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The word "Dzongkha" in Jôyi, a Bhutanese form of the Uchen script
Dzongkha was declared the national language of Bhutan in 1971. Dzongkha study is mandatory in all schools, and the language is the lingua franca in the districts to the south and east where it is not the mother tongue. The 2003 Bhutanese film Travellers and Magicians is in Dzongkha.
The Tibetan alphabet used to write Dzongkha has thirty basic letters, sometimes known as "radicals", for consonants. Dzongkha is usually written in Bhutanese forms of the Uchen script, forms of the Tibetan alphabet known as Jôyi "cursive longhand" and Jôtshum "formal longhand". The print form is known simply as Tshûm.
There are various systems of romanization and transliteration for Dzongkha, but none accurately represents its phonetic sound. The Bhutanese government adopted a transcription system known as Roman Dzongkha, devised by the linguist George van Driem, as its standard in 1991.
All consonants may begin a syllable. In the onsets of low-tone syllables, consonants are voiced.Aspirated consonants (indicated by the superscript h), /?/, and /h/ are not found in low-tone syllables. The rhotic /r/ is usually a trill or a fricative trill , and is voiceless in the onsets of high-tone syllables.
Only a few consonants are found in syllable-final positions. Most common among them are /m, n, p/. Syllable-final /?/ is often elided and results in the preceding vowel nasalized and prolonged, especially word-finally. Syllable-final /k/ is most often omitted when word-final as well, unless in formal speech. In literary pronunciation, liquids/r/ and /l/ may also end a syllable. Though rare, /?/ is also found in syllable-final positions. No other consonants are found in syllable-final positions.
/e/ varies between close-mid and open-mid , the latter being common in closed syllables. /e:/ is close-mid . /e:/ may not be longer than /e/ at all, and differs from /e/ more often in quality than in length.
Descriptions of /ø:/ vary between close-mid and open-mid .
/o/ is close-mid , but may approach open-mid especially in closed syllables. /o:/ is close-mid .
/?/ may approach , especially in closed syllables.
When nasalized or followed by [?], vowels are always long.
Many words in Dzongkha are monosyllabic. Syllables usually take the form of CVC, CV, or VC. Syllables with complex onsets are also found, but such an onset must be a combination of an unaspirated bilabial stop and a palatal affricate. The bilabial stops in complex onsets are often omitted in colloquial speech.
Dzongkha bears a close linguistic relationship to J'umowa, which is spoken in the Chumbi Valley of Southern Tibet. It has a much more distant relationship to Standard Tibetan. Although spoken Dzongkha and Tibetan are largely mutually unintelligible, the literary forms of both are both highly influenced by the liturgical (clerical) Classical Tibetan language, known in Bhutan as Chöke, which has been used for centuries by Buddhist monks. Chöke was used as the language of education in Bhutan until the early 1960s when it was replaced by Dzongkha in public schools.
Although descended from Classical Tibetan, Dzongkha shows a great many irregularities in sound changes that make the official spelling and standard pronunciation more distant from each other than is the case with Standard Tibetan. "Traditional orthography and modern phonology are two distinct systems operating by a distinct set of rules."
^Driem, George van (1998). Dzongkha = Rdo?-kha. Leiden: Research School, CNWS. p. 110. ISBN90-5789-002-X. Traditional orthography and modern phonology are two distinct systems operating by a distinct set of rules.
Mazaudon, Martine. 1985. "Dzongkha Number Systems." S. Ratanakul, D. Thomas & S. Premsirat (eds.). Southeast Asian Linguistic Studies presented to André-G. Haudricourt. Bangkok: Mahidol University. 124-57
Mazaudon, Martine; Michailovsky, Boyd (1986), Syllabicity and suprasegmentals: the Dzongkha monosyllabic noun
Michailovsky, Boyd; Mazaudon, Martine (1989). "Lost syllables and tone contour in Dzongkha (Bhutan)". In Bradley, David; Henderson, E. J. A.; Mazaudon, Martine (eds.). Prosodic Analysis and Asian Linguistics: To Honour R.K. Sprigg. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 115-136. hdl:1885/145648.
Michailovsky, Boyd (1989). "Notes on Dzongkha orthography". In Bradley, David; Henderson, E. J. A.; Mazaudon, Martine (eds.). Prosodic Analysis and Asian Linguistics: To Honour R.K. Sprigg. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 297-301. hdl:1885/145648.
Tournadre, Nicolas (1996). "Comparaison des systèmes médiatifs de quatre dialectes tibétains (tibétain central, ladakhi, dzongkha et amdo)". In Guentchéva, Z. (ed.). L'énonciation médiatisée(PDF). Bibliothèque de l'Information Grammaticale, 34 (in French). Louvain Paris: Peeters. pp. 195-214. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2020-10-19.
van Driem, George; Karma Tshering of Gaselô (collab) (1998). Dzongkha. Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region. Leiden: Research School CNWS, School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies. ISBN90-5789-002-X. - A language textbook with three audio compact disks.