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Healing East Timor. Through language understanding Mia Stephens, School of Communication , Unisa First published for Healing Timor Leste: a Consultation of specialists 2006. pathway. The beauty and historical significance of the languages of the region: proto-Luangic-Kisaric

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healing east timor
Healing East Timor

Through language understanding

  • Mia Stephens, School of Communication, Unisa
  • First published for

Healing Timor Leste: a Consultation of specialists 2006

  • The beauty and historical significance of the languages of the region: proto-Luangic-Kisaric
  • Making language policy offers a good chance to make political points
  • Making political and cultural points can be dangerous
  • Safety first applies to language issues too
  • Language is for people, not the other way around
the nusantara archipelago
the Nusantara archipelago

Timor belongs in the Nusantara archipelago with Indonesia.

the shared stories of the region extend over a vast period across geological ages

5000 years ago in the mid holocene geological period
5000 years ago in the mid Holocene geological period

land-bridges joined

New Guinea to Australia

Tasmania to mainland Australia.


Timor, Moa, Luang and Leti and +- 20 others

in a ‘mother island’

Now they are all separate islands.

proto luangic kisaric how do we know
proto-Luangic-Kisaric: How do we know?

Linguists know they were joined because

the languages are closely related


literary practice and cultural references tell us.

The name given to the ancient language which they all once spoke is:



Stories shared in these islands lament the destruction of the Mother continent of Luang, which once encompassed Timor and 30 smaller islands

boatowners and landowners
'boatowners' and 'landowners'
  • The complementary island clans, who have existed from ancient times right up until today, of the 'boatowners' and the 'landowners', still recount the traditional stories of how the destruction of the Motherland happened because of a forbidden fight between the kinsmen.
lexical parallelism
'lexical parallelism'
  • The ceremonial language uses 'lexical parallelism‘:
  • law and order
  • acknowledge and bewail
  • sin and temptation
  • love and charity
  • foes and enemies
  • wrath and indignation
  • confirm and strengthen
  • goods and chattels
ktunu lexical parallelism
Ktunu = lexical parallelism

In Timor lexically parallel sets are called Ktunu

They serve three purposes:

  • focus on the central message of the text
  • indication of historiographic truth
  • confirmation of the narrator's erudition
  • [Van Engelenhoven and Hajek 2000:117]
ktunu which happen to match English setstaken from the Suru-Ainaro community, using the Mambai vernacular
story telling is dangerous
Story telling is dangerous
  • Just telling the stories is considered a dangerous activity, because of the danger of renewing the fighting and disaster.
  • Therefore only certain people can be storytellers
  • They come from the 'treasurer house' of the boat-owner clan.
  • They are empowered with this treasure, this resource of the special expert language and rhetorical procedure to avert harm.
timor lorosae
Timor Lorosae
  • East Timor
  • Timor Leste
  • Timor Lorosae
timor lorosae o massacre que o mundo n o viu
Timor Lorosae – O Massacre que o Mundo Não Viu
  • Documentário sobre a história recente do Timor Leste, ex-colônia portuguesa na Ásia.
  • Após se livrar do domínio português, em 1975, o país foi invadido pela vizinha Indonésia, que durante os 25 anos seguintes promoveu o massacre de cerca de um terço da população local.
  • O drama do povo timorense nunca recebeu a devida atenção da comunidade internacional.
  • Em 1999, após um plebiscito supervisionado pela ONU, foi confirmada a autonomia da região. Ao deixarem o novo Estado, as tropas indonésias vandalizaram 99% do território.
  • A diretora e sua equipe chegaram ao Timor Leste um ano depois e registraram por um mês a nova realidade.
  • The church protected Timorese people during the dark days
  • Portuguese is the language of the church
  • Curating Portuguese is a conscious policy to recognise the contribution of the language to the struggle for freedom.
flag and language policy
Flag and language policy
  • Article 13 provides for two co-official languages alongside the other 'working languages' of Indonesian* and English. Portuguese and Tetum are designated as the languages for official business. Eccles [2000:24]
the roll call of languages in east timor
the roll-call of languages in East Timor
  • ** Tetum Prasa is classified as a creole, with its basis in Tetun, one of the indigenous languages of the proto-Luangic-Kisaric group [Ethnologue.com].
  • People speak a long list of other indigenous languages such as Makasai
  • * The indigenous languages of the archipelago form a distinct set in the regional families of languages, which include what is widely referred to as Malay and to the official language of Indonesia. Malay has always been a lingua franca in the archipelago, and the Indonesian government encouraged a centrally standardised variety. It is now called Bahasa Melayu.
  • There is also Dutch as a lingua franca.
the concern
The concern

would foregrounding the powerful languages

like English and Bahasa Melayu

lead to

language shift and death for Tetum?

the best way to maintain endangered languages is to use them
The best way to maintain endangered languages is to use them.

is to have people speak them for the full range of community activities.

In order to do this, you have to acknowledge the concept of multilingualism, promote it, market it.

Don't leave it to chance..

one answer make multilingualism worth money
One answer: make multilingualism worth money
  • encourage young people in multilingualism
  • show people that their linguistic capability in all languages is a commodity
  • Let them know they can sell it
if you share language you don t spoil it
if you share language, you don’t spoil it
  • commodify the linguistic treasure
  • market it
  • Sell it
  • Don't impose such a grim regime of compulsory language acquisition that they turn their backs on it and learn to hate it.
multilingualism is natural
multilingualism is natural
  • It is like physical exercise- the more you do it, the better you perform.
  • Having multilingualism as a tradable commodity is like having breathing as a tradable commodity.
  • Let the young people love their languages, and conserve them as a pleasure
  • Don’t make some languages acceptable and others taboo.
ensure that the young people survive long enough to speak the languages
Ensure that the young people survive long enough to speak the languages

The young people may find that conserving the old range of languages endangers survival.

They have to put physical survival first. That means proficiency in Bahasa Melayu.

For economic survival they must reach for English as their international passport to jobs and flexibility.

the essential answer let them do what they have to do
The essential answer: let them do what they have to do

This period is a

struggle for survival.

The heritage must protect its speakers-

not endanger them

all heritage and art and culture are eventually about

physical survival

do what you gotta do elf english as a lingua franca
Do what you gotta do: ELF - English as a lingua franca
  • Acknowledge the place of English
  • Welcome whichever lingua francas are spoken
  • Don't leave international workers confused and inconvenienced by policy. [ie tell them that they need to use Bahasa Melayu]
  • Proactively market the whole range of linguistic diversity as a commodity
trust the young people
Trust the young people

Young Timorese will pass onto their grandchildren in the 2050s

linguistic behaviours which are just as beautiful and meaningful

as those the Luangic-Kisaric speakers passed on 5000 years ago.

how can we help
How can we help?
  • trust the young people to choose what they need to survive in the world they have to live in.
  • float their talents on the market:
  • language tourism
  • online media
  • study exchange