A language of Bhutan

Alternate Names
Ken, Keng, Kenkha, Khen, Khenkha, Kyengkha

50,000 (2003 SIL). 30,000 monolinguals. L2 users: 15,000.


Mainly Sarpang district, into southwest Mongar district; smaller area in southeast Trongsa district; Zhemgang district.

Language Maps
Language Status

6a (Vigorous).


Lower Kheng, Middle Kheng, Upper Kheng. Bumthangkha [kjz] reportedly most similar related language, but comprehension not sufficient for complex discourse. Comprehend Kurtokha [xkz] with difficulty. Lexical similarity: 75%–85% with Bumthangkha [kjz], 70% with Kurtokha [xkz] and Nyengkha [neh], 34% with Dzongkha [dzo], 40% with Tshangla [tsj], and 75%–100% between dialects.


SOV; postpositions; genitives, relatives before noun heads, articles, adjective after noun heads; maximum prefixes 1; maximum suffixes 4; affixes indicate case; ergative; passives; causatives; some comparatives; CCVC; tonal.

Language Use

Vigorous. Home, commerce, local politics, traditional religion, but not allowed in school. All ages. Negative attitudes toward Gonphu village speaking style. Lower Kheng considered most backward; Middle Kheng most prestigious. Bumthangkha [kjz] spoken by those who travel or have intermarried. Dzongkha [dzo] spoken well only by educated and some older males. English [eng] used by educated young people (10%). Kurtokha [xkz] spoken by those who travel or have intermarried. Nepali [npi] spoken by those who live near the road (20%). Nyengkha [neh] spoken by those who travel or have intermarried. Tshangla [tsj] spoken by those who travel east of Kheng area.

Language Development
Literacy rate in L2: 20% in Dzongkha [dzo]. Bible portions: 2008.

Tibetan script [Tibt], Uchen style, unofficial usage.

Other Comments

Middle Kheng region strongest and most developed economically; Lower Kheng least developed. Buddhist.