It was always clear that English was a minority language in ET, but it seemed to take quite a while to get a grip on the real situation with respect to languages spoken on the ground.
The history and politics of the changes in language influence are best left to a later time, but briefly it seems to go like this :
- There are numerous local languages that exist through-out ET.
- The local Dili language (Tetun) is probably the most common of the local languages and being spoken in the capital, well, it shouldn’t surprise that this has become the most significant of the local languages.
- The Portuguese first occupied ET over 400 years ago, but although they were fairly passive in spreading its usage, it was inevitable that the local ET elite would pick up on the first of the foreign imported languages.
- With the occupation of ET by Indonesia, their banning of Portuguese and compulsory teaching of Indonesian, this brought Indonesian into the picture.
- With the departure of Indonesia and the creation of the new independent state, the nature of the Indonesian departure led to a reversal of the previous stance on language, such that Indonesian is now on the outer & Portuguese coming back into vogue.
- With the return of Portuguese, a decision was made to elevate Tetun to a similar official status.
- Tetun had a long way to go to get the same levels of research and development & codification of any common accepted vocabulary & grammar.
- It seems that nowadays, Tetun and Indonesian are the most widely used, with Portuguese still having a strong influence & English reserved for communication with foreigners.
This formed the basis of the decision to study both Portuguese and Tetun, with more emphasis on Tetun. As Tetun is still in the process of formalisation, grammar, spelling & vocabulary, it’s usage is much more informal than your typical language & it is no surprise to find the language littered with mainly Portuguese additions, and even replacement.
This informal development of the language also means that in spoken language, one can interchangeably toss Portuguese words into the mix without missing a beat. Forget the Tetun … just use the Portuguese instead.