Tag Archives: macau

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Patuá, The Sweet Language of Macau

Our blog entries dedicated to endangered languages will continue as promised. This month, our blog will present the “Sweet Language of Macau” or in Macanese (Patuà) the Dóci Língu di Macau. Macau is one of the two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China.

Macanese is classified by the Atlas of Endangered Languages as being critically endangered. In fact, The Atlas puts the number of Patuà speakers at 50 as of the year 2000.

What attracted us to this language is not only the danger of it disappearing, but also its history and diversity. Macanese dates back to the 16th century when the Portuguese established their commercial naval base to Asia in the Island of Macau. The new settlers married women from Malacca and Sri Lanka, so the language took on strong Malay and Sinhalese influence. As a proof that languages evolve, develop and are never static, Macanese took on influences as demographic and political changes happened year by year. These influences made this language a unique mix of European and Asian languages. Furthermore, this language that has no known orthography and is a cocktail of grammatical influences, played an important role in the life of Macanese people. In addition to becoming their proudly claimed mother tongue, it was for centuries the reason the community developed socially and commercially. It was as well the only communication mean of the Macau’s Eurasian residents.

Nowadays, the geographical distribution of the Macanese population is at the image of the language itself. It is quite diverse and starts in Macau the origin point of the language, and migrates to reach Hong Kong, California, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Australia, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Paria peninsula of Venezuela. Even within that community, Macanese is actively spoken by just several dozen old people, mostly women in their eighties or nineties, in Macau and Hong Kong.

We said at the beginning that Patuà is also named the sweet language, and there is a reason for that. The poem below written in Patuà is a reminder of that. We will leave you to ponder on these sweet words. Until we meet again enjoy the sound of the sea and the romantic settings of Macau’s Patuà.

Patuà Portuguese Translation English Translation
Nhonha na jinela A moça na janela Young lady in the window
Co fula mogarim Com uma flor de jasmim With a jasmine flower
Sua mae tancarera Sua mãe é uma Chinesa pescadora Her mother is a Chinese fisherwoman
Seu pai canarim Seu pai é um Indiano Português Her father is a Portuguese Indian