations in pronunciation and vocabulary, so many Sharchops say that the purest form of the language is spoken in Trashigang.
Sharchop people arrived from a number of places such as Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Burma. These countries are all located on the eastern side of Bhutan, so it makes sense that Tshangla is spoken in the east.
The Sharchop people contribute to the largest ethnic group in Bhutan and it is said that Tshangla is the language that was spoken in Bhutan before the Ngalops arrived.
Lhotshamkha is spoken in the southern regions, particularly in Samtse, Tsirang and Geylegphug. The word Lhotshampa means Southerners, and Lhotshamkha is the way to refer to the Nepali language in Dzongkha.
The majority of the speakers are Bhutanese people of Nepali descent. The written form is technically Nepali, however, many Lhotshams are unable to read and write in the language.
The 30 Consonants
No one introduces the Tibetan alphabet better than the legend himself, Shapaley🔥. The alphabet is referred to as the གསལ་བྱེད་སུམ་ཅུ། (sejey sumcu) which translates to "the 30 letters". As the name implies, the alphabet contains 30 consonants which are usually lined up with four rows and four columns.
Although technically we should refer to it as the Tibetan alphabet, for our purposes going forward, we will call it the Dzongkha alphabet to remove any confusion.
In this section we want to briefly cover some of the intricacies found in the "Dzongkha alphabet". We will cover each of these concepts in detail in our future lessons so don't worry if it is a little confusing right now.
Aside from the last 3 rows, the letters usually follow a similar order of aspiration and tone (High high, low low).
The Dzongkha alphabet is quite versatile and it's letters can be placed in various positions within a syllable. Prefixes, suffixes, subscripts, and superscripts can be attached to the root letters to create new sounds.
Sometimes finding which letter is the root word can be challenging, but don't worry about it for now, we will learn about that in our future lessons.