The Ecology of Language Planning in Timor-Leste: A Study of Language Policy, Planning and Practices in Identity Construction
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This thesis is concerned with the ways in which language policy, planning and practices shape national and social identity. The research was conducted in the young nation of Timor-Leste, which achieved independence in 2002 after 24 years of illegal occupation by Indonesia. The Constitution of the new republic declared the former colonial language, Portuguese, and the indigenous lingua franca, Tetum, to be co-official languages. English and Indonesian were allocated the special status of working languages. The Constitution also allocated the 15 endogenous languages the status of national languages, to be protected and developed by the State. The thesis is structured around three classic language problems for developing nations, (i) dealing with the legacies of colonialism, (ii) reconstructing national identity, and (iii) managing the language ecology. The thesis is theoretically grounded in the ecology of language paradigm, which is founded on the assumption that languages exist and work in ecological relation to each other. Using multiple methods within an ethnographic design, the thesis provides a qualitative, holistic description and analysis of language policy, planning and practices in their cultural context. Taking a dualistic approach, the thesis studies language policy discourses at the macro (state) level and the micro (community) level. A sociolinguistic profile identifies the features of the language ecology; an historical study highlights the symbolic violence to the East Timorese habitus as a result of four distinct periods of language policy, planning and practice, the consequence of which was the fragmentation and hybridisation of identities. A qualitative analysis of contemporary language policy development discusses the issues and implications of the current trajectory for language policy-making, planning and use. The evolutionary study design culminates in a grounded theory analysis of data collected from 78 participants in semi-structured interviews and focus groups, in an effort to understand the relationships between language dispositions, language policy, and national and social identity. The narratives in the participant discourses were compared to those of official language policy. A key finding is that, while older participants in the research were willing to accept Portuguese as the language of national and international identity, younger participants tended to acknowledge a role for Portuguese as the primary source language for modernising and enriching Tetum and as a language of international communication. The participants were divided in their attitudes towards Indonesian. Older participants saw it as the language of the invader while many younger ones saw it as just another way to communicate. Whilst interest in English was high, it had little capital for the participants as a language of identity. In contrast, across much of the sample, there was deep and enduring loyalty to Tetum as the symbol of national unity and identity. However, negative, disparaging attitudes towards Tetum and doubts about its readiness to function as an official language were also elicited from certain participants. The thesis concludes that this has negative implications for reconstructing social and national identity and for achieving true parity between Portuguese and Tetum in the ecology. The data indicate that linguistic identities in Timor-Leste are multiple, situated and contested, particularly amongst the younger participants. However, the data also show that, in spite of these contestations, there is higher congruity between official and popular language policy discourses than might be expected, given the negative reporting East Timorese language policy has received in the Australian media. The thesis concludes that a more socially accommodating conception of identity would imply stronger efforts to promote respect for Tetum as the language of national unity and identity. This involves promoting it as a language fit for schooling and use in high-status domains. A socially accommodating approach to language planning would also imply a substantive commitment to indigenising literacy and promoting the national languages as symbols of local identity. The thesis presents the case for a consistently maintenance-oriented promotion policy approach that moves beyond mere tolerance and symbolic recognition of the endogenous languages. A language-as-resource ideology and a bottom-up approach to language planning which grants agency and voice to traditionally less powerful social actors and communities are advocated as essential to policy success. This is the first doctoral study of language policy, planning and practices in Timor-Leste. The methodological significance of the thesis lies in its respecification and integration of analytical tools from critical discourse analysis and ethnographic approaches in order to understand the effects of language shift and reform on language communities and their speakers. The theoretical significance of the thesis lies principally in its contribution to a theory of ecological language policy and planning in producing a set of principles for sustainable ecological language management.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Languages and Linguistics
Item Access Status
ecology of language