Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Liafuan ida nebee?

I was waiting for a meeting with a government counterpart the other day and picked up a copy of a magazine published by the ministry as part of some information dissemination project or other. The magazine was apparently quite new and quite interesting because four of the people in the waiting room were leafing through it, including the secretary of the (relatively senior) person I was to meet. The magazine was available in Portuguese, Tetum and Indonesian; see if you can guess what the split was between the languages...

Portuguese: 0
Tetum: 1
Indonesian: 3

I suppose the lack of Portuguese readers isn't terribly surprising, but the fact that Indonesian readers outnumbered Tetum readers 3:1 was interesting. I asked why.

"There are so many Portuguese words in the Tetum they use that we can't understand it" came the reply.

I discussed this later that night with Lena - Bibi Bulak member and author in the competition - and she said that this sort of thing is incredibly common. Newspaper articles written in Tetum are often almost unintelligible due to the large number of Portuguese words used, even to some university educated Timorese.

This is a real challenge to writers in Timor-Leste as they continue to develop the language. Do they go down the Portuguese route, the Melayu route, the English route or the Tetum Terik route (where one exists)?

We are hoping to get a letter from the National Institute of Linguistics (INL) verifying that our book is in standard Tetum. Teo - the author of the first book we hope to publish - is quite familiar with standard Tetum because of his work on the Lafaek project with CARE International, so hopefully that shouldn't be too much of an issue.

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