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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tetun, Lia-Tetun
Spoken in East Timor, Indonesia, Australia, Portugal, United Kingdom
Region Southeast Asia
Total speakers 800,000
Language family Austronesian
Official status
Official language in East Timor
Regulated by National Institute of Linguistics
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 tet
ISO 639-3 tet

Tetum (also Tetun) is an Austronesian language, a national language and one of the two official languages of East Timor. Some of its dialects have been greatly influenced by Portuguese, the other official language of the country, especially in their vocabulary, but also in aspects of their grammar.


History and dialects

Tetum has four dialects:

  • Tetun-Dili, or Tetun-Prasa (literally "city Tetum"), is spoken in the capital, Dili, and its surroundings, in the north of the country.
  • Tetun-Terik is spoken in the south and southwestern coastal regions.
  • Tetun-Belu, or the Belunese dialect, is spoken in a central strip of the island of Timor from the Ombai Strait to the Timor Sea, and is split between East Timor and West Timor, where it is considered a bahasa daerah or "regional language", with no official status in Indonesia, although it is used by the Diocese of Atambua in Roman Catholic rites.
  • The Nana'ek dialect is spoken in the village of Metinaro, on the coastal road between Dili and Manatuto.

Tetun-Belu and Tetun-Terik are not spoken or well understood outside their home territories. Tetun-Prasa is the form of Tetum that is spoken throughout East Timor. Although Portuguese was the official language of Portuguese Timor until 1975, Tetun-Prasa has always been the predominant lingua franca in the eastern part of the island.

In the fifteenth century, before the arrival of the Portuguese, Tetum had spread through central and eastern Timor as a contact language under the aegis of the Belunese-speaking Kingdom of Wehali, at that time the most powerful kingdom in the island. The Portuguese (present in Timor from c. 1556) made most of their settlements in the west, where Dawan was spoken, and it was not until 1769, when the capital was moved from Lifau (Oecussi) to Dili that they began to promote Tetum as an inter-regional language in their colony. Timor was one of the few Portuguese colonies where a local language, and not a form of Portuguese, became the lingua franca: this is because Portuguese rule was indirect rather than direct, the Europeans governing through local kings who embraced Catholicism and became vassals of the King of Portugal.[1]

When Indonesia occupied East Timor in 1975, declaring it "the Republic's 27th Province", the use of Portuguese was banned, and Indonesian was declared the sole official language, but the Roman Catholic Church adopted Tetum as its liturgical language, making it a focus for cultural and national identity.[2] When East Timor gained its independence in 2002, Tetum and Portuguese were declared as official languages.

In addition to regional varieties of Tetum in East Timor, there are variations in vocabulary and pronunciation, partly due to Portuguese and Indonesian influence. The Tetum spoken by East Timorese migrants in Portugal and Australia is more Portuguese-influenced, as many of those speakers were not educated in Indonesian.




The Tetum name for East Timor is Timor Lorosa'e, which means "Timor of the rising sun", or, less poetically, "East Timor"; lorosa'e comes from loro "sun" and sa'e "to rise, to go up". The noun for "word" is liafuan, from lia "voice" and fuan "fruit". Some more words in Tetum:

Portuguese (left) and Tetum (right). From a Portuguese course for Tetum speakers.
  • aas - "high"
  • aat - "bad"
  • been - "water"
  • belun - "friend"
  • boot - "big"
  • di'ak - "good"
  • domin - "love"
  • ema - "person, people"
  • fatin - "place"
  • feto - "woman"
  • foho - "mountain"
  • fuan - "fruit"
  • funu - "war"
  • han - "food"
  • hemu - "drink"
  • hotu - "all"
  • ida - "one"
  • ki'ik - "little"
  • kraik - "low"
  • labarik - "child"
  • lafaek - "crocodile"
  • lais - "fast"
  • lalenok - "mirror"
  • laran - "inside"
  • lia - "language"
  • liafuan - "word" (from lian - voice and fuan - fruit)
  • lian - "voice", "language"
  • loos - "true"
  • lulik - "sacred"
  • mane - "man"
  • maromak - "god"
  • moris - "life"
  • rain - "country"
  • tasi - "sea"
  • tebes - "very"
  • teen - "dirt"
  • toos - "hard"
  • uluk - "first"
  • ulun - "head"

