East Timor

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at midway.uchicago.edu
Tue Dec 11 21:40:34 UTC 2001

At 10:49 AM 11/9/01 +0300, John Myhill wrote:
>Does anyone out there know what the official language policy of East
>Timor has been after they became independent? Please send any information
>yoshmiyake at hotmail.com
>Thanks very much.
>John Myhill

This just in...

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: "Language of resistance" and colonial tongue named Timor's
official languages
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 2:20:08 PST
From: C-afp at clari.net (AFP)
Organization: Copyright 2001 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

    DILI, East Timor, Dec 11 (AFP) - East Timor's fledgling
lawmaking body on Tuesday adopted the tongues of both their native
ancestors and Portuguese colonisers as the official languages of the
world's newest nation.
    Tetum and Portuguese were given the nod by 80 members of the
88-person constituent assembly, a body elected three months ago to
draft a founding constitution for the half-island territory now five
months away from full independence.
    Three members abstained from Tuesday's constitutional debate,
while another five were absent.
    "We have to think of our future as a developing country. If we
don't use Portuguese we will be isolated," assembly member Joao
Carrascalao, of the UDT party, told journalists after voting in
favour of both languages.
    Mariano Sabino Lopes, of the youth-oriented Democratic Party,
said Tetum had to be included because it was the language of the
24-year resistance fight against Indonesia.
    "We used Tetum to recruit and unite people in the struggle
against Indonesia," Lopes, once an active resistance supporter,
    "(Independence leader) Xanana Gusmao used Tetum when he wrote
letters to the youth, so we've always considered it the language of
    Lopes said the adoption of both Tetum and Portuguese would
eliminate a feared division between the older Portuguese-fluent
generation and the younger Tetum-fluent youth, who are also
proficient in English and/or Indonesian.
    "It means both old and young will have access to jobs," he
    East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a United
Nations-backed plebiscite in 1999, ending 24 years of brutual
military-backed rule by Indonesia that followed Portugal's 400-year
colonial regime.
    A hybrid version of Tetum, an Austronesian language that was
infused with Portuguese in colonial times, spread among the
population until an estimated 60 percent used it.
    Portuguese was banned by Indonesian rulers in 1981, six years
after Jakarta's annexation of East Timor, but they failed to wipe it
out. An estimated 10 percent of the population are fluent in it.
    A proposal to include the most commonly spoken tongue, Bahasa
Indonesia, in the official languages was overruled.
    "Around 75 percent of our people can speak Bahasa because we had
to learn it during Indonesian time, that's why we wanted it
adopted," said Antonius Ximenes, whose Christian Democratic Party
put forward the proposal.
    "Also because we are considered part of Asia, and Bahasa is an
Asian language."
    The assembly has been debating a draft constitution, which was
completed on November 27, since December 3.
    The United Nations, which has been administering East Timor
since late 1999, will hand over full independence on May 20 next

Benjamin G. Zimmer
Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Chicago

6022 S. Drexel Ave. #602
Chicago, IL  60637
(773) 643-0134
bg-zimmer at uchicago.edu

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