Fataluku Lukulukuni - Language
About the Fataluku and English wordlists
These wordlists are an aid to learning the Fataluku language,
the language of about 36,000 people in the eastern part of East Timor.
From 1975 to 1999 the territory of East Timor was brutally
occupied by the Indonesian army, backed by the Australian, U.S. and
British governments, who found it in their interests to support the
occupying military in return for political co-operation and favourable
treatment for their business from the Indonesian government.
In spite of this, I find that the Fataluku people – and as
far as I know the other peoples of East Timor – bear no ill-will
towards the people of those countries and have a great sense of friendly
solidarity with the people of Indonesia, their neighbors.
They can tell the difference between governments and people,
between the brutality of an unaccountable military system and the good
will of ordinary people.
East Timor gained its independence in 1999, when Australia,
the US and others finally accepted that they could not go on supporting
the failed Suharto regime in Indonesia, and must cut their losses,
switching sides to line up with democracy and freedom.
It took 25 years of bitter struggle by the East Timorese people,
and some 200,000 deaths to win their right to govern themselves.
East Timor has adopted two languages as national languages.
One is Tetun, a mixture of the native Tetun Terik and simplified
Portuguese; the other is Portuguese.
(Portugal was the colonial ruler before the invasion by the
Indonesian military.) Many
of the younger generation, who were brought up under Indonesian
occupation prefer to speak Tetun and Bahasa Indonesia (Malay).
As I said before they hold no ill-will for the people and culture
of their neighbors.
Beginning with a number of young men who fled from arrest and
torture by the army in the 1990s, Fataluku-speaking and other East
Timorese have made their way to Europe and Australia.
In the two years after the Indonesian withdrawal, due to one of
the more fortunate accidents of their tragic history, the country was
technically and legally once again a part of Portugal, preparing for
independence. This gave
them access to Portugal, thence to the rest of the European Union and
particularly Ireland and Britain.
There is now a sizeable East Timorese community in each of
these countries, mostly young men working to support their families in
East Timor or studying. To
my knowledge, there are Fataluku-speaking communities in Lisbon,
Dungannon, Belfast, Crewe, Dover and Oxford.
My knowledge of the language comes from close association since
1999 with the Fataluku-speaking people of Oxford.
The wordlists (vocabularies) are not a dictionary.
I am not able to show the range of meanings or English
equivalents for each Fataluku word, and vice versa, which is the job of
a dictionary. It is simply
a list, in which I show a Fataluku equivalent for each English
word in the list. English
is the starting point and therefore becomes the “control” language
– which is of course, a serious limitation.
The right way to learn Fataluku, or any language, is to start
with that language and absorb its categories of observing,
thinking and expressing.
From time to time, particularly in the boxed coloured lists,
I have been able to move in a more appropriate direction, with Fataluku
as the starting point, but unfortunately I know too little of the
language and culture to make this my whole approach.
I developed the basic English lists over many years, as an
aid to studying other languages. In
my attempts to learn various other languages, I had found myself
hampered mostly by the difficulty of building up vocabulary.
I was painfully slow. However,
I found that I learnt best and remembered best, when words were grouped
in categories, with similar or related meanings in each block.
Eventually, I expanded this approach to cover the whole range
of language – a full list of 4000 – 5000 words grouped in 9 main
categories, each divided into several sections, made up of blocks
(ideally 6 words) for learning. The
categories and divisions are of course subjective, and reflect my
use of the English language.
To give one example: there is no category or division headed
“religion”. This is
because of my own strong conviction that religion is in the very web of
life and that its words have their right places scattered among all the
related words of our experience. “Communion”
comes with “food”, “gospel” with other aspects of communication.
Fataluku is not a written language.
A number of things have been written (e.g. mass and scripture
texts by European Catholic missionaries) and all Fataluku speakers I
know are able to write notes, send e-mails and engage in internet chat
using Fataluku. But there
is not yet an official orthography agreed and used by the
Fataluku-speaking people. Work
on written Fataluku is currently being carried out by the “Fataluku
Language Project” ( www.fataluku.com
) their Fataluku partners and the East
Timor Government .
I have used the Roman alphabet as used for Tetun and Bahasa
Indonesia (Malay). As far
as I can see, all written Fataluku takes this approach.
The consonant sounds are mostly as in English (sufficiently so to
be recognised) except that c has always the sound of ch and s is always
hard (as in “sing”).
Vowels are “pure” as in Italian or Spanish, not nasalized
as in Portuguese or slurred into diphthongs as in English.
a in “path”
e as in
“bed” or ai as in “fair”.
ee in “meet”
ou in “fought”
oo in “food”
Vowel length and diphthongs
Vowels can be lengthened or
the “e” sound is longer than in “ceru”, I use a double “e”.
The symbol ‘ shows that the “e” sound is repeated, said
but without a break between the repeated sounds.
The “e” sound is repeated, but with a break (glottal stop)
(ai, au, ae, ou, ei, oi) are not run together as
completely as in most Western European
languages. You can always
hear the different parts of the sound.
However, sometimes the separation is clearer, more distinct. In such cases, I use the symbol
‘ to show the
There are also local variations, where some put an “h”
between two vowels which others treat as a diphthong. e.g.
is sometimes pahi
I understand that an official orthography has been devised,
but when you deal with something as close to the heart as language,
“official” may not mean “final”.
I wait to see what the Fataluku speaking people decide, their
elders, their poets, their speakers, the ordinary people and their
children. As they begin to write and read their language, they will
have the best feel for what is sensible and coherent spelling.
My informants have all been Fataluku speakers living in
Oxford, England. Mostly
they are young men brought up under Indonesian rule with Indonesian
schooling. (They almost
always count in Malay.) For
many, their early life was disrupted by war and some had to live on the
run with guerrillas or hiding with friends away from their homes.
For some of them, knowledge of Fataluku has been a matter of
memory rather than continuous experience.
All learnt to use Bahasa Indonesia (Malay) at school and most are
fluent in Tetun. Some speak
However, few have sufficient knowledge of English to ensure
there were no misunderstandings about my questions, and I do not have
the training of a linguist or anthropologist that might have got around
the difficulties. Consequently,
there is always the possibility of error, that I have misunderstood and
incorrectly translated some of the words.
Traditionally, one would not have gone for publication until
some way had been found of producing a more professionally finished
work. However, I believe
that the Internet has changed all that.
It is now possible to share notes before reaching the final text
of a publication. My
intention is to make these wordlists available through the internet in
the form of excel sheets, which users will be able to correct and
rearrange for themselves as they get better information.
To the people of East Timor who have shown us again that
freedom is worth fighting and dying for even if you are pitched against
vastly superior forces with the backing of superpowers.
To the people of Dili and Lospalos and the other towns of
East Timor, who have shown us that the answer to a smashed-up city is
not to bomb and invade the “perpetrators” but to stand for your own
freedoms and to build bridges with your enemies.
To the East Timorese of Oxford (and other UK cities) whose
willingness (like that of other immigrants) to work hard in spite of low
pay and poor conditions makes many of our services and businesses
To friends who have shared their language with me:
and many other Timorese in Oxford, and, in East Timor,
My thanks also to Sorotmalai and his colleagues in the
Fataluku Language Project, University of Leiden, for offering a place to
present the first samples of the English – Fataluku wordlists.
Jim Hewitt (Haluso), August 2007.