From Portuguese

Words derived from Portuguese:

  • adeus - "goodbye"
  • ajuda - "help"
  • aprende - "learn", from aprender
  • demais - "too much"
  • desizaun "decision", from decisão
  • edukasaun "education", from educação
  • entaun - "so", "well", from então
  • eskola - "school", from escola
  • governu - "government", from governo
  • igreja - "church"
  • istória - "history", from história
  • keiju - "cheese", from queijo
  • komprende - "understand", from compreender
  • menus - "less", from menos
  • obrigadu/a "thanks", from obrigado/a
  • paun - "bread", from pão
  • povu - "people", from povo
  • profesór - "teacher", from professor
  • relijiaun - "religion", from religião
  • semana - "week"
  • serbisu - "work", from serviço
  • serveja - "beer", from cerveja
  • tenke - "must", from tem que
  • xefe - "chief", from chefe

From Indonesian

Tetum (left) and Portuguese (right). From a Portuguese course for Tetum speakers.

Words derived from Indonesian include:

  • atus - "hundred", from ratus
  • barak - "much", from banyak
  • bele - "can", from boleh
  • besi - "iron", from besi
  • malae - "foreigner", from melayu "Malay"
  • manas - "hot", from panas
  • rihun - "thousand", from ribu
  • sala - "wrong", from salah
  • tulun - "help", from tolong
  • uma - "house", from rumah


  • ida - "one"
  • rua - "two"
  • tolu - "three"
  • haat - "four"
  • lima - "five"
  • neen - "six"
  • hitu - "seven"
  • ualu - "eight"
  • sia - "nine"
  • sanulu - "ten"
  • ruanulu - "twenty"

However, Tetum speakers often use Malay/Indonesian or Portuguese numbers instead, such as delapan or oito "eight" instead of ualu, especially for numbers over one thousand.


Tetum has many hybrid words, which are combinations of indigenous and Portuguese words. These often include an indigenous Tetum verb, with a Portuguese suffix -ór (similar to '-er'. For example:

  • han ("to eat") handór - glutton.
  • hemu ("to drink") hemudór - heavy drinker.
  • hateten ("to say") hatetendór - chatterbox, talkative person.
  • sisi ("to nag, pester") sisidór - nag, pest.

Basic phrases

  • Bondia - "Good morning" (from Portuguese Bom dia).
  • Di'ak ka lae? - "How are you?" (literally "Are you well or not?")
  • Ha'u di'ak - "I'm fine."
  • Obrigadu/Obrigada - "Thank you", said by a male/female (from Portuguese Obrigado/Obrigada).
  • Ita bele ko'alia Tetun? - "Do you speak Tetum?"
  • Loos - "Yes."
  • Lae - "No."
  • Ha'u' [la] komprende - "I [do not] understand" (from Portuguese compreender).



Nouns and pronouns


The plural is not normally marked on nouns, but the word sira "they" can express it when necessary.

fetu "woman/women" → fetu sira "women"

However, the plural ending -(e)s of nouns of Portuguese origin is retained.

Estadus Unidus — United States (from Estados Unidos)
Nasoens Unidas — United Nations (from Nações Unidas)

Tetum has an indefinite article ida ("one"), used after nouns:

labarik ida — a child

There is no definite article, but the demonstratives ida-ne'e ("this one") and ida-ne'ebá ("that one") may be used to express definiteness:

labarik ida-ne'e — this child, the child
labarik ida-ne'ebá — that child, the child

In the plural, sira-ne'e ("these") or sira-ne'ebá ("those") are used:

labarik sira-ne'e — these children, the children
labarik sira-ne'ebá — those children, the children
Possessive and genitive

The particle nia forms the possessive, and can be used in a similar way to the Saxon genitive in English, e.g:

João nia uma — João's house
Cristina nia livru — Cristina's book

The genitive is formed with nian, so that:

povu Timór Lorosa'e nian — the people of East Timor
Inclusive and exclusive "we"

Like other Austronesian languages, Tetum has two forms of "we", ami (equivalent to Indonesian and Malay kami) which is exclusive, e.g. "I and they", and ita (equivalent to Indonesian and Malay kita), which is inclusive, e.g. "you, I, and they".

ami-nia karreta — our [family's] car
ita-nia rain — our country

Nouns derived from verbs or adjectives are usually formed with affixes, for example the suffix -na'in, similar to "-er" in English.

hakerek "write" → hakerek-na'in "writer"

In more traditional forms of Tetum, the circumfix ma(k)- -k is used instead of -na'in. For example, the nouns "sinner" or "wrongdoer" can be derived from the word sala as either maksalak, or sala-na'in. Only the prefix ma(k)- is used when the root word ends with a consonant; for example, the noun "cook" or "chef" can be derived from the word te'in as makte'in as well as te'in-na'in.

