East Timorese Portuguese

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East Timorese Portuguese
português timorense,
português de Timor Leste
Native speakers
600 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
Learning Portuguese in the multilinguistic East Timor.

East Timorese Portuguese (Português timorense in Portuguese) is a Portuguese dialect spoken in the country of Timor-Leste or East Timor. It is one of the official languages of Timor-Leste alongside Tetum.


Portuguese is a legacy of Portuguese rule of Timor-Leste (called Portuguese Timor) from the 16th century. It had its first contact during the Portuguese discoveries of the East, but it was largely exposed to Portuguese Timor in the 18th century after its division from the rest of the island by the Netherlands.

However, Tetum remained the main lingua franca of Timor-Leste during Portuguese rule, although the most commonly used form, known as Tetun-Prasa used in Dili, was heavily influenced by Portuguese. Following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974, political parties emerged in Portuguese Timor for the first time, all of which supported the continued use of Portuguese, including APODETI, the only party to advocate integration with Indonesia, had stated that it would support the right to "enjoy the Portuguese language" alongside Indonesian.[2]

In 1975, Timor-Leste gained freedom from Portugal, after 9 days, Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste unexpectedly, and declared the territory as its 27th province in 1976, and Indonesian became the sole official language. The use of Portuguese in education, administration and the media was banned by the Indonesian authorities, and saw the language as a threat.[3] This was despite the fact that the 'People's Assembly', which petitioned President Suharto for integration with Indonesia, conducted its proceedings in Portuguese, under a banner reading "Integração de Timor Timur na República da Indonésia" (Integration of East Timor into the Republic of Indonesia).[4]

The last school to teach in Portuguese, the Externato São José, was closed in 1992.[5]

The reintroduction of Portuguese as an official language caused criticism amongst Indonesian-educated youth, but according to the 2010 census, 36,7% of respondents aged 6 years and older (or 272,638 out of a total of 741,530) said they had “a capability in Portuguese.” [6]

Historical and social context[edit]

Portuguese was a colonial language in Timor-Leste. During Portuguese rule, most Portuguese speakers were non-native speakers, mostly second-language speakers, because Tetum was the lingua franca of Timor-Leste. All native Portuguese speakers were whites and mestiços. Although Portuguese was banned by Indonesian government after Indonesia occupied Timor-Leste, a few Portuguese speakers survived, mostly non-native speakers, because most Portuguese had left. But when the Externato São José, the last school to teach Portuguese, was closed, Portuguese speakers dwindled. After winning independence from Indonesia, Portuguese was restored by newly made independent government of Timor-Leste as one of the official languages with Tetum, along with Indonesian and English as "working languages". Portuguese as an official language in Timor-Leste is spoken as second or third language. Timor-Leste asked help from Brazil, Portugal, and the Latin Union to spread the teaching of the language, although its prominence in official and public spheres has been met with some hostility from younger Indonesian-educated East Timorese. Most native Portuguese speakers are mestiços and white Timorese. Portugal and other Portuguese-language countries such as Brazil have supported the teaching of Portuguese in Timor-Leste. Some people in Timor-Leste have complained that teachers from Portugal and Brazil are poorly equipped to teach in the country, as they do not know local languages, or understand the local culture.[7] Nevertheless, the late Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who headed the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, was a Brazilian who not only established a close working relationship with Xanana Gusmão (The country's first President) as a fellow Portuguese-speaker, but was respected by many East Timorese because of his efforts to learn Tetum.[8]


The Portuguese dialect of the older people is similar to Brazilian Portuguese, as African and other Asian dialects. The translation for “please” is por favor. It is [puʁ faˈvo] in Brazilian colloquial speech, [poʁ faˈvoʁ] or [poɾ faˈvoɾ] in Brazilian educated speech, [po faˈvo] in Timor-Leste, but [puɾ fɐˈvoɾ] in European Portuguese. Although Brazilian and East Timorese accents are intelligible, local government and schools are strict to teach European dialect, as Macau, Portugal and PALOP countries use, because European is the chosen pronunciation, the native pronunciation is closer to European than Brazilian even though it is midway between European and Brazilian dialects, so it is common for foreigners to hear [puɾ fɐˈvoɾ] being used in Timor-Leste. The Portuguese standard phonology is not affected by Tetum and other native languages, even though it is not a mother language of the population.


Timor-Leste uses two Portuguese spelling patterns: European (which is used by Portugal, PALOP and Macau) and Brazilian, because the government asked help from Brazil to spread Portuguese to the country. Both spelling patterns are acceptable as long as they do not affect phonology.[citation needed]


East Timorese lexicon was also similar to Brazilian, so the translation of “I love you” in Brazil and Timor-Leste is te amo, but it is eu amo-te in the European variety. However, eu amo-te is more used than te amo, since European vocabulary is chosen.


Bibliography on the language situation and teaching Portuguese in East Timor

  1. ^ Portuguese (East Timor) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ East Timor: Nationalism and Colonialism Jill Jolliffe, University of Queensland Press, 1978, page 326
  3. ^ Colonization, Decolonization and Integration: Language Policies in East Timor, Indonesia
  4. ^ The Making of Tim-Tim, Robert Kroon, TIME, June 14, 1976
  5. ^ New World Hegemony in the Malay World, Geoffrey Gunn, The Red Sea Press, 2000, page 224
  6. ^ A New Country’s Tough Non-Elective: Portuguese 101, Seth Mydans, New York Times, July 31, 2007
  7. ^ La'o Hamutuk Bulletin (August 2003). "Brazilian Aid to East Timor". La'o Hamutuk. 
  8. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (21 August 2003). "Two New Zealanders pay tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello". New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 2 February 2008. 

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