Updated: Jul 11

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 ལྷོ་མཚམས་ཁ།

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.


Vowels in Dzongkha are easy to identify. They tend to appear either above or below the letter with exception to the inherent A sound that is found in all letters. Since we are unable to even speak Dzongkha without using vowels, I think learning them will best way to start our first lesson.

Punctuation Marks

The last thing I want to briefly cover in this introduction to Dzongkha section is Punctuation. There are actually quite a few different types of punctuation marks in Dzongkha. Some are reserved for religious texts, others are for administrative letters, but most are actually quite similar to the ones we use in English.

The two that I want to introduce to you in this section,

will help you understand the majority of Dzongkha texts.

Tshak ཚག།

The first mark is called a Tshak .

It's primary use is to separate syllables within a word.

Shey ཤད།

The second mark is called a Shey .

A Shay has two important uses:

  1. It functions as a period, or a full stop. <--

  2. In the dictionary, a Shay is placed at the end of words.


྿ If a sentence or a word ends with the letter then you must add a Tshak and a Shey at the end.

  • ཁབ་ཟས་ཁ

  • ཁྲོམ

྿ If a sentence or a word ends with the letter or then the no shay is required, however, some writers may still choose to add them. If or is accompanied by a subscript, then the shay must be added.








What would a Tshak and Shey look like in English?

If we had to use these punctuation marks in English, it would probably look like this.





My birthday is in November

I could include many more examples, but we will see these in each of our following lessons, so you will have plenty of opportunities to get accustomed to these punctuation marks.

Great work!

We made it to the end of yet another lesson.

I tried to cram as much as I could into this introduction to Dzongkha post without going overboard. In our next lesson we will cover everything you need to know about vowels.

བཀའ་དྲིན་ཆེ་ལགས། ~

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