The suffix -teen (from the word for "dirt" or "excrement") can be used with adjectives to form derogatory terms:

bosok "false" → bosok-teen "liar"


Derivation from nouns

To turn a noun into an adjective, the particle oan is added to it.

malae "foreigner" → malae-oan "foreign"

Thus, "Timorese" is Timor-oan, as opposed to the country of Timor, rai-Timor.

To form adjectives from verbs, the suffix -dór (derived from Portuguese) can be added:

hateten "tell" → hatetendór "talkative"

Tetum does not have separate masculine and feminine forms of the third person singular, hence nia (similar to dia in Indonesian and Malay) can mean either "he", "she" or "it".

Different forms for the genders only occur in Portuguese-derived adjectives, hence obrigadu ("thank you") is used by males, and obrigada by females. The masculine and feminine forms of other adjectives derived from Portuguese are sometimes used with Portuguese loanwords, particularly by Portuguese-educated speakers of Tetum.

governu demokrátiku — democratic government (from governo democrático, masculine)
nasaun demokrátika — democratic nation (from nação democrática, feminine)

In some instances, the different gender forms have distinct translations into English:

bonitu — handsome
bonita — pretty

In indigenous Tetum words, the suffixes -mane ("male") and -feto ("female") are sometimes used to differentiate between the genders:

oan-mane "son" → oan-feto "daughter"
Comparatives and superlatives

Superlatives can be formed from adjectives by reduplication:

barak "much", "many" → babarak "very much", "many"
boot "big", "great" → boboot "huge", "enormous"
di'ak "good" → didi'ak "very good"
ikus "last" → ikuikus "the very last", "final"
moos "clean", "clear" → momoos "spotless", "immaculate"

When making comparisons, the word liu ("more") is used after the adjective, followed by duké ("than" from Portuguese do que):

Maria tuan liu duké Ana — Maria is older than Ana.

To describe something as the most or least, the word hotu ("all") is added:

Maria tuan liu hotu — Maria is the oldest.


Adverbs can be formed from adjectives or nouns by reduplication:

di'ak "good" → didi'ak "well"
foun "new", "recent" → foufoun "newly", "recently"
kalan "night" → kalakalan "nightly"
lais "quick" → lailais "quickly"
loron "day" → loroloron "daily"

Prepositions and circumpositions

The most commonly used prepositions in Tetum are iha ("in") and ba ("to" or "for") while circumpositions are widely used. These are formed by using iha, the object and the position.

iha uma laran — inside the house
iha foho tutun — on top of the mountain
iha meza leten — on the table
iha kadeira okos — under the chair
iha rai li'ur — outside the country
iha ema leet — between the people


Copula and negation

There is no verb "to be" as such, but the word la'ós, which translates as "not to be", is used for negation:

Timor-oan sira la'ós Indonézia-oan. — The Timorese are not Indonesians.

The word maka, which roughly translates as "who is" or "what is", can be used with an adjective for emphasis:

João maka gosta serveja. — It's John who likes beer.

The interrogative is formed by using the words ka ("or") or ka lae ("or not").

