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  • Spencer Low

Kristang, a Portuguese creole language, still lives on in Southeast Asia

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

I recently visited the Eurasian Heritage Gallery in Singapore, a museum at the Eurasian Association that commemorates the complex history of Singaporeans of mixed European and Asian heritage. The Eurasian community with the longest history is, naturally, the Portuguese one. There was an exhibit on their language, Kristang, that will catch the attention of any Portuguese-speaker.

The name 'Kristang' comes from the Portuguese word for Christian, 'cristão'. Speakers of Kristang apparently call it simply 'Portugis'. A "severely endangered" language, it is spoken today by less than 800 people in Malacca and 100 in Singapore. The exhibit featured a few passages in Kristang translated into English, and I've extracted some parts to show the clear, direct links to modern Portuguese.


Portuguese roots


Eh Marie, tantempu ungka inkontrah. Ondi bos ta fikah?

tantempu = tanto tempo

ungka = nunca?

inkontrah = encontrar

ondi = onde

bos = vós

ta = está

fikah = ficar

Oh Marie! It's been a long time since I last met up with you. Where are you living?

Pertu na mas, beng bai yo sa kaza, bebeh chah. Ozi yo sa anu, dos ka, trez kambradu, logu beng. Yo jah fazeh, kukis sugee kon buboh kachang.

pertu = perto

beng = vem

bai = vai

yo = eu

kaza = casa

bebeh = beber

chah = chá

ozi = hoje

anu = ano

dos, trez = dois, três

kambradu = camarada?

logu = logo

jah = já

fazeh = fazer

kon = com

Nearby. Come over and have a cup of tea. Today is my birthday. Two or three of my friends will also be coming. I've made sugee cake and green bean porridge.

Oh, Marie bos sa kaza bunitu! Ki anu bos jah komprah isti kaza?

bunitu = bonito/a

ki = que

komprah = comprar

isti = este/esta

Oh, Marie your house is so beautiful! When did you buy your home?

Oh, tantempu, impodi lembrah. Ki foi?

impodi = não pode/posso?

lembrah = lembrar

foi = foi

Oh, a long time ago, I can't remember. Why?

Kauzu kaloh na fora, inteh chuwa na, ungua mes.

kaloh = calor

na fora = na fora

inteh = não tem?

chuwa = chuva

ungua = um +?

mes = mês

It's so hot outside. There has been no rain for a whole month.

(Unrelated extract) Seng. Yo sa roupa jah fikah sopa-muladu di sor.

seng = sim

roupa = roupa

sopa = sopa

muladu = molhado/a

di = de

sor = suor

Yes. My clothes are soaked with perspiration.

Given that the Dutch seized Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641 (before ceding it in 1824 to the British), it is fascinating that almost 400 years later, a creole is still spoken that preserves so much of the Portuguese language. If anyone has more accurate information on the Portuguese origins of the Kristang words above, please do share!

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Jun 24, 2022

That Kristang looks also similar to Cape Verdean criole

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