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Date Posted: 17:31:34 04/05/06 Wed
Author: Ken Westmoreland
Subject: Timor Leste Press Essential In Building Identity


It is not fair to say that there are no written rules of grammar for Tetum, and no consistent spelling.

There are grammar manuals, and a standardised orthography, which, while only recently introduced, is not radicaly different from the forms used in the press. While there are regional dialects of Tetum, the form spoken in
Dili, influenced by Portuguese, is widely understood. However, in the enclave of Oecussi in the West and the Lautem in the easternmost part of the island, Baikenu and Fataluku are more widely used, and Indonenesian often more widely understood than Tetum.

Of course, neither the Portuguese nor the Indonesians sought to promote Tetun when they ruled East Timor, so it is not surprising that people are unaccustomed to writing it. However, this will change over time and they will gain the confidence to use it as a literary language.

East Timor has nothing to learn from Indonesia about official language policy, given the way that Jakarta not only banned Portuguese in East Timor, but also Chinese in Indonesia itself, not to mentioning relegating Indonesia's regional languages, with the possible exception of Javanese, to the inferior status of mere vernaculars.

It was surprising to read that not even one journalist in Diário Nacional understands Portuguese, as it has more articles in the language than other newspapers, and has a weekly sister newspaper in Portuguese, Semanário

Nobody should be made to change from one language to another, as happened after the Indonesian takeover in 1975. The Indonesians did not 'ask' the East Timorese to use Bahasa Indonesia following 'integration' - they told them to (and how Indonesianists always forget this!) It is simply a case of what language to use in what context.

One interesting development is how Indonesian words are being made Portuguese, so "mikrolet" becomes
"microlete", in other words "di-Portugis-kan", as well as "di-Tetun-kan'!

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