O bulak ka? — Are you crazy?
O gosta ha'u ka lae? — Don't you like me?
Derivation from nouns and adjectives

Transitive verbs are formed by adding the prefix ha- or hak- to a noun or adjective:

been "liquid" → habeen "to liquify", "to melt"
bulak "mad" → habulak "to drive mad"
klibur "union" → haklibur "to unite"
mahon "shade" → hamahon "to shade", "to cover"
manas "hot" → hamanas "to heat up"

Intransitive verbs are formed by adding the prefix na- or nak- to a noun or adjective:

nabeen — (to be) liquified, melted
nabulak — (to be) driven mad
naklibur — (to be) united
namahon — (to be) shaded, covered
namanas — (to become) heated up
Mutations and conjugations (in Tetun-Terik)

In Tetun-Terik mutation of verbs occurs, resulting in different forms depending on the pronoun. For example, the verb haree (to see) in Tetun-Terik would be conjugated as follows:

ha'u karee — I see
ó maree — you (sing.) see
nia naree — he/she/it sees
ami haree — we see
imi haree — you (pl.) see
sira raree — they see



Whenever possible, the past tense is simply inferred from the context, for example:

Horisehik ha'u han etu — Yesterday I ate rice.

However, it can be expressed by placing the adverb ona ("already") at the end of a sentence.

Ha'u han etu ona — I've (already) eaten rice.

When ona is used with la ("not") this means "no more" or "no longer", rather than "have not":

Ha'u la han etu ona — I don't eat rice anymore.

In order to convey that an action has not occurred, the word seidauk ("not yet") is used:

Ha'u seidauk han etu — I haven't eaten rice (yet).

When relating an action that occurred in the past, the word tiha ("finally" or "well and truly") is used with the verb.

Ha'u han tiha etu — I ate rice.


The future tense is formed by placing the word sei ("will") before a verb:

Ha'u sei fó hahán ba sira - I will give them food.

The negative is formed by adding la ("not") between sei and the verb:

Ha'u sei la fó hahán ba sira - I will not give them food.



The perfect aspect can be formed by using tiha ona.

Ha'u han etu tiha ona — I have eaten rice / I ate rice.

When negated, tiha ona indicates that an action ceased to occur:

Ha'u la han etu tiha ona — I didn't eat rice anymore.

In order to convey that a past action had not or never occurred, the word ladauk ("not yet" or "never") is used:

Ha'u ladauk han etu — I didn't eat rice / I hadn't eaten rice.


The progressive aspect can be obtained by placing the word hela ("stay") after a verb:

Sira serbisu hela. — They're (still) working.


The imperative mood is formed using the word ba ("go") at the end of a sentence, hence:

Lee surat ba! — Read the letter!

The word lai ("just" or "a bit") may also be used when making a request rather than a command:

Lee surat lai — Just read the letter.

When forbidding an action labele ("cannot") or keta ("do not") are used:

Labele fuma iha ne'e! — Don't smoke here!
Keta oho sira! — Don't kill them!

Orthography and phonology

As Tetum did not have any official recognition or support under either Portuguese or Indonesian rule, it is only recently that a standardised orthography has been established by the National Institute of Linguistics (INL). However, there are still widespread variations in spelling, one example being the word bainhira or "when", which has also been written as bain-hira, wainhira, waihira, uaihira. The use of "w" or "u" is a reflection of the pronunciation in some rural dialects of Tetun-Terik.

The current orthography originates from the spelling reforms undertaken by Fretilin in 1974, when it launched literacy campaigns across East Timor, and also from the system used by the Catholic Church when it adopted Tetum as its liturgical language during the Indonesian occupation. These involved the transcription of many Portuguese words that were formerly written in their original spelling, for example, educaçãoedukasaun "education", and colonialismokolonializmu "colonialism".

More recent reforms by the INL include the replacement of the digraphs "nh" and "lh" (borrowed from Portuguese, where they stand for the phonemes /ɲ/ and /ʎ/) by "ñ" and "ll", respectively (as in Spanish), to avoid confusion with the consonant clusters /nh/ and /lh/, which also occur in Tetum. Thus, senhor "sir" became señór, and trabalhador "worker" became traballadór. Some linguists favoured using "ny" (as in Catalan and Filipino) and "ly" for these sounds, but the latter spellings were rejected for being similar to the Indonesian system. However, most speakers actually pronounce ñ and ll as [i̯n] and [i̯l], respectively, with a semivowel [i̯] which forms a diphthong with the preceding vowel (but reduced to [n], [l] after /i/), not as the palatal consonants of Portuguese and Spanish. Thus, señór, traballadór are pronounced [sei̯ˈnoɾ], [tɾabai̯laˈdoɾ], and liña, kartilla are pronounced [ˈlina], [kaɾˈtila]. As a result, some writers use "in" and "il" instead, for example Juinu and Juilu for June and July (Junho and Julho in Portuguese).

