A large majority of East Timorese higher education students consider the Portuguese language to be either “very” or “relatively” Timorese, according to an Australian scholar.
The data, collected by researcher Michael Leach among hundreds of higher education students in Dili, confirm a growing recognition among young people of the role of the Portuguese language in shaping national identity.
Made over the last 15 years – with surveys of higher education students in Dili every five years since 2002 – the study allows to evaluate the evolution of the perception of a sector of the East Timorese youth about some of the central elements of the national identity.
Issues such as language, relations with Catholicism, the region or countries considered closer, as well as elements of the past and the present, are part of the study, released at the Australian National University (ANU) Timor Leste Update.
Among the questions posed, Leach wanted to know how much capacity in the two official languages - Tetum and Portuguese – is important for the notion of Timorese identity, verifying how this perception has evolved over time.
Regarding Portuguese, however, the study shows significant changes, partly echoing the country’s growing investment in teaching Portuguese, a language that is more widely spoken than ever in Timor-Leste.
In 2002, for example, only about 50% of young people consider the Portuguese language relatively or very important to be “truly Timorese”.
Today, among higher education students – even of a new generation – more than 54% say it is “very important” and 39.5% say it is relatively important for the formation of national identity.
Essential to this progression has been, despite the bumps, the investment Timor-Leste has made in promoting the Portuguese language, but also the support of international partners in this matter, namely Portugal.
Almost a third of East Timorese say that Portuguese is one of the languages they use at home, a figure that was only 11.5% in 2002. And despite the difficulties with Portuguese, the majority of Timorese consider their learning easier than that of English.
Among the questions, the Timor-Leste expert – who coordinates the Timor-Leste Studies Association (TLSA) – wanted to know how naturalness, citizenship, length of life in the country, religion, language, tradition, and institutions are important in the concept of “being Timorese”.
Pride in the way democracy works in the country, culture, and history and the treatment of the various sectors of society, are also part of the issues raised.