Although the Portuguese withdrew from the Malay Peninsula more than 350 years ago, there still exists today in the town of Malacca (Melaka) a substantial Eurasian population calling itself Portuguese, and–despite reports of its demise1– speaking a creolized variety of that language. A similar, smaller community also lives in Singapore, which parted company from Malaysia in 19652.

These are the descendants of the early Lusitanian settlers, who from the very beginning intermarried with the local Malays, as well as with the Indians and Chinese3. Nowadays, bound by common speech, occupation (mainly fishing) and the Catholic faith, the tendency is for the Malacca Creole Portuguese to marry amongst themselves; there are no longer any Creoles of unmixed Portuguese ancestry. The Eurasian population of the Malay Peninsula is estimated to be about 12,000 Malacca Creoles.

Not all of these are Portuguese Eurasians, whose total has not been ascertained.

The early history & role of Portugal

On August 1st 1509, five Portuguese ships landed at Malacca under the command of Admiral Diogo Lopes de Sequeira, the first contact between Europeans and the inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula. Initial friendliness on the part of the local population soon gave way to hostility and mistrust – a state of affairs which, due to cruel treatment from the Portuguese, was to remain for the whole period of their occupation of the area. In 1511, the nobleman Alfonso de Albuquerque landed at Malacca with nineteen ships, the crew comprising 800 Portuguese and 600 Indian soldiers. They stayed three months and erected a fort; a fort so well constructed that despite being attacked twenty times during a period of over 120 years, not once was it taken. At this time, Malacca had a population of some 20,000 of whom about one third were Portuguese or of Portuguese stock. The town welcomed vessels of all nations (excepting Arab ships), and from their base there the Portuguese continued their exploration of the Far East.

The Dutch oust the Portuguese

In 1580 AD Portugal became part of the Spanish Empire under Philip II, but despite added naval strength from the Spaniards they were not sufficiently powerful to keep the Dutch, who also had interests in the East and with whom they were now at war, at bay. The Portuguese were defeated in two sea battles (1606 and 1608) in the Straits of Malacca, although at this time the town itself had not yet been taken. In 1635 the Dutch started regular patrols in the Straits, in order to waylay all ships entering and leaving Malacca. In a few years the town had become so weak that it was quite vulnerable to attack; consequently in July, 1640, 2,000 Dutch soldiers landed there and starved the Portuguese out. The latter eventually surrendered on December 1st that same year. The vanquished Portuguese were not massacred, but allowed to leave quickly and many settled in Portuguese Colonies in the East such as Goa and Diu. Only a handful of Portuguese and Portuguese Eurasians were left in Malacca.

The Dutch held the town until 1795 – a period of 155 years. Under them Malacca did not prosper, and by the end of their rule the population had shrunk to 15,000.

In come the British

The British took over in 1795, but the Dutch returned in 1818 in an attempt to re-establish their trade in the area. In 1824 however a treaty was drawn up between the Dutch and British whereby Singapore and the Malay Peninsula (the “Straits Settlements”) were to come under British rule, and the island of Riau (sometimes spelt Rhio or Rhiow and also known as Pulau Bintang) was to go to the Dutch. The whole of the Malay Peninsula remained a British colony until independence –Merdeka–in 1957.

The language of the Malaccan creoles

The Malacca Creoles call their language Portuguese; in their own language it is known as Papiá Kristáng (i.e. “Christian speech”), Línggu Mái (“mother tongue”) or simply Papiá or Kristáng, this latter the name by which the Creoles also call themselves. It is also sometimes called Săráni, “Christian” (cf. Nazarene).

In metropolitan Portuguese Papia Kristang has been called variously Malaqueiro, Malaquense, Malaques and Malaquenho, while in Malay, at least colloquially, it is sometimes rather disparagingly referred to as Bahasa Geragu4.

It survives in two communities in the Malacca area, Trangkéră and the nearby so-called Portuguese Settlement–an area covering twenty-eight acres fronting the sea, administered by the local Catholic church of Saint Peter’s, and originally set aside for the Creoles in 1933 by the then resident priest Father A.M. Coroado. The Creoles still refer to it as the Chang di Pádri or the Pádri-să Chang (i.e. priest’s ground), although its official name is Hilir (in Portuguese Ilher). Papia Kristang also survives to a lesser extent in other Malaysian towns where Creoles have settled, and some Kristang speakers have emigrated to Perth on Australia’s west coast.

