Kheng language

Native toBhutan
Native speakers
50,000 (2013)
Total speakers: 65,000
Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3xkf

The Khengkha language (Dzongkha ྨཕགལཔམཕ), or Kheng,[1] is an East Bodish language spoken by ~40,000 native speakers worldwide,[2] in the Zhemgang, Trongsa, and Mongar districts of south–central Bhutan.[3]


Khengkha is a dialect found in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Khengkha is part of the larger branch of Sino-Tibetan language family but falls into the subcategories of: Tibetio-Burman, Western Tubeto-Burman, Bodish, East Bodish, Bumthang, and Khengkha.

Language codes

ISO 639-3 xkf

Glotolog khen1241[4]

Geographical distribution

Khengkha is an East Bodish language spoken in the south-central districts of Bhutan. Khengkha is mainly found in the Sarpang district but can also be found in southwest Mongar district, rural areas in southeast Trongsa district and in Zhemgang district.[1]


The three main dialects in Bumthang district are Bumthap (Lower Kheng), Khempa (Middle Kheng), and Kurtop (Upper Kheng). Comprehension between the three dialects differs as Bumthap is the most similarly related language, however conversation with Kurthop is difficult.



Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n (ȵ) ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless ts tɕ ~ tʃ
aspirated tsʰ tɕʰ ~ tʃʰ
voiced dz dʑ ~ dʒ
Fricative voiceless s ɕ ~ ʃ h
voiced z ʑ ~ ʒ
Rhotic r ~ ɹ
Approximant central w j
lateral l
  • /r/ can be heard as either a trill [r] or an approximant [ɹ] in free variation.
  • Alveolo-palatal sounds /tɕ, tɕʰ, dʑ, ɕ, ʑ/ can also range to palato-alveolar sounds [tʃ, tʃʰ, dʒ, ʃ, ʒ] in free variation.
Final consonants
Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k ʔ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative (s)
Rhotic r
Approximant (l)


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e (ø̈) o
Open a
Diphthong ai
  • A centralized rounded [ø̈] does appear, but is mostly borrowed from words in Dzongkha.
  • /a/ can appear slightly back as [ʌ] or [ɑ] within diphthongs or codas.
  • /i, e/ can be heard as [ɪ, ɛ] when in short form.[5]


In most Khengkha sentences, it only marks grammatical relations through word order. The subject constituent precedes the object and the verb constituents follow it. Khengkha follows the same typology as Dzongkha. The example below demonstrates how the grammatical roles of each constituent are marked only by the position relative to the verb:[1]













Ngai meng Dorji wenn.

My name Dorji is.

{} S O V

"My name is Dorji."

When nouns are addressed in Khengkha there are two ways it can be written, depending on the other.

  1. Relatives before noun heads or articles.
  2. Adjectives after noun heads.

Khengkha is an oral language without a writing system, making tones and nuances important during communication.[1]

Language Use

Khengkha is a vigorous language in limited areas. Khengkha is not allowed to be taught in schools around Bhutan, making it only spoken at home, for commerce, local politics, and traditional religion. Due to the increasing modernization of Bhutan, there are negative attitudes towards those who speak Kheng instead of Dzongkha or the English. Lower Kheng is considered to be spoken backward, while Middle Kheng is seen as more prestigious. Middle Kheng region is the strongest and most developed economically, while lower Kheng is least developed.[1]

Language Development

Since Khengkha is an oral language there is a low literacy rate for native Khengkha speakers in Dzongkha. There is literacy rate of 20% in Dzongkha.[1]

Common phrases

As there is no official English romanization of Dzongkha script, many words are spelled out phonetically. Therefore, there may be multiple spellings of the same word.

English Khengkha Dzongkha
Hello Kuzu zangpo Kuzu zangpo
How are you? Wed ato nag yo? Choe gadey be yoe?
My name is Dorji. Ngai meng Dorji wenn Ngegi ming Dorji 'ing.
It was nice meeting you. Nga wed domsay nyeng gas a. Chö dang je di sem ga-i.
Okay, I will see you again. Kai nyeng dom. Yaya, lok shu ley jel gey.
Sorry Nyeng ma ja yai Gom ma thay
Who Aii yo Ga
What Ja yo Gaci
When Arba Nam
Where Aucu ta say/ Aun Gate
Why Jai bu say/ Ato bu say Gaci bey
How Ato Gade
Where are you from? Yoe ah nga yo? Chö 'ü: gate le mo?
I am from Bumthang. Nga Bumthang do when. Nga Bumthang le 'ing.
I am thirsty. Nga ka kampa Kha khom chi.
I am hungry. Nga tog pai say sa. Toh ke chi.
Morning Nga si Droba
Afternoon Nyen cha Nyin-che
Evening So suitlas Chiru
Night San Numo

English translation of the conversation:

Dorji: Hi, my name is Dorji.

Sonam: Hi, my name is Sonam. Where are you from?

Dorji: I’m from Zhemgang.

Sonam: What are you doing nowadays?

Dorji: I’m studying.

Sonam: I’m happy to meet you.

Dorji: I’m also happy to meet you. Let’s meet again.

