Culture >Dialects
Macanese Dialect
The Macanese dialect is commonly known as Macanese Portuguese (Patuá). It is a mixture of Portuguese, Malay, Cantonese, English, ancient Portuguese and a bit of Dutch, Spanish and Italian. In the past, it was the language spoken in Macau’s Portuguese Community. In 2009, theUNESCO listed the native dialect of Macau as an "endangered language". At present, this dialect is mainly preserved by a group of native Macanese drama aficionados who use it as their performance language.
Macau's colonial blood drains away

By Tony Cheng BBC, Macau The façade of the church of St Paul has been described as a sermon in stone. The intricate carvings were intended to introduce the heathen Chinese to the story of Christ and the saints. Today, 400 years after it was built, only the facade survives, but sitting atop one of Macau's seven hills, it serves as a very visible reminder of the influence the Portuguese had on this small city state in southern China. "A French philosopher once wrote the French conquered the world with a feather, the British with a sword, and the Portuguese through sex," said Professor Carlos Marrieros, an architect and student of Macanese history. He thinks that the enduring presence of the Portuguese in Macau will be protected by more than just history. He pointed to the 400-year-old genetic footprint that the former colonials left as a safeguard to their continued presence, the people of mixed race known as the Macanese. "As a matter of fact in Macau, the first experience of inter racial marriages were experienced here. "From the 16th century up till now, European Portuguese mixed with local Chinese, but also Malay, Japanese and Filipino girls," he said. One of the areas where the Chinese and the Portuguese have always met in harmony is in the kitchen, so I visited the kitchen of Fernando's, one of Macau's most popular restaurants. I asked the owner, Fernando Gomes, if he thought Macau had changed very much since it converted to Chinese rule in 1999. "Macau still has the same rules. You can't say it's Chinese rules or Portuguese rules, it's not an invasion! But that easy-going attitude is not shared by all. Ng Kwok Cheung is a member of Macau's legislative assembly, and he thinks that the Portuguese colonists were too quick to hand back Macau to mainland China without securing greater rights for its citizens. "I think there are some differences between the British in Hong Kong and the Portuguese in Macau. "The British in HK, I think they want HK to be a real city of liberty in order for their economic interests and the economic interests of the Western world," he said. "But in Macau, the Portuguese didn't care so much about this, therefore they want to co-operate with the present government, they only want to protect their interests," he added. And by and large those interests have been well protected. The Portuguese that remained after 1999's handover have prospered, as have the institutions that house them. The bar at the military club in Macau is the very epitome of colonial living. There are ceiling fans whirring, palms in the corner, and the smell of cigar smoke hangs heavy in the air. Carlos Couto, the vice president of Casa de Portugal, an organisation which represents the interests of the Portuguese community here, said those who will probably find it more difficult to adjust to Chinese rule will be the Macanese. "In a certain sense I believe that the Macanese are the ones who are going to suffer more. They need to adjust their mentalities to survive in this particular place. "Before, for many centuries, they had played a role between the Portuguese Government and the Chinese Government. They had been the middle people. This role is now over," he said. In the Luis de Camoes Park - despite its name - there is little evidence of any Portuguese colonial legacy. As the locals practise their Cantonese opera skills, all traces of the distinctive Macanese dialect that was unique to the city are gone. A linguistic blend of Chinese, Portuguese, Malay and Japanese, it acted as a lingua franca, or common language, between the Portuguese trading ports. Some disconcerted Macanese have started to make efforts to revive their dying culture. Fred Palmer and his wife Sonia have founded a theatre troupe which performs traditional Macanese plays in the Macanese dialect. Although their performances have been well received, the audience is generally a mature one. No new blood Mr Palmer said that a lot of Macanese left for Portugal, and they are missed by the local community. "The fact is that they used to have the usual traditional things going on. Today we see less of those things going on. As a matter of fact for the cultural part of it, it's less than before," he said. And what has even more impact on the future of the Macanese is the lack of any new Portuguese immigrants. A community which for centuries has regenerated with marriages between the Chinese and the Europeans has seen its source of new blood dry up. Most of the young Macanese have long since left for Europe, America or Australia. Those that remain, like the octogenarian Lionel Barros, are determined to cling to their identity. "In Macau, if there is one Macanese, they will still continue. So I'm going to stay here. My mother died here, my wife died here, my father died here. Only my brother and I are left. He is 75 and I am still living, in good running condition," he said. Macau makes much of its Portuguese past, and the winding alleyways and colonial architecture are constant reminders of the first Europeans to settle in the Far East. However, the living remnants, the Macanese themselves, are quickly slipping away. Like the CDs of Macanese Christmas carols that Fred Palmer sells in the hot summer evenings, they seem to be caught out in the wrong place, at just the wrong time.


