Map of East Timor courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas, Austin.

World experts meet to discuss sociolinguistics of East Timor and its Diasporas

This is the second workshop of the 2-year Leverhulme funded international network ‘Shifting sociolinguistic realities in the Nation of East Timor and its Diasporas’, which brings together, for the first time, experts who have worked on East Timorese language issues from different perspectives (contact linguistics, second language acquisition, linguistic ethnography, psycholinguistics, education, language policy, diaspora and immigration studies). 

In addition to University of Exeter, represented by Dr Goglia (PI) and Dr Afonso, other network partners include academics from Tilburg University (Netherlands), Griffith University (Australia), Melbourne University (Australia), University of Birmingham (MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism) and Instituto Nacional de Linguística based at the National University of East Timor in the capital city Dili.

East Timor is the first nation in the world to be formed in the 21st Century. It achieved its independence in 2002 after 25 years of Indonesian occupation which followed a long period of colonization by Portugal. It comprises the eastern half of Timor, an island of the Indonesian archipelago. Roughly covering 5,400 square miles, East Timor has a population of nearly 1.2 million people. Over 20 languages are spoken and this rich multilingual diversity has provided complex challenges for nation building. After independence, Portuguese was established as one of the official languages together with Tetum, a widely spoken local language. Indonesian and English are working languages within the civil service and local languages such as Fataluku are designated as ‘national languages’. At the same time, the language practices of the East Timor Diaspora are being reshaped in the immigrant context.

Dr Goglia said “Many people don’t know anything about East Timor and ask why study its multilingualism? For us, this is an exciting opportunity to understand multilingualism in a newly formed nation. East Timor offers an ideal locus for the study of language policy issues which in Europe, are more consolidated and not changing as rapidly.”

He added: “In Europe, we are used to a stable language policy and experience multilingualism as speaking one or two languages at any given time. In highly multilingual countries such as East Timor, speakers use several languages in their daily lives. We also have the opportunity to study the way different language policies are being implemented within this young nation and its effect on the actual language use by speakers.”

Speaking of the importance of conducting this research, Dr Afonso noted: “The establishment of Portuguese as an official language in East Timor allows researchers to investigate the initial stages of the development of an emergent variety of Portuguese first hand, otherwise unobservable in other Portuguese varieties in which more advanced or final stages of language change are available.”

For more information about the ‘Shifting sociolinguistic realities in the Nation of East Timor and its Diasporas’ network, please visit the project website.

Date: 16 February 2015

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