Sonam: Okay.


Khengkha counting system is written in Dzongkha script but pronounced differently. Below is a comparison of Khengkha and Dzongkha numbers.

# Khengkha Dzongkha
1 Thak Ci:
2 Zoom Nyi:
3 Sum Sum
4 Blay Zhi
5 Ya-Nga Nga
6 Grog Dru
7 Ngee Dün
8 Jat
9 Dogo Gu
10 ༡༠ Choe ༡༠ Cutham
11 ༡༡ Chowouray ༡༡ Cuci:
12 ༡༢ Chowazone ༡༢ Cu-'nyi
13 ༡༣ Chowasum ༡༣ Cusum
14 ༡༤ Choebloy ༡༤ Cuzhi
15 ༡༥ Choenga ༡༥ Ce-'nga
16 ༡༦ Choegrok ༡༦ Cudru
17 ༡༧ Choerngyee ༡༧ Cupdün
18 ༡༨ Cheorjat ༡༨ Copgä
19 ༡༩ Choedogo ༡༩ Cugu
20 ༢༠ Nyeesho ༢༠ Khe Ci:/ Nyishu
30 ༣༠ Khaidehichoe ༣༠ Sumchu
40 ༤༠ Khaizone ༤༠ Zhipcu
50 ༥༠ Khaizone Choe ༥༠ Ngapcu
60 ༦༠ Khaisum ༦༠ Drupcu
70 ༧༠ Khaisum ni Choe ༧༠ Düncu
80 ༨༠ Khaiblay ༨༠ Gäpcu
90 ༩༠ Khaiblay ni Choe ༩༠ Gupcu
100 ༡༠༠ Khai Nga ༡༠༠ Cikja
200 ༢༠༠ Kai Choe ༢༠༠ Nyija
300 ༣༠༠ Khai Choe Nga ༣༠༠ Sumja
400 ༤༠༠ Nyeeshy Theg/Shipja ༤༠༠ Zhipja
500 ༥༠༠ Ngabja ༥༠༠ Ngapja
600 ༦༠༠ Drukja ༦༠༠ Drupja
700 ༧༠༠ Dinja ༧༠༠ Dünja
800 ༨༠༠ Nyeesho Zone/Gopja ༨༠༠ Gäpja
900 ༩༠༠ Gupja ༩༠༠ Gupja
1000 ༡༠༠༠ Thonthra Theg/Chigtong ༡༠༠༠ Cikthong

Below are audio records of Khengkha and Dzongkha numbers being spoken.

Khengkha numbers: #REDIRECT [1]
Dzongkha numbers: #REDIRECT [2]

Writing system

Khengkha is an oral language without its own written system. But it unofficially borrows from the Tibetan script and Uchen style of writing. Khengkha and Dzongkha numerical script are written the same.

Related languages

Historically, Kheng and its speakers have had close contact with speakers of the Kurtöp, Nupbi and Bumthang languages, nearby languages of central and eastern Bhutan, to the extent that they may be considered part of a wider collection of "Bumthang languages".[6][7][8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Bhutan". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  2. ^ "Did you know Khengkha is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  3. ^ van Driem, George L. (1993). "Language Policy in Bhutan". London: SOAS. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-01. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
  4. ^ "Glottolog 2.6 - Khengkha". Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  5. ^ Ikeda, Takumi (2021). An Introduction to Khengkha: A Language of Central Bhutan. Nagano, Yasuhiko and Ikeda, Takumi (eds.), Link Languages and Archetypes in Tibeto-Burman: Kyoto: Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University. pp. 71–119.
  6. ^ Schicklgruber, Christian (1998). Françoise Pommaret-Imaeda (ed.). Bhutan: Mountain Fortress of the Gods. Shambhala. pp. 50, 53.
  7. ^ van Driem, George (2007). "Endangered Languages of Bhutan and Sikkim: East Bodish Languages". In Moseley, Christopher (ed.). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Routledge. p. 295. ISBN 0-7007-1197-X.
  8. ^ van Driem, George (2007). Matthias Brenzinger (ed.). Language diversity endangered. Trends in linguistics: Studies and monographs, Mouton Reader. Vol. 181. Walter de Gruyter. p. 312. ISBN 3-11-017050-7.


  • Yangdzom, Deki; Arkesteijn, Marten (n.d.). Khengkha Lessonbook: Khengkha-English / English-Khengkha Wordlist. Thimphu: SNV, Bhutan.
  • van Driem, George (2001). Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region: Containing an Introduction to the Symbiotic Theory of Language. Brill. p. 1412. ISBN 90-04-12062-9.
  • van Driem, George (2007). "Endangerd Languages of Bhutan and Sikkim: East Bodish Languages". In Moseley, Christopher (ed.). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Routledge. pp. 295, 331. ISBN 0-7007-1197-X.
  • Namgyel, Singye. The Language Web of Bhutan. Thimphu: KMT.
  • van Driem, George L; Karma Tshering (1998). Dzongkha. Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region. Leiden: Research School CNWS, School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies. ISBN 90-5789-002-X.

External links

  • Himalayan Languages Project
Retrieved from ""