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This article is about the language. For the people of Macau, see Macanese.
Macanese (Patuá)
Spoken in: Macau, Hong Kong, USA (California), Portugal, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Peru
Region: Southeast Asia
Total speakers: less than 4,000, most speakers are bilinguals
Ranking: not in top 100
Genetic classification: Portuguese Creole
Official status
Official language of: none
Regulated by: none
Language codes
ISO 639-1none
ISO 639-2cpp
See also: LanguageList of languages

Patuá or Macanese (Macaista Chapado) is a Creole language based on the Portuguese language spoken in Macau.

Patuá is known among linguists by many different names, such as Macaista Chapado ("pure Macanese"), Macao Creole, Macaense, Papia Cristam di Macau ("Christian language of Macau"), Dóci Língu di Macau ("Sweet Language of Macao"), and Doci Papiaçam ("sweet language"). In Patuá, papia means to "speak" as in several Portuguese creoles. And "Sweet language" is a nickname for the Portuguese language given by Cervantes.

Some Macanese take great pride in the fact that Macau has its own local language, something that Hong Kong does not have. They argue that Macau's status as a city of culture and one of the world's oldest existing meeting places of the Orient and the Occident calls for the vigorous "cultivation" of its Macanese language, and that Patuá deserves to be included in the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages as a tool of raising public awareness of its threatened existence.



The Portuguese term Patuá is derived from the French word patois which, according to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, means "rough speech". In its present-day usage in the English and other European languages, "patois" denotes the tonge of the common people of a region, differing in various aspects from the standard language of the rest of that country.

Macau's Patuá started to gradually develop after the Portuguese settled down on the southern tip of the peninsula around 1557. The Portuguese settlement in Malacca began in 1511, nearly half a century earlier than the one in Macau. In Malacca, Portuguese men married Malay women, resulting in the creation of a local Portuguese-Malay Creole, generally known as "Papia Kristang" or Cristăo ("Christian language"), which is still spoken today by an estimated 1,000 people in Malaysia and Singapore. Papia Kristang is very close to the Malay language in terms of grammar - being the substrate, but its vocabulary is mostly derived from Portuguese, the superstrate.

Although the Dutch took Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, Papia Kristang has survived as an actively spoken mother language ever since. The Portuguese-Malay Creole had a strong influence on the development of Macau's Patuá in the 17th century, namely in terms of its rich Malay vocabulary. From the late 16th century, Portuguese Eurasian settlers from Malacca "transplanted" their Creole to Macau.

The Portuguese settlement in Malacca, including its Portuguese-Malay Creole, served as a forward base for the subsequent establishment of a Portuguese settlement in Macau in the second half of the 16th century. That is why Patuá is strongly influenced by Malay, apart from more or less significant influences by Cantonese, several Indian tongues, English, Japanese, Spanish, and a string of other European and Asian languages. In a way, Patuá is a unique "cocktail" of European and Asian languages that one way or the other had an impact on Macau's social and commercial development between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Patuá enjoyed its peak time as the main language of communication among Macau's Eurasian residents between the 17th and 19th centuries. However, even during that period the total number of speakers was relatively small, probably always amounting to just thousands, not tens of thousands of people.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Patuá was still spoken by several thousand of people in Macau, Hong Kong and elsewhere as their mother tongue. At that time, Patuá was consciously differentiated by its users from the "metropolitan" Portuguese standard language. In the early 20th century, Patuá was also used in a "satirical" way, such as in humorous sketches poking fun at figures of authority, such as colonial government officials from Portugal.

Classification and related languages

Creole - Portuguese-based

Patuá started gradually to evolve in Macau in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, namely among Portuguese settlers and their mixed-race descendents from Malacca and Macau.

Most of the Macanese Creole lexicon is from Malay and from the papiás of Malacca and Indonesia, but also from the Indian and Singhalese languages. This makes it the dialect of Papia Kristang. The structure of the language is from Portuguese-Malay, but also in a manner Portuguese-Indian with Chinese syntax. There is also a strong influence of the dialects of southern Portugal.

Colloquially speaking, one may describe Patuá as a linguistic joint-venture between Europe and Asia. Patuá is, therefore, a Creole, which has been defined by linguists as a mother tongue formed from the contact of a European language with local languages elsewhere, namely in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Even though Patuá has a history of four centuries, relatively little research into it has so far been done. The most notable exception is Macau's late educationalist and philologist Graciete Nogueira Batalha, who published a large number of studies on Patuá, which she described as the Macanese dialect. Ms. Batalha died a decade ago. Dr. Alan Baxter, an Australian linguist who says he is fluent in Malacca’s Portuguese-Malay Creole, Papia Kristang, researches Patuá as one of the facets of his work at the Department of Portuguese of the University of Macau.

