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Bhutan Observer
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Time to learn our language
Editor, June 21, 2013
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 It’s quite ironical that we are discussing whether Bhutanese are conversant enough to talk politics in our national language. The ongoing common forums for the party candidates have thrown up some interesting ideas on the status and popularity of Dzongkha. It’s interesting to note how good or bad our aspiring leaders are in Dzongkha. But it’s disconcerting to observe how poor some of the candidates are in the national language.

It’s common knowledge that some people from the east and the south are not at home with Dzongkha, particularly while discussing weighty issues surrounding national policies and plans. It’s also common knowledge that many people in the east and the south find Dzongkha – particularly the official version ridden with new words and jargons – difficult to understand. But if Dzongkha as the language of the common forums is failing to communicate, it’s the problem of speakers and listeners, not the language.

If Dzongkha is keeping some aspiring leaders away from common forums, there’s surely a problem. And if our aspiring political leaders are not comfortable with Dzongkha, there’s another problem. We expect politicians to be fluent in spoken as well as written Dzongkha because legislative and policy debates and discussions are conducted in spoken and written Dzongkha.

While there’s much more to leadership than language, leaders’ contribution in Parliament and beyond can be seriously limited by their inability to communicate in Dzongkha. We observed this in the previous Parliament. Some MPs had hardly stood up in the hall to take part in the proceedings, and their contribution to the discussion was unmistakably limited by inability to speak or understand Dzongkha. It’s awkward to see MPs claiming to represent their people simply by warming seats in the parliament hall.

Politics has come as a powerful agent of Dzongkha development. Political and parliamentary debates have forced people to learn Dzongkha. The very same people, who take misplaced pride in knowing foreign languages more than Dzongkha, are facing public embarrassment on the podium. And this is good. Political debates and discussions should be conducted in Dzongkha with added emphasis. This will force both speakers and listeners to learn the national language, which is otherwise considered secondary in terms of utility. It’s when Dzongkha becomes crucial to attaining leadership positions that our people will accord the well-deserved importance to it.

New times have come. We must know our language. If we do not, it’s time to learn. Like some people do, we should not blame the language for our inability to use it. Only a bad carpenter blames his tools.

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