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Kristang language

Papia Kristang
Malaccan Creole Portuguese
Native toMalaysia
Native speakers
2,200 (2007)[1]
Portuguese Creole
  • Malayo-Portuguese Creole
    • Papia Kristang
Language codes
ISO 639-3mcm
mala1533  Malacca–Batavia Creole[2]
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Papia Kristang ("speak kristang"), or just Kristang, is a creole language. It is spoken by the Kristang, a community of people of mixed Portuguese and Asian ancestry of the Malay race, chiefly in Malacca (Malaysia).

The language is also called Cristão or Cristan ("Christian"), Portugues di Melaka ("Malacca Portuguese"), Linggu Mai ("Mother Tongue") or simply Papia. Papia means speak. However, locals and most of the Kristang community refer to the language as "Portugis".


The Kristang language originated after the conquest of Malacca (Malaysia) in 1511 by the Portuguese Empire. The community of speakers descends mainly from interracial relationships between Portuguese men and local women, as well as a number of migrants from Portuguese India, themselves of mixed Indo-Portuguese ancestry.

Kristang had a substantial influence on Macanese, the creole language spoken in Macau, due to substantial migration from Malacca after its takeover by the Dutch.

Even after Portugal lost Malacca and almost all contact in 1641, the Kristang community largely preserved its language. The language is not taught at school, although there are still some Church services in Kristang.


The language has about 750 speakers in Malacca[3] and another 100 in Singapore.[4] A small number of speakers also live in other Portuguese Eurasian communities in Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, and in diaspora communities in Perth, Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.[5]

Revitalisation efforts

The language is currently in steep decline, although efforts to revive it have begun in recent years in both the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca and Singapore.


The revitalisation of Papia Kristang in Singapore can be largely attributed to the Kodrah Kristang initiative led by Kevin Martens Wong[4].

In 2017, they held the first Kristang Language Festival which was attended by more than 1,400 people, including the Portuguese-Eurasian community in Singapore and Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.[6]


The Kristang-speaking community located at the Portuguese Settlement, or Padri sa Chang (“The Priest’s Land”) was able to undertake more sustained revitalisation efforts and publicise itself to non-Eurasian Malaysians, and the language. Notably with texts, stories and phrasebooks in Kristang produced by Joan Margaret Marbeck and through investments and interest from individuals and organisations outside the community.

There are also supports from the Lisbon-based Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which funded and published Marbeck’s Kristang texts[7], and the University of Malaya and linguists like Dr. Stefanie Pillai, who have produced a CD of Kristang hymns, and in plans of developing Kristang textbook for beginners.[8]


Its grammatical structure is similar to that of the Malay language.

Because of its largely Portuguese vocabulary, and perhaps also as a result of migrations and cultural exchange along trade routes, Kristang has much in common with other Portuguese-based creoles, including the near-extinct creoles of Indonesia and East Timor.


To indicate verb tenses, the following appositions are used: jah (i.e. from the Portuguese , meaning "already", or controversially a corruption of Malay dah, shortened version of sudah, also "already") for past tenses; ta (from está, which means "is") for present continuous tenses and logu or lo (from logo, which means "soon") for the future tense. These simplified forms correspond with their equivalents in Malay sudah, sedang, and akan, respectively.

Pluralisation is also the same in Malay as in Kristang. For example in English and Portuguese, an ‘–s’ is added to make cats or gatos, whereas in Kristang and Malay, the entire word is duplicated , such as gatu-gatu in Kristang, and kucing-kucing in Malay.

Adversity Passive, which is used to talk about situations where a negative action happens to something, but the person or originator of the negative action is not mentioned something, is also present both in Kristang and Malay. The Adversity Passive is signaled by kena (Malay), and by tokah (Kristang).

Colloquial Malay Kristang Colloquial English near-equivalent
Ikan kena makan Pesi tokah kumih The fish got eaten


A peculiarity of the language is the pronoun yo (meaning "I") which is used in Northern Portuguese (pronounced as yeu) as well as Spanish and Italian/Sicilian.

The Kristang lexicon borrowed heavily from Portuguese, but often with drastic truncation; for example, Portuguese padrinho and madrinha ("godfather" and "godmother") became inyu and inya in Kristang.

Metathesis was common: for example, Portuguese gordo "fat" gave Kristang godru. The Portuguese diphthong oi (or archaic ou) was reduced to o, e.g. dois/dous "two" → dos, à noite/à noute "tonight" → anoti/anuti.

Many Portuguese words that began with ch, pronounced [ʃ] ("sh") in modern Portuguese, have the pronunciation [tʃ] ("ch" as in "cheese") in Kristang. So, for example, Portuguese chegar "to arrive" and chuva "rain" produced Kristang chegak and chua (pronounced with [tʃ]). This could have been due to Malay influence, or it could be that Kristang preserved the original pronunciation [tʃ] of Old Portuguese. (Note that Portuguese "ch" pronounced [tʃ] occurs in Northern Portugal.)

