Ethno-linguistic groups:

Some of the major ethic groups include the Mambai, Tetun, Kemak, Bunaq, Fataluku and Galoli. There is great linguistic-cultural heterogeneity and complexity with the presence of both Austronesian and Trans-New Guinea Phylum languages (Fox 2000). The larger Austronesian language groups of East Timor include Tetum, Mambai, Galoli, Kemak, and Tokudede. Tetun and Kemak are also span the border and are found in the eastern part of Indonesian Timor. The Kemak speaking group within East Timor is spread in the Bobonaro, Ermera, and Ainaro districts. The less known Austronesian groups in East Timor include Bekais, Naueti, Waima’a, Kairui-Midiki, Idate, Lakalei and Habu (Hull 1999, 2002) []; Fox 2000:5). Bunaq is a Trans-New Guinea language found in the western part of East Timor but also across the border in Indonesian Timor. The other Trans-New Guinea languages are found mainly in the eastern part of East Timor, including the languages of Makassae, Dagada, and Adabe (ibid). For further available information on the linguistic complexity of East Timor see Wurm and Hattori 1981.

       Lingua franca has been Tetum since the second half of the 19th century which is also the church’s vernacular. Currently the language issue is a sensitive one in context of nation building. Officially languages are Portuguese and Tetum, with Indonesian and English recognized as working languages. National language issues will be briefly addressed in the special topics section.


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