According to Schuchardt, in earlier years another Creole-speaking community was established further north on the Kedah coast5, though there is no evidence of this today.

Where from and where to “Papia Kristang (PK)”

Papia Kristang has its origins in the early Portuguese lingua franca or ‘low Portuguese’ which probably originated in the 15th century on the West African Coast. This trade contact language, itself possibly developing from the earlier Mediterranean Sabir6, was carried by Lusitanian seamen to the Near and Far East, and to Central and South America. Modern descendants of the Portuguese lingua franca survive in many parts of the world, more or less influenced structurally and lexically by the various local indigenous languages7.

The dialect as spoken in Malacca and Singapore belongs to the Malayo-Portuguese branch of the Lusoasian group, and is perhaps the most conservative of the existing members, having been out of contact with metropolitan Portuguese for over four centuries. Despite this, the non-Portuguese-derived lexical content of Papia Kristang is comparatively small. Church personnel visiting from Portugal must either learn Kristang or else speak English in their dealings with the Creole community.

Other dialects belonging to the Malayo-Portuguese group include those of Macao8 and Hong Kong9. In earlier years similar varieties were spoken in Jakarta, Tugu, Flores, Ceram and other East Indian Communities; Bidau Creole Portuguese (Português de Bidau) was spoken near Dili in East Timor until the 1960s, when it gave way to standard Portuguese; elsewhere these have been supplanted by Malay or other Indonesian languages. An exception is the so-called Malayo-Spanish languages of the Philippines (Chabacano, Ternateño, Zamboagueño, Caviteño, Ermitaño, Davaueño) which have been shown to have developed from an earlier Malayo-Portuguese contact vernacular10.

Less closely related to Papia Kristang are the Creole Portuguese dialects belonging to the Indo-Portuguese branch, spoken in many towns along both coasts of India and in Sri Lanka11. Indo-Portuguese once supported a flourishing literature– mostly of a religious nature–but today its speakers are few. It has nevertheless had considerable influence upon Malacca Creole since not only did it probably contribute to the formation of the Malayo-Portuguese dialects, which were established at a later period, but it has continued to exert a marginal influence up on it up to the present-day, due to limited social traffic between the two areas.

The means by which those who have emigrated overseas are able to stay in touch with those at home have been revolutionized by the advent of electronic mail. In turn it has led to increased attempts to read and write previously-unwritten languages, and especially to achieving a consensus as to their spelling.

Orthography

The orthography employed here is based on that being used for Malay at the time of my initial introduction to Papia Kristang. It was seldom written except by isolated individuals, including linguists and Portuguese missionaries, and most of the existing texts were of a religious nature, and written in some modification of Portuguese orthography. Malay spelling at the time employed the e-breve symbol /ĕ/ for [ə]–now abandoned–modified here for etymological reasons to a-breve /ă/. This is not used in contemporary Kristang publications, which use /a/ for both [a] and [ə]. A further difference from Malay spelling is the non-use here of final /–h/, written and heard in this position in Malay, but not in Papia Kristang, where it now occurs and where it is used to indicate word-final stress. Otherwise, the phonological systems of the two languages are, broadly speaking, identical.

Papia Kristang has eight vowels, only six of which are contrastive. These are /i/, /e/  /ε/, /a/, //~/o/, /u/ and /ə/ (written /ă/, the first sound in “about”). For some speakers there is a certain amount of free variation between /i/ and /e/, and /o/ and /u/.

The consonants are /p/, /b/ /t/, /d/, /ch/, /j/, /k/, /g/, /f/, /s/, /z/, /m/, /n/, /ng/, /ny/, /l/, /r/, /w/ and /y/. Plosives are unaspirated in all positions, and /l/, /r/, /t/, /d/ and /n/ tend to be slightly retroflexed, especially in the speech of older people. As in Malay orthography, Papia Kristang /ng/ represents [ŋ], [ŋg] and [ŋk] being written /ngg/ and ngk/ respectively: PK lúngă ([‘luŋə] “moon,” sángi [‘saŋi] “blood,” ngkă [‘ŋkə] “not,” nggrátu [ŋ’gratu] “ungrateful.”

