Oct 14, 2015 Last Updated 1:33 AM, Oct 12, 2015

Standard Tetum-English dictionary

Hits: 3439 times

Review: How standard?

Catharina van Klinken

Geoffrey Hull's dictionary of the East Timorese lingua franca Tetun (pronounced 'Tetun', but Hull follows the Portuguese spelling with final 'm') has a clear and simple layout, with most entries having a single part of speech and a short English meaning.

The word 'standard' in the title is unfortunate, since there is as yet no agreement on what constitutes standard Tetun. The compiler seems to acknowledge this himself when he includes words from rural dialects as well as from the urban and lingua franca variety called Tetun-Prasa, without always specifying which variety they are from. In a conscious attempt to enlarge and modernise the vocabulary, Hull has included many Portuguese words which are not, so far at least, actually used in Tetun. Unfortunately these additions are not marked as innovations. Meanwhile the compiler consciously rejects those words which have been borrowed from Indonesian over the last quarter century. He does make a concession to the fact that such borrowing is widespread by including an appendix of 'Indonesianisms in current colloquial use'.

This dictionary uses what Hull calls 'the standard orthography of Eastern Tetun'. This description, too, is misleading, as there are several spelling systems currently in use for Tetun in East Timor, and the one used in this book is Hull's own innovation. Hull spells Portuguese loans as if they were Tetun (eg Portuguese ciclone 'cyclone' is written siklone), making this system easier for non-Portuguese-speaking people to use.

The main unnecessary complication in Hull's spelling system is that he sometimes writes long vowels using a double vowel, and sometimes with a single vowel (with or without an acute accent). So if you can't find moos, try looking up mos and m?s as well. For Tetun-Prasa, ignore any glottal stops (marked by apostrophes) as they are only pronounced in some rural dialects.

In short, use this dictionary cautiously to give you an approximate idea of the meaning of a word, but do not use it to try to write in Tetun, as a lot of it won't be understood.

Geoffrey Hull, Standard Tetum-English dictionary, Sydney: Allen & Unwin in assoc with Univ of Western Sydney Macarthur, 1999, 340+xxvi pp, ISBN 1-86508-206-6, Rrp AU$24.95

Dr Catharina van Klinken (cvk@webfront.net.au) is the author of A grammar of the Fehan dialect of Tetun, an Austronesian language of West Timor, which is soon to appear with Pacific Linguistics (Australian National University).

Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000

Latest Articles

Review: The Crocodile Hole

Oct 12, 2015 - Joost Coté

Review: The Crocodile Hole

Saskia Wieringa’s latest novel brings to life a dark period in Indonesia’s past

The Crocodile Hole

Oct 12, 2015 - Saskia Wieringa

The Crocodile Hole

Indonesia, beginning of the 1980s. The young journalist Tommy comes into contact with the survivors of the genocide that the New Order regime of General Suharto carried out. To her...

Bringing Indonesian literature to the world

Sep 28, 2015 - Petia Dimitrova

Bringing Indonesian literature to the world

Lontar Publishing’s John McGlynn speaks with Petia Dimitrova about the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 at which Indonesia is the Guest of Honour nation and about the challenges of publishing...

Review: Lontar’s Modern Library of Indonesian Literature

Sep 28, 2015 - Ron Witton

Review: Lontar’s Modern Library of Indonesian Literature

Translations of Indonesian literature offer insights into both the universality and particularity of Indonesian culture and society

LGBT Indonesians bring entertainment and activism together online

Sep 21, 2015 - Ben Murtagh

LGBT Indonesians bring entertainment and activism together online

CONQ – a web series has captured a huge and loyal viewing audience

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.


Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Readers said:

  • LGBT Indonesians bring entertainment and activism together online
    Vannessa Hearman - 12 Oct
    Upon checking the conq.me website, I found that access to the CONQ channel and episodes has been shut down for the moment after pressure on the producers ...
  • A twist of fate
    Charles Christano - 11 Oct
    I so happened to know Alle Hoekema and his wife personally and had been working with them during their works as a missionary couple in Indonesia (Pati ...
  • An interview with Joshua Oppenheimer
    Albert Moore, Jr. - 05 Oct
    A documentary should be made of the pretender, a Comintern agent who was deeply influenced by the mid-1960s genocide. He now plans one against America.
  • 1965, today: living with the Indonesian massacres
    David Neilson - 05 Oct
    The coup wasn't a failure. It was a 90% success. The only General not targeted and killed was Nasution and even he had to acknowledge the success of ...

30th Anniversary Book

Inside Indonesia - 30th Anniversary Photo Book


Have you bought your copy of Inside Indonesia's 30th Anniversary book yet?

The book features 30 of the judges' favourite images from the 2013 Inside Indonesia Photography Competition.

Preview the book  and order your copy online (Soft cover approx AUD$23.00 / Hard cover approx AUD$35.00).