Malaccan Portuguese Creole, spoken mainly by a small community in Malaysia, is getting a breath of life as researchers and community members archive this rapidly disappearing language.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimates that if nothing is done, half of the world’s 6000 plus languages will have disappeared by the end of the current century.

At the University of Malaya, researchers are archiving and developing an online dictionary of Malaccan Portuguese Creole (MPC), also known as Kristang. This endangered language, spoken by a dwindling number of people, can be traced to the arrival of the Portuguese in Malacca in the 16th century.

“The intermarriage between the Portuguese and locals resulted in a hybrid community whose descendants continue to exist in Malaysia,” note Stefanie Pillai and her colleagues in a 2014 paper published in Language & Communication.

The largest concentration of the community is estimated to be around 750 in the settlement of Kampung Portugis in Malacca in the southern region of Malaysia, a popular tourist destination where Portuguese music and dance are mixed with more traditional elements.

“The decrease in the number of MPC speakers is not surprising as it is a minority language fighting to survive amidst the increasing use of English and the backdrop of Malay, the national and official language of Malaysia,” state the authors. “The use of MPC is largely confined to the family and social domains.”

MPC was first archived with the Endangered Languages Archive at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies – this involved community members, who provided audio and video data. These audio and video files are paired with time-aligned orthographic transcriptions in Malaccan Portuguese Creole and their English translations. This archive is still a work in progress and will be amended periodically as other native speaker consultants review the files.

In collaboration with computer sciences colleague, Dr Nor Aniza Abdullah, and Professor Dr Alan Baxter, a Portuguese-based Creoles expert from Universidade Federal da Bahia in Brazil, the online dictionary will feature a text-to-speech system enabling new speakers to learn the language. Both projects will be completed in 2014.



For further information contact:

Associate Professor Dr Stefanie Pillai
Faculty of Languages and Linguistics
University of Malaya, Malaysia