Stress is marked by an acute accent in this outline, which would be unnecessary in general use: káză “house,” kazá “marry,” lábă “bee,” labá “wash.”

The Kristang vocabulary is derived from six main sources: Portuguese, Dutch, Malay, English, Chinese and Indian.

By far the largest proportion of lexical items in that language is traceable to Portuguese, in most cases identifiable with the modern metropolitan language. Many words, however, derived from either archaic or dialect forms, thus arafíng “conceit,” kaínyu “miserly,” from old Portuguese arafim and cainho (Modern Portuguese has vaidade and avaro)–or PK étikă “tuberculosis,” from a dialect variant hetica of Standard Portuguese tisica, or the first person pronoun yo “I,” reflecting northern Portuguese yeu rather than the standard eu (compare Spanish yo).

Often the Papia Kristang items undergo change in meaning: PK bizáru for example means “placid” or “becalmed,” while its Portuguese source bizarro means “elegant.” A number of words have been constructed from morphemes within the language, and differ from their Portuguese equivalent. PK skribáng “clerk,” for example, derives from scribé “write” (Portuguese escrever), while for the same item standard Portuguese has empregado.

The Dutch contribution to the lexicon amounts to about 30 words, examples of which include PK a(r)tápăl “Irish potato” (Dutch aardappel), kakús “latrine” (Dutch kakhuis), kukís “cake” (Dutch koekjes), kalkún “turkey” (Dutch kalkoen), klor “colour” (Dutch kleur, cf. Portuguese côr), doi “money” (Dutch duit “a farthing”), &c.12

Malay words are constantly being adopted into the language, usually from the dialectal variety spoken in the state of Malacca. These are occasionally altered to conform with the semantic structure of a Creole: PK kalú, ka’ “if” (Malay kalau), alú “shoo away” (Malay halau), champurá “mix” (Malay champor), amóku “berserk” (Malay amok), &c.

As with Malay, the use of English-derived words in Papia Kristang is increasing. These too may become altered phonologically: PK Ropiánu “European” (Portuguese europeu), strétu “straight,” motoká “motor car,” stámu “stomach” (Portuguese estômago), spektá “expect,” rélwe “railway,” &c.

The Chinese contribution is rather smaller. The variety of Chinese from which the items have mostly been adopted is Cantonese, although various others, including Hakka, Hainanese and Hokkien are also spoken in Malacca. Examples include PK chocháng “a Chinese” (Chinese tau chang “pigtail”), tong “box” (Chinese t’ong), lau “prepared food” (Chinese lao “mixed”), &c.

Also fairly scant is the contribution from various Indian languages. From Konkani come saguáti “gift” and chádu “clever” (Konkani saaguvaat, chiaadh), from Hindi are mbísi “to insult” and chíti “note, ticket” (Hindi bishi, chitti–whence also English “chit” and “chitty”), and from Malayalam come patáyă “food container” (the Malaysian “tiffin-carrier”), and mainátu “laundryman” (Malayalam pattayam, mainattu).

Structurally Papia Kristang exhibits the typical Creole feature of extreme morphological simplification13. In the verbal system, tense and aspect are marked by the particle ja for the past, lógu (often abbreviated to lo’) for the future, and ta for the non-completive aspect. This last particle has no time reference, and may not combine with either lógu or ja, (unless ja has its other meaning of “already”), unlike its equivalent in the Atlantic Creoles. In addition most verbs have an adjectival form derived by the addition of -du to the basic verb form. The following few examples will illustrate the function of these particles:

Yo lo kebrá ísi páu   “I will break this stick”

Ísi páu kebrádu  “this stick is broken”

Éli ja bái na káză   “he went to the house”

Bos ta drumí ki-óră nu chegá  “you were sleeping when we arrived”

Ta kái chúă  “it is raining” (lit. “is-falling rain”)

Note that the verb used without particles expressed either present or past action:

Yo bái  “I go” or “I went”

Bos olá  “you see” or “you saw”

The verb “to be” in the sense of become is fiká:

Yo ke(ré) fiká méstri-di-skólă  “I want to be(come) a teacher”

Locating or being in a place “be” is teng, which is also the verb meaning “have” (compare Pasar Malay ada which has both meanings):