Right at the mouth of southern China’s Pearl River lies the diminutive yet culturally vibrant Macau, one of the two Chinese special administrative regions. (The other, of course, is Hongkong.) Traditionally known as Ou Men, meaning “trading gate,” Macau is the perfect intersection of the Asian and European ethos. It holds the title for being the first and last European protectorate in China, being an overseas Portuguese domain until 1999. A healthy mixture of Western and Chinese ethnicity is quite visible in the cuisine, architectural designs, and even common practices of the population. The Baroque style of architectures from Portugal characterizes churches, temples, and palaces found in the old city of Macau. The incorporation of European influences into Chinese customs is also evident in traditional festivals, gastronomy, and even street signage. Macau’s biggest industry is tourism – and gambling. The country utilizes its gambling industry to attract tourists and foreign visitors. In fact, this country is known to be Asia’s largest gambling destination. With their wide exposure to different foreign cultures, the Macanese have grown to be some of the warmest and most accommodating people in the world. They also display remarkable unity despite diversity. This cultural giant is the most densely populated region in the world, with a populace of almost 19,000 people per square kilometer. Majority of the citizenry are Chinese, making up to 95% of the population. People of mixed Portuguese-Chinese descent compose 2% of the totality. Most Macanese people speak their native language, Chinese Cantonese, which is also one of the official languages of the country. The other is Portuguese. Other tongues, such as Mandarin, English, Hokkien, and Patua, the distinct Macanese dialect, are used by the rest of the natives. Majority of the Macanese participate in Chinese folk religions such as Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.There are also Christian communities in Macau. Tap water in Macau is supplied directly from Mainland China. It is purified and mixed with chlorine for added protection. When using appliances, it is good practice to bring adapters for sockets for the standard three-pin square- or round-shaped plug type in Macau. Electricity is at 220V.