Geographic distribution

Patuá is the now nearly extinct original mother tongue of Macau's Eurasian minority, which is customarily known as Macanese, and that presently comprises some 8,000 residents in Macau, or two per cent of the special administrative region’s population, and an estimated 20,000 emigrants and their offspring elsewhere, such as in Hong Kong, California, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Australia, Portugal, and United Kingdom.

Unlike its "elder sister" Creole in Malacca, Macau's Patuá is nowadays only actively spoken by just several dozen old people, mostly women in their eighties or nineties, in Macau and Hong Kong, and only a few hundred people among the Macanese Diaspora overseas, namely in California. Patuá is certainly an endangered language, if not an almost extinct language. Others have, rather dramatically, described it as a "dying language."



There has been little scientific research of Patuá's grammar, namely the different stages of its development between the 16th and 20th centuries. Its grammatical structure seems to incorporate both European and Asian elements. As in other Asian tongues, there is an absence of the definite article, and a peculiar use of pronouns and possessive adjectives. The word io means "I," "me" and "mine." The word ilotro-sua means "theirs." Patuá does, on the other hand, not use Portuguese-style verbal inflection. For example, io sam means "I am," and ele sam means "he/she is." Macau’s "sweet language" also uses certain particles to denote progressive (ta) and completed actions (ja). There is reduplication for plural nouns (casa-casa = "houses"), plural adjectives (china-china = "several Chinese people or things"), and plural adverbs (cedo-cedo = "very early") patterned from Malay grammar.


The strong Malay influence on Patuá also derives from the fact that Macau's early Portuguese settlers sought wives primarily from Malacca, as well as India and Japan, and not mainland China. Malay words adopted by Patuá include sapeca (coin) and copo-copo (butterfly). Patuá's vocabulary derived from Indian languages includes fula (flower) and lacassa (vermicelli).

The British occupation of Hong Kong from the mid-19th century resulted in the inclusion of English vocabulary, such as adap ("hard-up," i.e. having very little money) and afet (“fat”).

Over the centuries, in the same way as any other language or dialect, Patuá underwent changes in usage, grammar, syntax and vocabulary. Cantonese has strongly influenced Patuá since the late 19th century, when more and more Macanese men started to marry Chinese women from Macau and its hinterland in the Pearl River Delta. Patuá words derived from Cantonese include amui (“girl”) and laissi (gift of cash).

Writing system

The Portuguese authorities’ determination, namely since the late 19th century, to teach the Macanese standard Portuguese doomed Patuá's future as an actively spoken community language. High-society Macanese gradually abandoned Patuá in the early 20th century because they started to regard it as "low class" and "primitive Portuguese". Patuá never reached the status of a fully fledged written language, even though some writers, such as the late José "Ade" dos Santos Ferreira, penned poems in the "sweet language". Even nowadays, Patuá has no standardized orthography.

As a matter of fact, Patuá has never been taught as a full subject by any education establishment in Macau. The Macanese customarily learned to speak Patuá from their parents, namely their mothers. Literally speaking, Patuá genuinely functioned as the Macanese community’s mother tongue. In other words, during its long history Patuá has always been a basically family-based language that never enjoyed official recognition by the authorities. In fact, some teachers from Portugal tried hard to "erase" Patuá that they discarded as "badly spoken Portuguese."

Apart from some ivory-tower research, very little has been done in recent years to publicise Patuá's endangered existence among the general public. An exception is the publication of a Patuá-Portuguese glossary by the Macau International Institute in 2001. The glossary was edited by Miguel Senna Fernandes and Dr. Alan Baxter. Fernandes, a lawyer by profession and Patuá supporter by passion, has said that Patuá was "not yet dead, but the archaic form of Patuá has already died," adding that "modern" Patuá could be considered a "dialect derived from archaic Patuá." He also underlined the fact that "modern" Patuá has been strongly influenced by Cantonese, namely since the beginning of the 20th century, adding that it was "quite a miracle" that Patuá has been able to survive for four centuries in Macau, considering that "Chinese culture is quite absorbing."

"Let's revive an almost lost memory," Fernandes said about efforts by Patuá aficionados to ensure the survival of Macau's "sweet language" that, after all, is part of its unique history. Some of the aficionados have proposed the setting-up of a dedicated Patuá research centre in Macau. The centre would not only conduct linguistic and anthropological investigations but, most importantly, also provide language courses at a grass-roots level among all walks of life and different generations.


Here is an example of a Patuá poem:

Nhonha na jinela Young lady in the window
Co fula mogarim With a jasmine flower
Sua mae tancarera Her mother is a Chinese fisherwoman
Seu pai canarim Her father is a Portuguese Indian

See also


  • Description of language (
  • Macanese ( ethnologue report on Macanese.

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