Dzongkha Development Commission’s (DDC) secretary Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen retired on December 16 last year after completing 37 years in the civil service. Originally from Tshakaling, Mongar Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen, 60, started his career with the home ministry in 1978.
A pioneer in the promotion of the national language, Dasho Sherab spent a moment with Kuensel’s Thinley Zangmo to share his experience working with the commission.
How has your experience been working with the DDC?
As many people weren’t interested in our national language, I realised people working in the commission shouldered a huge responsibility. Everything was in English from meetings to school syllabus. Most graduates didn’t even know how to write in Dzongkha and when talking to students, they didn’t find Dzongkha as prospective. There in lied the conflict and it was our responsible to make a strong foundation for Dzongkha starting from schools. This meant years of hard work that we had to put in.
I wouldn’t have been able to achieve everything on my own without the support from my team at DDC. Various projects were implemented to develop Dzongkha from distribution of free Dzongkha dictionaries to software development. We developed spell checker, an app for smartphones to make Dzongkha more appealing to youth. A software called Parser is also being developed with the help of College and Science Technology that has various functions like spell check, translation, scan and print. It was important to make Dzongkha compatible in line with the changing technology.
The greatest achievement, so far, is making people aware on the importance of preserving and promoting Dzongkha.
With most of the syllabus being in English, there isn’t much room for improvement of Dzongkha despite the commission’s efforts. Therein lied the biggest challenge, to mainstream and make Dzongkha more favourable for students. In schools there is just one period assigned for Dzongkha while rest of the subjects are in English. The commission is also not allowed to intervene in the education system but just support it.
Lack of budget, political will and support are some of the main challenges.
Why is Dzongkha difficult?
Dzongkha is not difficult, it never was. It’s a new phenomenon among people where many are finding the language difficult because there is lack of place and resources to study it. Moreover, English has taken such a strong hold among us. A Japanese tutor is teaching choekey to 15 students at present. If a person like him can read and write in choekey, as a Bhutanese it shouldn’t be difficult at all. For a linguist, Dzongkha is one of the easiest of all languages and English the most difficult.
How can Dzongkha newspapers help promote the national language?
Dzongkha newspapers have few readers compared to English, as there are less people who know the language. Dzongkha was never given the priority it deserves. Even today in schools, Dzongkha subject receives less importance. Of the thousands of graduates every year, only a handful can read and write Dzongkha well. For newspapers to promote Dzongkha, we have to produce readers first by changing policies that would not only encourage but also serve as a platform to learn Dzongkha.
People say that spoken dzongkha during the Parliament sessions are hard to understand. Is there any scope for improvement?
It is difficult, as people don’t know Dzongkha. There are no written records of Dzongkha so people used choekey to communicate. When Dzongkha was simplified, grammar, terms and pronunciations changed and that’s one reason why many find it difficult. However, there is always room for improvement with support.
The situation, however, is improving. Many parliamentarians now speak fluent Dzongkha during the Parliament sessions.