Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bhutanese Grammar Lesson

As an English teacher, I have paid careful attention to the patterns of spoken and written language during my stay here. I humbly present a short lesson on the uses of some common words and phrases particular to Bhutanese culture.

Is it?


1. A nonsensical, meaningless, grammatically characterless response to anything, given in order to alert the speaker to the fact that you have heard what he has said. Synonymous with “mm-hmm,” “yep,” “[grunting noise]”.

“I am a human male currently relaying information to you via the medium of language.”
“Is it?”

2. An expression of caring meant to display the fact that you have the same level of concern for every situation in life no matter its importance or unimportance.

“Yesterday I ate ema-datse, as I have done every day for my entire life.”
“Is it?”

“I am suffering through an existential malaise so profound as to call into question the very purpose of my life. I think I may end it all tonight.”
“Oh, is it?”



1. Synonymous with “just,” but in the wrong syntactical position, and used a random number of times per sentence.

“Yesterday only I went to the market only and bought a shelf only.”

“This year only the curriculum will cover all of Buddhist thought only and every other facet of the enlightened mind only.”

2. A random two-syllable interjection with no set meaning or pattern of usage, except that it always follows nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, and never precedes them.

“To me only, the situation in China only will be exacerbated only by a rising fear only of global economic interdependence only. Only.”

“[any combination of words in English and/or Dzongkha] only.”



1. “A.” The article “a” is considered inauspicious, and is not used here. This produces occasional confusion for outsiders with the faulty assumption that “one” indicates specifically a singular object when there is the possibility that it may be plural.

This is an actual example, that someone actually said, actually:

“I am going into town to find one wife.”

This example is shockingly common. People frequently talk about how they are looking for one wife, or one house, or one job. Either there is some misunderstanding about the use of articles, or this society is much more interesting than it seems.


1. Exactly the same as its English definition, but may only be used when describing beatings.


“That one has no respect. He should be beaten nicely.”

“It was performed nicely, the beating was.”

“I said to him, I will do nicely to you, and by my use of that particular adverb, he knew I was talking about a beating.”


  1. Someone sent me a link to this and it really made me laugh. All the best linguistic quirks.
    Could you add "that one" and "there" to your vital grammar lesson? As in

    "Why aren't you at that one?"
    Which one?
    "That one only"
    Which one
    "That one there"

  2. You wrote one only number of posts nicely here, isn't it?

  3. Laughed so hard at this! Would love to see what you think of " coping up" and " damn-less"

  4. this is sooo funny.. add "damn-care"