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"Portuguese, the newly designated language of the courts, the schools and the government — a language that most people in East Timor cannot speak."

It is wrong that it is being used as the sole official language, indeed, unconstitutional.

"In a disorienting reverse, a new Constitution re-imposed..."

no, reintroduced

"Portuguese after East Timor became independent in 2002."

This had cross-party support, and only after Tetum was also accorded official status.

"The choice has brought a tangle of complications, disenfranchising..."

disadvantaging, yes, but not disenfranchising - you don't need to speak Portuguese to vote!

"a generation of Indonesian speakers and introducing a new language barrier among the country’s many other problems."

Yes, but the solution to this is to use Tetum, not Indonesian.

"For all its awkwardness, East Timor’s experience is not uncommon, said Robert B. Kaplan, a senior co-editor of the journal Current Issues in Language Planning."

Absolutely, which is why other countries have managed it. Ireland is an example of what not to do, but Portuguese still coexists with Chinese in Macau, despite not being widely spoken there either. The emphasis should be on coexistence, not exclusion, exposure, not compulsion.

"East Timor’s language problems are those of many countries that decree a language shift, complicating the daily business of the nation and cutting off its people from their history and literature, which has been written in what may well become an alien language."

The problem is that most of East Timor's history and literature has been written in Portuguese and Indonesian, not in Tetum, and that needs to change.

"In Azerbaijan, for example, a former Soviet republic that is now fully independent, a simple change in alphabet, from Cyrillic to Roman, has created a new class of illiterates."

Jeez, you've got to learn the Roman alphabet to learn English, so why not Azeri?

"At The Timor Post, an English-language newspaper,"

It is published mainly in Tetum and Indonesian, not English.

"reporters said they could not read government news releases in Portuguese, so they ignored them."

Well, given the large number of Portuguese loanwords that many of their journalists use in Tetum, they wouldn't be completely incomprehensible.

"The new Constitution establishes Portuguese and Tetum as the country’s two official languages, but Tetum is seen as thin and undeveloped,"

By whom? Ignorant people (both Portuguese and Indonesian educated) - if it's developed enough for use by NGOs and the press, it's good enough to be a working official language.

"Some young Indonesian speakers, who had at first opposed the use of Portuguese, now say they embrace it as a means of enriching and developing Tetum. Already as much as 80 percent of Tetum is made up of Portuguese loan words or Portuguese-influenced words, Ms. Taylor-Leech said, although she said speaking Portuguese was unlikely to increase this number."

Most of these have the same Latin root as their English equivalents, to which they are very similar (edukasaun = education) not to mention the ever-increasing English loanwords used in Indonesian. Anyone would think that Portuguese were as impenetrable as Finnish, Hungarian or Basque!

"Another approach comes from President José Ramos-Jorta [sic! - Horta], one of the authors of the Portuguese-language law. “We have to rethink our language policies,” he said in a telephone interview."

"As a first step, he said, English and Indonesian should be added to Portuguese and Tetum as official languages."

This will be a disincentive to use Tetum (never mind Portuguese) as a modern language in all spheres of public life.

"“I see no problem with a nation having four official languages.”"

Indeed not, Singapore has, although you'd be very hard pressed to find a Singaporean who speaks English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. By contrast, there are many East Timorese who speak English and Indonesian in addition to Tetum and Portuguese - not to mention their native language. The usefulness of a language does not warrant giving it official status - most Dutch and Danes speak English, and many speak German too, but are they official languages in the Netherlands or Denmark?

But his plan does not end there, suggesting that questions of language could preoccupy his country for years to come.

"Once they have become accustomed to their four official languages, he said, “We can give the people the option to choose two of them as compulsory languages.”"

In what situation? The East Timorese are polyglots, so why force them to drop languages? After all, Horta never bothered to learn Indonesian until now.

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