PEDRO DANIEL OLIVEIRA Young Macanese Association President Jorge Neto Valente outlines an ambitious future for the organization he leads, ensuring the diversity of activities and opening the door to interaction with all local communities, regardless of the language in use. Speaking to O CLARIM, he addresses the problems and challenges faced by youngsters in the Diaspora, also the importance of the Houses of Macau overseas and the meetings of Macanese Communities. He is very much straight forward regarding the trade and economic relations with Portuguese-speaking countries by stating that the Central Government gives great importance to the Macanese platform for Lusophone. On January this year you’ve been elected President of the Young Macanese Association. What are the goals for your three-year term? We want to keep developing our activities for more and better. For this year we have outlined a monthly program. We have more partners and I may say that we are well on track. I still remember our Association’s first year when we had many doubts whether it would succeed in the following year or not. We are now in the fourth year and the question isn’t whether we will continue to exist, but what else can we do? Based on this, the evaluation of what we have done and of what we are doing is very positive. Can you highlight some activities? After having the new board members elected [the former President Mr Duarte Alves is now leading the General Assembly] we seek to achieve a more complete program in terms of quality, quantity and diversity. For example, last June we competed for the first time in the Dragon Boat Races. On September 3 we were involved in voluntary work, since we were in charge of distributing food to the needy families in an event organized by “Santa Casa da Misericórdia.” We are also committed to carrying out activities with local associations no matter which communities they’re part of. Is the Macanese community regenerating itself? I believe this is already a proven point. Nevertheless, not all Macanese youngsters are taking part in this regeneration. Is it something endemic to your community? Many youngsters feel disinterest in associative life nowadays – and I speak of youngsters from all communities. In our community there is this aggravating factor that has been continuing for many years, without an incentive to help kick start their civic life. It’s going to take time. The situation seems to be striking among Macanese youngsters in Diaspora. Do you agree? The problem of the Diaspora in general is that many young people who departed from Macau and started working out there do not want to come back. So, they wouldn’t care much about Macau. A few still have an attachment to their homeland, but no more than that. For those who live in Portugal it’s easier to be more connected to Macau, although many of them are not thinking about coming back. To many of them, what happens in Macau on a daily basis just passes by, even if they have this affection to their homeland. Is the same happening to youngsters of the second and third generation? Though there are some repellent factors for them, however, the meetings [of Macanese Communities] result in many of them visiting Macau for the first time. Some have even known Macau indirectly from the stories told by their grandparents, their ancestors. And by coming to Macau, some wanted to try making their lives here. I know several of them who afterwards began making business in Macau and in Mainland China with success. The fact that we have youngsters from the Diaspora getting to know the Territory first-hand makes some of them interested and willing to try [to make a living or business in Macau]. The Houses of Macau in Diaspora and the meetings of Macanese Communities are very important since they both engage youngsters in meaningful activities, isn’t it? I would say that there are always visible positive factors those meetings give to the community. In these events there are several levels of participation. There are those who help to organize the meetings while others participate. Some people only go to one or another event and others are indirectly involved. Even if some local Macanese do not take part in the meetings, there are always those who know friends who live abroad. Even friends of parents… You end up getting to meet them and to revive old friendships or make new ones. This is the positive side of the event. The local newspapers in Chinese, Portuguese and English also give enough visibility throughout the week of the meetings. There is always this recurring question within your community: how to define the Macanese? There are the narrower and the broader definition. For me, the Macanese are ones who are integrated in Macau society and manage to survive, and live along with both cultures, the Chinese and the Portuguese, without being a stranger to any of them. The Macanese are often bilingual. In bilingualism you may be certainly talking about the Portuguese and the Cantonese speakers. Is there any room for English as well? English is now an international language. All of us have more or less learnt it. For example, I think the Macanese should speak at least Portuguese and Cantonese. And by the way Macau is now, you always have to learn to speak Putonghua and proficiently English. The standard is higher now. How about those who live in Macau for many years, but only can speak one language, either Portuguese or Cantonese? Could they be considered Macanese as well? It’s ok if you can culturally be able to integrate yourself within both cultures. For example, there are Portuguese living in Macau for five or ten years that I consider them more Macanese than other Portuguese living here for twenty or thirty years that never managed to get used to, for instance, Chinese food. Most Portuguese are not like that. It all depends on how you choose your way of living. Is the Macanese dialect endangered? Is it enough the work carried out by “Doci Papia?am di Macau”? The “Patuá” is a local creole. We must always learn it. Almost all the people of my grandmother’s generation could speak it. But if we talk about my father’s generation, I may say very little… How does the Central Government look to the Macanese? First of all, with favor, especially for the Macanese who are in Macau. The Central Government has always had great respect for the Macanese and the Portuguese. Before 1999, the Macanese played that important role of being the bridge [in politics] between the Chinese and the Portuguese, which is not as necessary nowadays because the Government of Macau is accountable to Beijing. However, the Central Power encourages trade and economic relations with Portuguese-speaking countries, giving strong emphasis to Macau. The Central Government had choices of choosing another place [in Mainland China]. However, the fact that it has chosen Macau to be the platform to connect for the Portuguese-speaking countries is a clear sign to me of approval that the Territory and the Macanese are both important.

Knowledge Graph

1 The Macanese dialect is a Portuguese dialect spoken in Macau, where Portuguese is co-official with Cantonese.

2 The Macanese dialect is distinct from the Macanese language (or Patuá), a Portuguese Creole in Macau.

3 The Macanese dialect is traditionally an Old Portuguese variety, in some aspects similar to Brazilian Portuguese in pronunciation.