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Bhutan battles against influx of English words

Thursday, 11-Sep-2003 7:20AM PDT
Story from AFP
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

NEW DELHI, Sept 11 (AFP) - Bhutan, where schools have taught English for decades to ease the kingdom's isolation, is searching for its own words to weed out the growing number of foreign terms entering the national language.


The state-run newspaper Kuensel's website reported Thursday that experts on Dzongkha, the national tongue which is close to Tibetan, were studying suitable replacements for encroaching English words, many of them in the hi-tech sphere.

"If we take every new idea and term in its original English form, Dzongkha in a decade will be overloaded with foreign words. And one day Dzongkha may fail to qualify and justify itself to be Bhutanese," the expert committee's chairman Lungtaen Gyatso told Kuensel -- which is published in English.

The linguists, for example, have decided to do away with the English "computer" and instead introduce "logrig," which combines Dzongkha words to translate literally as "an intelligent machine run by electricity."

Not everyone is convinced the exercise is necessary.

"Every Bhutanese understands computer better than logrig," translator R. Wangchuk told the newspaper. "There is no need for the experts to coin a word for computer or football or television."

The experts said they will not try to find Dzongkha terms for commonly accepted units such as kilometer, kilogram or Celsius.

But Gyatso is optimistic that new indigenous terms can move seemlessly into written and spoken Dzongkha within 10 to 15 years, particularly if more emphasis is given to the national language in schools.

While the Himalayan kingdom allows few tourists in a bid to preserve its Buddhist-based culture, most educated people speak English fluently.

Late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s introduced English in the schools to bring the tiny kingdom closer to the world. Until then, the chief foreign language of instruction was Hindi, from Bhutan's neighbor and main political backer India.