Tántu kachóru teng na rúă  “(there are) many dogs in the street”

Bos-să búku teng na méză  “your book is on the table”

Yo teng mútu búku  “I have many books”

There is no copula “be” joining nouns:

Éli ómi  “he is a man”

The passive may be formed either by employing the adjectival form of the verb with –du or by using the verb toká (from Portuguese tocar “touch”) “to incur, be affected by,” modelled on the Malay usage of kena which has the same meaning and function:

Yo lisádu  “I am hurt”

Yo toká pangkáda  “I was hit”

Toká, alone or with mistí, can also mean “have to” or “be obliged to”:

Yo toká sai, yo mistí toká sai  “I have to leave”

The verb achá “acquire” can be used in the sense of having the opportunity to do something:

Yo ja achá ng’ glas di águ fríu  “I got a glass of cold water”

Yo achá olá yo-să pai-abó  “I got (the chance) to see my grandfather”

Adjectives in Papia Kristang generally follow the noun, so that krénsă fórmi can mean both “the hungry child” and “the child is hungry.” It is disambiguated in combinations such as fórmi, akéli krénsă. They are also verbs, thus brángku means both “white” and “to be white.” Such verbal adjectives may combine with lógu and and ja, but not with ta:

Nu lo’ alégru ki-óră nu chegá nalá “we’ll be happy when we get there”

Yo ja trísti pádi ubí akéli  “I was unhappy to hear that”

Vestiges of gender agreement are found with a few adjectives, although this is by no means strictly adhered to:

Éli ómi bemfétu  “he is a handsome man”

Éli mulé bemfétă  “she is a beautiful woman”

Other verbal adjectives sometimes distinguished in this way are bélu/bélă “old,” prigăsózu/ prigăsóză “lazy,” bonítu/bonítă “attractive”and alégru/alégră “happy.”

Comparison of adjectives is made with mas . . . di:

Ísi álbi mas áltu di akéli  “this tree is taller than that (one)”

Negation is expressed by the particle ngkă ([‘ŋkə]) for the past and present tenses, and nádi for the future tense, in which case ló(gu) is not used:

Tong ngkă ja bomóng pezádu  “the box wasn’t very heavy”

Yo ngkă gostá ísi kándri  “I don’t like this meat”

Bos nádi beng nakí toná  “you won’t come here again”

Certain verbs have a special negative form, e.g. nté “not to have,” “not to be,” and also “without,” for ngkă teng, cf. Portuguese não tem, numistí “mustn’t” for ngkă mistí, cf. Portuguese não mister, nggére “not to want” for ngkă keré, cf. Portuguese não quere, nsabé “not to know” for ngkă sabé, cf. Portuguese não sabe. Nenáng means “not yet to be:”

Nenáng témpu pă bos sai  “it isn’t yet time for you to leave”

The negative imperative is nang:

Nang skisé!  “don’t forget!”

The indefinite article is ngwă, which is also the numeral one. This is sometimes shortened to a nasal homorganic with the following initial consonant:

Nguă ómi  “a man”

Ng’ kópi  “a cup”

N’ tuálă  “a towel”

M’ póku  “a little bit”

An indefinite plural, “some,” is translated by the word kal, which also means “which”:

Kal ómi  “some men”

Kal ómi?  “which man/men?”

There is no definite article, although the demonstratives ísi “this,” “these,” and akéli “that,” “those,” often serve as such. Plurality is indicated where necessary by reduplication, thus brigadáng-brigadáng teng na sidádi “(many) soldiers are in the town,”14 otherwise it is not indicated morphologically. Reduplication is also a feature of verbs, where it is used to indicate repetitive action, and adjectives, where it is used for emphasis:

Nu ánda-ánda na práyă  “we went walking on the beach”

Akéli káză áltu-áltu  “that house is very tall”

The pronouns are yo “I,” “me,” bos or bo “you,” éli or el “he,” “him,” “she,” “her,” “it,” nos or nu “we,” “us,” olotú, elótru or éli-túdu “they,” “them.”