Writing system

Kristang was and is largely an oral language and has never been taught officially in schools. The first proposal for a standard orthography was made in the late 1980s, with the publication of a thesis, “A Grammar of Kristang”, by Alan N. Baxter, in which he emphasizes the use of the Malay orthography.[9]

As in most Portuguese dialects, the vowel e is usually pronounced [i] when followed by a syllable with /i/; so, for example, penitensia ("penitence") is pronounced [piniˈteɲsia].

In the 1990s, Joan Margaret Marbeck's book Ungua Andanza was published, with the orthography written in a Luso-Malay context.[10]



Much of the lexicon for Kristang numbers draws influence from Portuguese, a Romance language. However, unlike Portuguese, which distinguishes between the masculine and feminine forms of “one” (um/uma) and “two” (dois/duas), numbers in Kristang do not inflect for gender.

English Kristang Portuguese Malay
one ungua/ngua um (masc.) / uma (fem.) satu
two dos dois (masc.) / duas (fem.) dua
three tres três tiga
four katru quatro empat
five singku cinco lima
six sez seis enam
seven seti sete tujuh
eight oitu oito lapan
nine nubi nove sembilan
ten des dez sepuluh


English Kristang Portuguese Malay
Me yo eu saya (formal) / aku (casual)
You (singular) bos vós Awak/Kamu
You (plural) bolotudu/bolotu vós todos Awak semua/Kamu semua
We nus nós kami
He/she/it eli ele, ela, isto dia
They olotu eles mereka

Common phrases

English Kristang Portuguese Malay
Thank You Mutu Merseh Muitas mercês Terima Kasih
How Are You? Teng Bong? Estás bom?/Têm bom? Awak apa khabar?
What's your name? Ki bos sa numi? Qual é o seu nome?/Qual é o seu nome? Siapa nama awak?
Good Morning Bong Pamiang Boa Manhã Selamat Pagi
Good Afternoon Bong Midia Bom Meio-dia Selamat Petang
Good Evening Bong Atadi Boa Tarde Selamat Malam
Good Night Bong Anuti Boa Noite Selamat Malam/Tidur
Mother mai mãe Emak/Ibu/Bonda/Ummi/Mama
Father pai pai Bapa/Ayah/Abah/Abi
Wife muleh mulher Isteri
Husband maridu marido Suami
Old Woman bela velha Wanita Tua
Old Man belu velho Lelaki Tua
Little one Quenino/Keninu Pequenino Si Kecil
Mouth boka boca Mulut
Fat godru gordo Gemuk
Beautiful bonitu bonito Cantik
Party festa festa Pesta
Yes seng sim Ya
No ngka não Tidak
Who keng quem Siapa
What ki que Apa
When kiora quando ("que hora") Bila
Where ondi onde Mana
Why kifoi porque ("que foi") Mengapa
How klai como Bagaimana

Poem of Malacca

Keng teng fortuna fikah na Malaka,
Nang kereh partih bai otru tera.
Pra ki tudu jenti teng amizadi,
Kontu partih logu fikah saudadi.
Oh Malaka, tera di San Francisku,
Nteh otru tera ki yo kereh.
Oh Malaka undi teng sempri fresku,
Yo kereh fikah ateh mureh.

Portuguese translation:

Quem tem fortuna fica em Malaca,
Não quer partir para outra terra.
Por aqui toda a gente tem amizade,
Quando tu partes logo fica a saudade.
Ó Malaca, terra de São Francisco,
Não tem outra terra que eu queira.
Ó Malaca, onde tem sempre frescura,
Eu quero ficar até morrer.

English translation:

Who is lucky stays in Malacca,
Doesn't want to go to another land.
In here everyone has friendship,
When one leaves soon has saudade.
Oh Malacca, land of Saint Francis,
There is no other land that I want.
Oh Malacca, where there's always freshness,
I want to stay here until I die.

Malay translation:

Siapa beruntung tinggal di Melaka,
Tidak mahu ke tanah berbeza.
Di sini semua bersahabat,
Bila seorang pergi terasa rindu.
Oh Melaka, tanah Saint Francis,
Tiada tanah lain yang ku mahu.
Oh Melaka, dimana adanya kesegaran,
Aku mahu tinggal di sini hingga ke akhir nyawa.

See also


  1. ^ Papia Kristang at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Malacca–Batavia Portuguese Creole". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Baxter (2005), p. 16
  4. ^ a b Wong, Kevin Martens. "Kodrah Kristang Kaminyu di Kodramintu: Kinyang Ngua (The Kristang Language Revitalization Plan, Phase One)" (PDF). Kodrah Kristang. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2016. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  5. ^ Baxter (1988), p. 17
  6. ^ "1st Kristang Language Festival". Retrieved March 14, 2020.
  7. ^ Joan Margaret Marbeck. Ungua Adanza (Heritage). Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1995
  8. ^ "Revitalising Kristang: An interview with Stefanie Pillai". Retrieved March 15, 2020.
  9. ^ Baxter (1988)
  10. ^ Joan Margaret Marbeck. Ungua Adanza (Heritage). Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1995


External links