Unlike India, Bhutan is linguistically limited with only around nineteen dialects spoken in the country. Dzongkha is a national language with approximately 200,000 speakers. Dzongkha literally means the language spoken in the Dzongs, massive fortresses that serve as the administrative centers and monasteries. It is the dominant language in Western Bhutan, and has been the language of government and education in Bhutan since 1971.

Tshanglakha and the Lhotshamkha are two other major languages spoken in Bhutan.  The Tshangla language, has approximately 150,000 speakers.  It is the dominant language in Eastern Bhutan and the mother tongue of the Sharchops.  Lhotshampa are generally regarded as Nepali speakers spoken primarily in the south by the approximately 265,000 resident Lhotshampa as of 2006.

The Cho Cha Nga Chang language, a “sister language” to Dzongkha, is spoken in the Kurichu Valley of Eastern Bhutan by about 20,000 people. Other dialects spoken are Khengkha by the Khengpas and Bumthapkha by the Bumthap people of Central Bhutan. Mangdepkah is spoken by the inhabitants of Trongsa. The Sherpas, Lepchas, Mongars, and the Tamangs in southern Bhutan also have their own dialects. The Sikkimese and Groma languages, both Tibetan languages, are spoken along the Sikkhim-Bhutan and Tibet-Bhutan borders in Western Bhutan.

Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Ngalops, Sharchops and the Lhotshampas. The other minority groups are the Bumthaps and the Khengpas of Central Bhutan, the Kurtoeps in Lhuentse, the Brokpas and the Bramis of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan, the Doyas of Samtse and finally the Monpas of Rukha villages in Wangdue Phodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population is approximately 778,439 as of today.

The Ngalops are people of Tibetan origin who migrated to Bhutan as early as the ninth century. For this reason, they are often referred to in foreign literature as Bhote (people of Bhotia or Tibet). The Ngalop are concentrated in western and northern districts. They introduced Tibetan culture and Buddhism to Bhutan and comprised the dominant political and cultural element in modern Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate cereals such as rice, wheat, barley and maize along with a variety of other crops.

The Sharchops or Tshanglas, believed to be of Indo-Mongoloid origin, are considered to be the earliest, indigenous inhabitants of Bhutan, who are thought to have migrated from Assam or possibly Burma during the past millennium, comprise most of the population of eastern Bhutan. They are commonly inhabitants of Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pema Gasthel and Samdrup Jongkhar. Besides cultivation of maize, rice, wheat, barley and vegetables, the Tshanglas also rear domestic animals to supplement their living. Weaving is a popular occupation among their women and they produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.

The Lhotshampas have settled in the southern foothills of the country. It is believed that they migrated from Nepal in the beginning of the 19th century, in search of agricultural land and work, settling in the southern foothills of the country. They speak Lhotshamkha (Nepali) and practice Hinduism. Their society can be broken into various lineages such as the Bhawans, Chhetris, Rais, Limbus, Subbas, Tamangs, Gurungs, Ghalleys, Mongars, and the Lepchas. Nowadays they are mainly employed in agriculture and cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom and oranges.


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