[lg policy] "free essay": Language Policy in East-Timor

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 1 15:05:28 UTC 2012

Language Policy in East-Timor

The linguistic situation in East Timor is a fluid one that
demonstrates a range of cultural, linguistic and generational
conundrums, and these are being played out on a daily basis. The
complexity of the language situation (which was incredibly diverse
even before the 1600’s) has been exacerbated by recent colonial and
political history. The decision to make Portuguese and Tetum, the
Official Languages, and Indonesian and English the Working languages
of East Timor was deeply linked to the history and politics in the
country (Hendriks 2011).   After Independence in 1999, politicians had
the difficult task of choosing language that acknowledged the past and
also could plot a course the future. I believe that the choices made
at the time were right for that time, but that to avoid the continued
isolation of many East-Timorese there must now be a shift toward
self-determination of Timorese identity and language, and that Tetum
must be given priority over Portuguese. Efforts must be made to
standardise Tetum, and create a written and spoken language that is
useful and functional for all East Timorese people in all settings.

The 2004 National Census shows that there are over 20 national
languages in use, in present day East-Timor and thus linguistic
identities are “diverse, multiple, overlapping and hybrid”
(Taylor-Leech 2008:163). The choice by government to promote two
official, two working and around eighteen national languages confirms
and entrenches the diversity that stretches back to pre-historic
times. The idea that Timorese people were historically distinct from
the rest of South East Asia, and needed to distinguish themselves from
surrounding countries, is illustrated by the significant number of
speakers of the trans-New Guinea Languages that are Indigenous to the
Papuan area and very distinct from South-East Asia (about 175 000
speak a trans-new guinea strain of language) (Hendriks 2011).   This
distinction from Indonesia, was...

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