Letter from East Timor

By Ms. Satoko Watanabe (Yamato Church, Yokohama Diocese)

Today's topic is "the language".

139_11I want to improve my Tetun and Fataluku. These spoken languages sound very nice and I even get envious of those who speak these languages. I wish I could speak the languages like them.
People in Los Palos speak many languages. The main language used in the meeting of District Health Service is Tetun but once Portuguese speaks in Portuguese others follow him. When someone uses the Indonesian word they start to speak Indonesian followed by Tetun. During the break Fataluku people speak Fataluku among them. Thus many languages are spoken and I get envious again and say, "No one understands my language!" I start to speak Japanese purposely and they start laughing. I wonder how my Japanese sounds to them and how my poor Tetun.


Many people in East Timor asked me whether Japanese could understand Chinese and Korean languages or not. Maybe the characters of Korean and Japanese look alike and the pronunciation of Chinese and Japanese sound similar to them. Likewise I could not see difference among Tetun, Indonesian and Fataluku before I lean the languages. Now I can tell the difference among the languages spoken in other areas in Lautem.
139_12It is interesting that there is no Tetun word to express the meanings of certain Japanese words. It shows that the language reflects and develops with the culture.
I tell you one funny example. It is imo (potato). There are many kinds of imos in Timor and each has a different name. They do not have a general word for all imos. I suddenly remembered that Japanese looked down the people from countryside and called them "imo." and I told it to the local people. Then they said, "Ha ha ha!. It's same. Countrymen say, 'we eat imo all the time.' We are the same." Oh, Countrymen always eat imo at least in Japan and Timor! I was interested in imo as a symbol of countrymen.
I tend to speak in Japanese to local people. I think it is because we get to like each other. When I speak Japanese, I believe I make myself understood though I may fail.

139_14Recently I learned a couple of Fataluku words. When children asked me, "Do you eat fish?" in Fataluku and I understood it. I said, "I eat fish!" in Fataluku then their reaction was entirely different from when I speak in Tetun. I suddenly got closed to them and became their "neighbor auntie". Language is great!
My Tetun has Los Palos accent but I want to perfect it as it is. I will also study Fataluku. By the way Fataluku has the similar order of words to Japanese while Tetum to English. For instance, "I eat fish" is "Hau (I) han (eat) ikan (fish)" in Tetun and "Ana (I) api (fish) una (eat)" in Fataluku. The similarity in grammar makes it easy for me to learn.

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This page contains a single entry by jlmm published on February 10, 2011 4:00 PM.

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