The Tetun Minefield

Now that the end of formal Tetun approaches, one can reflect on some of the forthcoming issues.

Firstly, not everyone in Timor Leste speaks Tetun. There are about 33 different languages. Tetun is but one of them. Although it is spoken in a number of areas, there are many local variations and local accents which may make it appear different anyway.

Tetun also comes in a number of forms – Tetun Prasa (also known as Tetun Dili and Tetun Franca), Tetun Terik, Tetun Loos and Tetun Classic. It is for another day to ponder the similarities and differences between them. At this stage, it is fair to assume that although there is a familiar core, there are differences in both vocabulary and grammar.

While Tetun Terik, Tetun Loos and Tetun Classic use pure Tetun words, Tetun Prasa includes a liberal spray of Portuguese and Indonesian. And just to complete the spray, it appears it is up to the speaker to decide just how much of these other 2 languages to include. As a student with little Portuguese or Indonesian knowledge, this can be confusing.

Although it could be said that Tetun is fairly easy to learn, it does suffer from a lack of high quality learning materials and a lack of freely available written material to supplement this. There is only 1 Tetun news source on the internet and we have used this in class as study material. It takes about 5 seconds to realise that the standard of Tetun is not high, with a casual regard to grammar, spelling and amount of Portuguese or Indonesian spray.

As for other texts available for reading, there is the Timor-Leste Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Bible. Choices, choices … not.

Me thinks that Tetun will not have made it until Herge’s Adventures of TinTin is published in pure Tetun.

6 thoughts on “The Tetun Minefield

  1. Hi,

    Just a note that the name of the ‘Tetun’ language when written in English is written as Tetum. Tetun is how the word is pronounced and written in Tetun and (I suspect) Portuguese. Interesting blog, keep up the good work!

  2. I am quite well aware of the spelling Tetum. As far as I can tell, Tetum is how the Portuguese do it, because an “m” at the end becomes an “n” in Portuguese anyway when spoken. I use Tetun because 99.9% of all English readers will pronounce it wrong if I use Tetum. I guess Geoffrey Hull was told that Portuguese was an official language not English. And yes, I have all 3 Geoffrey Hull texts with Tetum on the cover.

    When I can write in Portuguese, I will use Tetum but hell will freeze over first.

  3. i work in a newsroom and just 2 days ago – someone put a note in our bulletin board, saying — “once and for all, timor leste is pronounced as timor LesT. not les-teh.” many others insist, the latter is correct. can anyone clarify?

  4. I have always been taught “les-teh”. Thats what I hear all Timorese say.

    Maybe the complication is that Leste is the Portuguese word for east. Tetun borrows a lot of Portuguese words. The Tetun word for east is “lorosae” but because there are ethnic groups called “lorosae” and “loromonu” who straddle the border with Indonesia, the word “leste” was adopted as a more neutral non-ethnic word.

    A Portuguese is more likely to say “lesht” but a Timorese usually says “les-teh”.

    My view is that who cares how the Portuguese say Leste, its how the Timorese say it – its their country.

  5. Hi squatter,(can i call you george? saw that in another comment of yours)
    Really like your blog and the info you gave. I’m learning tetun on my own and I’m wondering what is the address of the tetun news source website you mentioned? Can you pass it to me? Obrigado barak.

    A bit of practise…:)
    Agora, hau iha bali. Labele fila fali tanba hau nia xefe para hau. hau senti triste maibe hau labele halo buat ida. Ita kuidado no Maromak fo bensa. Atemanha.

  6. I think I was referring to

    When I studied using this, the teacher shook his head frequently at the over-use of Indonesian and Portuguese.

    Note that the local newspapers have stopped publishing due to the current problems.

    Ita koalia Tetun diak. Haksolok buka-hatene.

    Ate logu !

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