A language of Bhutan

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

50,000 (2003 SIL). 60% monolingual.


Zhemgang, Mongar districts; near Bumthangkha. Middle Kheng in Northwest Zhemgang; Upper Khen northeast of Zhemgang; also Mongar District; Lower Kheng in southern Zhemgang.

Language Maps
Language Status

6a (Vigorous).


Lower Kheng, Middle Kheng, Upper Kheng. Bumthangkha [kjz] most similar related language. Comprehension of Bumthangkha not sufficient for complex discourse. Comprehend Kurtokha [xkz] with difficulty. Lexical similarity: 75%–85% with Bumthangkha [kjz], 70% with Kurtokha [xkz] and Nyengkha [neh], 65% with Adap [adp], 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. 15,000 L2 speakers. 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. English [eng] used by educated young people (10%). Nepali [npi] used by those who live near the road (20%), Dzongkha [dzo] spoken well only by educated and some older males. Bumthangkha [kjz], Kurtokha [xkz] and Nyengkha [neh] used by those who travel or have intermarried. Tshangla [tsj] used by those who travel east of Kheng area.

Language Development
Literacy rate in L2: 20% in Dzongkha [dzo]. Bible portions: 2008.
Tibetan script, Uchen style, unofficial usage.
Other Comments

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