Some notes for the current study of Papia Kristang, the Portuguese creole of Malacca

Clip 1. Elderly fishermen talking in Papia Kristang and about Papia Kristang.

[English] Papia Kristang or Portugues di Melaka is a Portuguese creole language originated in Malacca (Malaysia) and mainly spoken by a few hundred people in its Portuguese Settlement, even though there is a smaller community of speakers in Singapore and some isolated speakers in other cities due to recent migrations. Here I offer some clues for its current study after a two-day exploration in Malacca.

[Aragonese] Papia Kristang u Portugues di Melaka ye una luenga criolla portuguesa naixida de Malacca (Malasia) y fablada más que más por bells centenars de personas en o suyo Bico Portugués, encara que bi ha una comunidat chicota de fablants en Singapur y bells fablants isolaus en atras ciudatz debiu a migracions. Aquí ufro una serie de claus t’o suyo estudio actual dimpués d’una exploración de dos diyas en Malacca.

[Español] Papia Kristang o Portugues di Melaka es una lengua criolla surgida en Malacca (Malasia) y hablada por unos cientos de personas en su Barrio Portugués, aunque hay una comunidad pequeña de hablantes en Singapur y algunos hablantes aislados en otras ciudades debido a migraciones. Aquí ofrezco una serie de claves para su estudio actual después de una exploración de dos días en Malacca.

Papia Kristang or Portugues di Melaka is a Portuguese creole language originated after the Portuguese invasion of Malacca in 1511. Even when the Portuguese rule in Malacca ended with the Dutch conquest in 1641, this Portuguese creole have been spoken and preserved by a mestizo community until today (Wong 2017). Different sources state its number of speakers somewhere in the range between a few hundred (Baxter 2005) to more than two thousand people (Bradley 2007). Most of the Kristang community moved to a neighborhood today known as Portuguese Settlement in the 1930s and I did my research there on September 26 and 27, 2019. Here I offer some clues for its current study. I especially thank a 73 year old local singer and fisherman named Necles who helpfully provided me with a lot information and introduced me into the community.

Place description

The Portuguese Settlement of Malacca comprises family houses along a few streets -Pitchay, Albuquerque, Texeira, Squera, Daranjo, Eredia- that converge into the main coastal square or Medan Portugis with some Portuguese restaurants, meeting point for fishermen during the morning and quite lively during the weekend nights. Around 1.500 people live in the neighborhood (Nunes 2017a). Kristang community moving to this compact area in the 1930s helped their cohesion and language preservation.

Kristang vs. Continental Portuguese

Some people inform that Portuguese tourists sometimes come to the place and they try to establish a Kristang-Portuguese communication: locals find the Portuguese continental language “deep” and sometimes “difficult”, but at the same time they affirm that they can “establish communication” and “understand”.

Some of the young Kristang people I interviewed learned and fluently spoke continental Portuguese language. They affirm that their previous knowledge of Kristang, some language applications and other on-line resources helped them.

Generational transmission

I found a good level of language generational transmission. Middle age and young people generally speak Kristang to a certain extent and they are proud of it, although sometimes they were not as skilled as elderly people and some other times they mixed continental Portuguese with proper Kristang. I also found quite a number of Kristang elderly people who did not speak the creole.

Elderly people were more open to be recorded than young people, who were more reluctant. It must be said that I only stayed in the Portuguese Settlement for two days and that I knew no one before arriving.

Name of the language

Speakers prefer their language to be named Portuguese and not Kristang. The latter refers to the Christian religion, and even if the Kristang community is mainly Christian, that is not necessarily the case. However, among themselves they mainly use the names Kristang and Papia Kristang.

Papia Kristang literally means Speak Christian. The use of the communicative action -i.e. speak– as the name of the language is something rather common among endangered languages -e.g. Fabla aragonesa for the Aragonese language, Bable asturianu for the Asturian language- and it may contribute to its discredit.

Sometimes when talking about the language, speakers state “I am Portuguese”. I do not know if they wanted to say “I speak Portuguese” or literally “I am Portuguese”. However, I did not dig into it as dealing with identity issues was not my purpose.

Lingua franca

Kristang was not used as the lingua franca in the Portuguese Settlement. Interestingly, the main language used for common communication was English and not Bahasa Melayu, usually the common language in the rest of the city (Nunes 2017a, 2017b). Even elderly people who do not speak Kristang talk in English rather than Bahasa Melayu and Kristang’s population English skills seemed to be higher than the rest of Malacca´s population English level. The shift into English was reinforced during weekend nights with the arrival of Taiwanese and Singaporean tourists to the coastal square.

Connection with other Latin languages

All the young people interviewed not only vindicated Portuguese but their general Latin connection. They were especially interested in Spanish music and even when that is something common everywhere in our days, I could find people listening and playing Spanish music different from the main Latin hits: Gypsy Kings, Los Chunguitos or Camarón.

Clip 2. A young Kristang speaker interested in non-mainstream Spanish music.


Baxter, A. N. (2005). Kristang (Malacca Creole Portuguese): a long-time survivor seriously endagered. Sociolinguistc Studies 6(1): 1-37. 

Bradley, D. (2007). East and Southeast Asia. Atlas of the World’s Languages. London: Routledge.

Nunes, M. P. (2017a). The use of Kristang in the Portuguese settlement of Malacca. Journal of Modern Languages, 12(1): 147-156.

Nunes, M. P. (2017b). Portuguese folklore sung by Malaccan Kristang groups and the issue of decreolization. Journal of Modern Languages, 13(1): 149-161.

Wong, K.M. (2017). Bos Papiah Kristang? (Do You Speak Kristang?): A Eurasian Linguistic Legacy. Singapore Euroasians: Memories, Hopes and Dreams: 369-379.