Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 7 July 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Copyright © 2007
M. S. Thirumalai


Survival of the Minority Kristang Language in Malaysia

Haja Mohideen Bin Mohamed Ali, Ph.D.
Shamimah Mohideen, M.HSc.


Kristang, also known as the Malaccan Portuguese Creole, has a strong influence of Portuguese, together with the Malay language which is the dominant local language in Malaysia and the Malay-speaking region in Southeast Asia. This Creole is spoken by a microscopic minority of Catholic Christians who are descendants of Portuguese colonizers and Asian settlers in Malacca. Malacca was once a historically renowned state and empire which was coveted by major European powers. The Dutch followed the Portuguese and the last were the British.

Because of the very small number of Kristang community members (1200) in the present Portuguese Settlement assigned to them by the authorities, the Kristang language is clearly a language struggling to survive. Its vocabulary is largely Portuguese-based, with a substantial contribution from the Malay language. It has also borrowed from the languages of other colonial European powers. Their vocabulary also includes some loan words from Chinese and Indian languages.

This minority language may yet be maintained with the fervent effort of the few thousand remaining Kristang speakers and the Malaysian government, particularly the state government of Melaka (or Malacca). Kristang is a legacy and heritage left by the faraway Portuguese to Malaysian history. It would be tragic and unfortunate if this heritage is lost, to Malaysians in general and the tiny Portuguese community in Malaysia, in particular.

KEYWORDS: Portuguese Creole, Kristang, minority language, survival


Much enthusiasm is now being shown among sociolinguists and academics with regard to the possible loss and death of many minority languages in use today and the ways of maintaining them ( see Bradley and Bradley, 2000, Crystal, 2000, Haja Mohideen, 2007 and Nettle and Romaine, 2000).

In Malaysia there are many languages spoken by the natives such as the Orang Asli, Murut, Bajau, Bidayuh and Kedayan, who are numerically small in comparison to the majority groups of Malaysians, namely the Malays who comprise the majority group, Chinese and Indians (Tamils outnumber other Indians). Their languages are mainly oral languages.

The languages of the abovementioned minority groups are, unfortunately, potential candidates for language extinction because of their small numbers and their close affinity towards the most influential major ethnic group, with whom they have many things in common.

Kristang - An Endangered Language

In the state of Melaka (also known as Malacca) in Malaysia, there is a unique minority group of people who are known as the Kristang. The Creole they speak is known variously as Malacca Portuguese Creole, Kristang, Papia and Cristao. Since this Creole has substantial influence of the local Malay language, Baxter, a Kristang scholar, believes that the appropriate term for this Creole is Malacca-Melayu Portuguese Creole (cited in Marbeck, 2007).The speakers themselves popularly refer to their Creole as Kristang.

In this paper the terms 'Kristang' and 'Malacca Portuguese Creole' will be used interchangeably as synonyms. This paper looks at the issue of language attrition and survival with regard to this Malaysian Creole language. According to Su Aziz (2007), the danger of this language disappearing is real because it has never been taught formally. It has only been handed down orally from one generation to another (New Straits Times, July 16, 2007, p. 65).

The Kristang People

The Kristangs are people of the close-knit Portuguese Eurasian community in Malaysia and elsewhere. They have been around for nearly 500 years, but sadly their number is rapidly shrinking. Fishing is a common occupation of the residents, but there are also professionals in their midst.

The Portuguese Settlement they live in is located in the state of Melaka or Malacca facing the sea, the Straits of Malacca, to be exact. (Malacca is the second smallest state behind only Perlis.) Their Roman Catholic religion unifies and keeps them together in this largely Muslim country. St. Peter is the patron saint of the community. They have assumed Portuguese proper names, for example, Martin de Rozario, Leonie De Costa and Jeremy Monteiro. They celebrate Christian religious festivals such as All Souls Day and Lent Festival. And since there are many fishermen, they also celebrate Intrudu or water festival and Fiesta San Pedro (fisherman's festival). The latter is celebrated to honor St. Peter.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Kinship and Gender in Meiteiron | The Use of Layout in Malay Language Newspapers' Front Pages | Exploring Ethnolinguistic Vitality - A Case Study of Lepchas in Dzongu Valley | Tamil Advertisements in Television | The Use of Second Person Pronoun in Tamil and Telugu | Survival of the Minority Kristang Language in Malaysia | Meaning and Technique in Walt Whitman's Poetry | Syntactic Errors in English Committed by Indian Undergraduate Students | Form and Function of Disorders in Verbal Narratives - A Doctoral Dissertation | Problems of Assamese Speakers Learning Manipuri | Stylistic Changes in English-Arabic Translation - With Reference to BBC News Texts | HOME PAGE of June 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Haja Mohideen Bin Mohamed Ali, Ph.D.
Department of English Language and Literature
Faculty of Human Sciences
International Islamic University Malaysia
P.O. Box 10
50728 Kuala Lumpur

Shamimah Mohideen, M HSc.
Center for Foundation Studies
International Islamic University Malaysia
50728 Kuala Lumpur

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