As well as variations in the transliteration of Portuguese loanwords, there are also variations in the spelling of indigenous words. These include the use of double vowels and the apostrophe for the glottal stop, for example bootbot "large" and ki'ikkiik "small".

The sound [z], which is not indigenous to Tetum but appears in many loanwords from Portuguese and Malay, often changed to [ʒ] in old Tetum (written "j"): for example, meja "table" from Portuguese mesa, and kemeja "shirt" from Portuguese camisa. In modern Tetum, [z] and [ʒ] may occur in free variation. For instance, the Portuguese-derived word ezemplu "example" is pronounced [eˈʒemplu] by some speakers, and conversely Janeiru "January" is pronounced [zanˈeiru]. The sound [v], also not native to the language, often shifted to [b], as in serbisu "work" from Portuguese serviço.


The English spelling "Tetum" is derived from Portuguese, rather than from modern Tetum orthography. Consequently, some people regard "Tetun" as more appropriate.[3] Although this coincides with the favoured Indonesian spelling, and the spelling with "m" has a longer history in English, "Tetun" has also been used by some Portuguese-educated Timorese, such as José Ramos-Horta and Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.

Similar disagreements over nomenclature have emerged regarding the names of other languages, such as Swahili/Kiswahili and Punjabi/Panjabi.

See also

Tetum edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Tetum phrasebook article)

From Wikitravel

Tetum (also Tetun) is a national language and one of the two official languages of East Timor.

. (elo )
Hello. (informal
. (Hallo )
How are you? 
 ? (Diak ka lai? ?)
Fine, thank you. 
. (Diak, obrigadu (m) obrigada (f) )
What is your name? 
 ? ( Ita nia naran saida??)
My name is ______ . 
______ . (Men dak narana _____ .)
Nice to meet you. 
. (Obrigo burodo )
. (Ibrig )
Thank you. 
. (Obrigadu (m),Obrigada (f) (barak.) )
You're welcome. 
. (See hallo )
. (Es )
. (Nu )
Excuse me. (getting attention
. (Deskup pelici )
Excuse me. (begging pardon
. (Desku pihcih )
I'm sorry. 
. (Deskulpa! )
. (Hepeye )
Goodbye (informal
. (Heppi )
I can't speak French. (Man sain diaka tocoya Fransu. )
Do you speak English? 
 ? ( ?)
Is there someone here who speaks English? 
 ? ( ?)
 ! ( !)
Look out! 
 ! ( !)
Good morning. 
. (Bon dia )
Good evening. 
. (Bontarde )
Good night. 
. (Bonoite )
Good night (to sleep
. ( )
I don't understand. 
. ( )
Where is the toilet? 
 ? ( ?)

Numbers System



½ - medya

0 - a-cera

1 - una

2 - dove

3 - tre

4 - juatre

5 - cing

6 - ses

7 - sitte

8 - octho

9 - nuvo

10 - deis

11 - unzoa

12 - donzoa

13 - trazoa

14 - juturza

15 - cinguzo

16 - deisa'y-sesa

17 - deisa'y-sitta

18 - deisa'y-octha

19 - deisa'y-nuva

20 - veint ( or "veinta" )

25 - veinta'y-cing

30 - trent ( or "trenta" )

40 - juarant ( or "juaranta" )

50 - cingguant ( or "cingguanta" )

60 - sessant ( or "sessanta" )

70 - seituvint ( or "seituvinta" )

80 - octent ( or "octenta" )

90 - nuvunt ( or "nuvunta" )

100 - centu

200 - dovacentu

300 - tracentu

400 - juatriacentu

500 - cingvacentu

600 - sesacentu

700 - sittacentu

800 - octhacentu

900 - nuviacentu

1000 - mile

2000 - dovomile

4000 - juatriamile

5000 - cingpamile

10000 - deismile

20000 - veintaomile

50000 - cingguantomile

100000 - centuumile

1000000 - una milvona

1000000000 - una bilvona

1000000000000 - una trilvona


Clock time




Writing time and date


Bus and train



This article is an outline and needs more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. Please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also tetum



Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:





  1. The Malayo-Polynesian national language of East Timor.


External links


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Greetings
  3. Numbers


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