Languages in East Timor

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Linguistically, East Timor has been described as a complex multilingual mosaic. At least sixteen distinct languages are indigenous to East Timor, some of them closely related, others completely unrelated to each other. These can be divided into more than 30 groups of "dailects" or "sub-dialects". Of these languages, the most widely spoken is Tetum, and still widely spoken is Bahasa Indonesia.

Since the Indonesian invasion of 1975, Tetum has gradually undergone a transformation - as the Indonesian administration has tried to strangle the language, banning it from schools and formal use, the people see Tetum and other indigenous languages as a living beacon of identity. Great efforts have been made by people both inside and outside East Timor to undertake the work of developing what has always been an oral language tradition into a written language as well.

Portuguese is spoken by the generation of Timorese who grew up prior to 1975, and has also often been seen as a language of resistance to military occupation. However, as a fact, Portuguese is spoken by only about 5% of the population.

The younger generations of Timorese, educated under Indonesian occupation learnt Bahasa Indonesia as their educational language. But far from "Indonesianising" this generation, it has enabled them to communicate and take action within the Indonesian arena - and to gradually raise awareness amongst the Indonesian community, especially the student community. This holds the East Timorese in good stead for our future good international relations with the country's neighbours.

A fact is that the Portuguese language has not yet been widely disseminated on this island, and Tetum and Bahasa Indonesia remain the main languages.

Contributors
August 12, 2006 change by anja c
August 21, 2006 change by giorgio

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