Microsoft has barred the use of the Bhutanese government’s official term for the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha, in any of its products, citing that the term had affiliations with the Dalai Lama. In an internal memorandum, Microsoft employees were told not to use the term Dzongkha in any Microsoft software, language lists or promotional materials since “Doing so implies affiliation with the Dalai Lama, which is not acceptable to the government of China. In this instance, replace “Dzongkha” with ‘Tibetan – Bhutan’.”
The Kingdom of Bhutan is situated in the Himalayas between India and Tibet. The state religion is the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and Dzongkha is the official language. Dzongkha has a linguistic relationship to modern Tibetan in a similar way to that between Spanish and Italian.
The use of the word Dzongkha was graded by Microsoft as a ‘ship-stopper’, which means that a product may not be produced in any form until the problem is resolved. Microsoft has four levels of error severity, ship-stopper being the most severe.
Likely uses of the term may have been in Language Lists for Microsoft products, particularly the upcoming release of the next version of the Microsoft Windows operating system, Windows Vista.
This is not the first time Microsoft’s relationship with the Chinese government has led to product alterations. In June 2005 civil liberties groups condemned an arrangement between Microsoft and Chinese authorities to censor the internet. The American company aided censors in removing words like “freedom”, “democracy”, “human rights”, “Tibet” and “Dalai Lama” from the net in China with a software package that prevents bloggers from using these and other politically sensitive words on their websites.
Earlier this year Microsoft boss Bill Gates praised China’s leaders, who have mixed market economics with rigid political control. “It is a brand new form of capitalism, and as a consumer it’s the best thing that ever happened.”