Timor-Leste or?...

In early 1999 when the political development in Timor-Leste was
gearing up towards the referendum, a friend and I were working
together to design a pamphlet calling for a rally in support of the
East Timorese independence movement. A disagreement suddenly came
upon us two on how the name Timor-Leste should be written in English.
I said East-Timor and he disagreed. He said East Timor, without the
dash in between the two words. I argued, the East Timorese resistance
movement has adopted the official name for what used to be Portuguese
Timor and it is Timor-Leste, with the dash in the middle of the two
words. Therefore and English translation should also carry the dash.
He countered my argument saying that there is no such thing in
English as writing a name composed of any two words with a dash to
connect them. I thought his argument was a bit unconvincing,
nevertheless I caved in. He was much older than me and he was
completing his PhD in some political science at some prestigious
university in Melbourne. I said "OK. You are right. I trust you." But
deep inside me I held out to my conviction. I just couldn't find the
right argument to defend my choice. Years later this episode came
back to me. "Heck. It is my country and I have the sole right to name
my own country and you should respect the name I give to my country
and the way I want my country to be called wether it be caled in
English, in French, in German or in Chinse" I thought lately. This is
what I should have said to him years ago when we sat down together to
design that pamphlet. I know. This is a very trivial debate and a
complete waste of time. It was just a pamphlet to get people to come
to a rally in support of the East Timorese independence movement,
which is more important than whether a name should carry a dash or
not. As for the rally, it turned out be very successful. It was part
of smaller rallies which culminated in the massive one that took
place following the referendum.

In the recent weeks the same discussion came up again. I wrote
something on this blog on how this country formerly know as
Portuguese Timor should be called. I said it must be called Timor-
Leste, its official name, whether one is speaking in English, French
or German. But some readers responded in disagreement by pointing to
examples from various other countries. A favourite of mine to choose
from the examples they provided are the names for countries like
Poland, which in Polish it is actually called Polska, in Portuguese
is is actually caled Polonia, in English, it is Poland, etc. Germany
is actually another very good example. In German it is actually
called Deutschland, in English, Germany and in Portuguese Alemanha. I
wonder if the Chinese have their own name or if they use the English
name? Or just use Deutschland like the Germans? I freely admit that
these examples are quite convincing. Why should everyone use Timor-
Leste? They can just call it whatever they want to call it depending
on the language that they speak. Timor-Leste in Timor-Leste, East
Timor in English, Timor Est(?) in French, etc.

But why? What is so hard about saying Timor-Leste? Is it a question
not being able to work one's tongue around this short collection of
vowels and consonants? Or is it aesthetics? That English or French
must be so pure that any non-English name must be Anglicised? Don't
we have the right to have the names of our countries written in the
way that we want it to be written? José has not become Joseph, etc.
João has not become John, Jean or Hans. Maria has not become Mary or
Marie. Why not Timor-Leste?


  1. Anonymous said...
    its not so much to do with aesthetics as it has to do with "linguistic sovereignty" if there is such a term.
    Why then does the ofisial Tetum language uses its own phonetic way of writing the names of other countries?

    Example: Alemana (with the ~ on the n), Indonezia, Japaun, Kanada, Sudaun, Fransa, etc,etc

    Would it be reasonable if these countries decided to pick a bone with "Timor-Leste" for not using their countries correct name as they use it?

    Lets be reasonable...
    Anonymous said...
    I think it's a shame we don't hear Timor Lorosae much any more

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