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Tetum (also written as Tetun) is the national language of East Timor. It is basically Austronesian with many words derived from Portuguese, as well as Indonesian.

Tetum arose as a contact language in the 16th century after colonization by Portugal. The main dialect, that of the capital Dili, is called Tetun-Prasa, while the more traditional form spoken in the countryside is called Tetun-Terik.

Although Portuguese was the official language of what was then Portuguese Timor, Tetun-Prasa served as the main lingua franca, borrowing heavily from Portuguese. When Indonesia invaded and occupied East Timor, declaring to be the Republic's '27th Province', the use of Portuguese was banned. However, the Catholic Church, instead of adopting Bahasa Indonesia as its liturgical language, instead adopted Tetum, thereby making it a focus for cultural and national identity.

Table of contents
1 Vocabulary
2 Grammar
3 Basic phrases
4 External Links


The Tetum name for East Timor is Timor Lorosa'e or 'land of the rising sun'.

Some words in Tetum:

Words derived from Portuguese in Tetum include:

Words related to Malay in Tetum include:

It is also common for Tetum speakers to use Malay words for numbers.


Grammar in Tetum is comparatively simple, there being no genders or verb conjugations. There is no verb 'to be', and no definite article, so fetu can mean 'woman' or 'the woman'. Similarly, the plural is not normally used for nouns, although the word sira ('they') can be used for emphasis.

The past tense is not usually used except for emphasis, when the word ona ('already') is added at the end of the sentence.

Basic phrases

External Links