Possession is indicated in three ways, first by employing the word să in post-nominal or post-pro nominal position, hyphenated in this description, yo-să káză “my house,” káză-să janélă “the house’s window” (compare Pasar Malay saya punya rumah “I/me” + possessive marker + “house,” Standard Malay rumah saya), second in the same way as Portuguese, with di “of,” chapéu di Juáng “John’s hat,” Chang di Pádri “the priest’s ground,” and third by following the noun by the possessor with no linking word modelling on Malay: káză yo “my house” (compare Malay rumah saya), mai-pai Liándru “Leander’s parents.” The demonstratives ísi and akéli may also follow the noun, although they more usually precede it: álbi ísi ~ ísi álbi “this tree.”

The relative pronoun is ki, but it is often omitted:

líbru (ki) yo ta les ozi-diă  “the book (that) I’m reading today”

The language today

In the mid-20th century sermons were being given in Malacca in Macao Creole Portuguese, by a visiting priest from that island. The older variety of Macao Creole is sufficiently similar to PK to be intelligible. In the 1960s the Creole community in Singapore was still attending regular mass said in their mother tongue at their own church of Saint Joseph’s on Victoria Street, although extensive urban development in the area has threatened the cohesiveness of the Mount Sophia neighbourhood located between Bras Baseh and Rochor Roads, shown on earlier maps as the Kampong Serani (“Christian Village”). According to Aldolfo Coelho (in “Os dialectos românicos ou neo-latinos na África, Ásia e América,” Boletim da Sociedade de Geografia 3: 718-723 (1886), there were 200 families living there in the late 1800s.

Writing in the mid-1970s, however, local resident Sonia Dyne reported that her Creole acquaintances were “the last generation to learn Papia Kristang as a mother-tongue” (in a monograph submitted as part of a diploma in Applied Linguistics from the Regional Language Centre in Singapore entitled “The link between language and community among speakers of Papia Kristang in Singapore.” While reporting that it is still being learnt by some children in Malacca, Alan Baxter states that it is “an endangered language because of a strong generational shift towards English,” and estimates that the total speaking population is about eight hundred (2013: 122, note 13, below). A more recent article puts the total number of speakers at five thousand, but agrees that it is an endangered language because of the “tremendous” shift to English (Marlyna Maros et al., “Portuguese settlement community’s awareness and response to Papia Kristang language shift,” Procedia, 118: 273-281, 2014). Both this, and Sonia Dyne’s report on Singapore, point to the low social prestige its speakers feel regarding their language, as a major factor in its decline.

There is an adage in sociolinguistics, that “language is the vehicle of culture;” Portuguese Eurasians have a rich folklore, and their history is a true mirror of Malaysia’s own;18 it would be an irretrievable loss if Kristang were to die out. Perhaps things are changing. Apart from a small number of hard to find articles in Portuguese academic journals, very little was available on PK before the present century, but opportunities to learn it–and interest in it–have greatly improved in recent times. Today, a great deal more is available, including three dictionaries, a grammar book, a detailed doctoral thesis, several academic articles and some Internet websites; there are still sufficient numbers of speakers to ensure that, if steps are taken, the language will last beyond the generation now acquiring it natively. These would initially necessitated the establishment of parochial schools–at least at the primary level–such as already exist for other language groups such as the Tamils and the Chinese, to promote literacy in Creole as well as to provide the regular Malaysian educational curriculum.

In Malacca, meals and language lessons are regularly offered at Simply Mel’s Restaurant; his posters ask you to “Learn to Speak Kristang!” and to Beng Naki Kumi (“come here to eat”); they are illustrated with a cheerful character exclaiming “yo ja prendeh tantu Kristang!” (“I learnt a lot of Kristang!”). A vocal champion of her language and culture is Joan Margaret Marbeck, who has compiled a CD of speech and song, and several books including Ungua Adanza (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 1995), Linggu Mai (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 2004) the Bahasa Serani Dictionary, Bersu Serani, A Kristang Phrasebook and Speak Serani (all published in 2012 by the Malaysian Ministry of Culture and Heritage). Her experiences growing up in the Chang di Pádri are recounted in her “Experiencia ungua Kristang na Malaka,” Papia 3(2): 88-97 (1994).

Texts

Some idea of the present state of the language may be gained from the following texts, given with their interlinear word-for-word translation and a free translations following.

  1. The beginning of a fairly long folktale, collected by the writer in Malacca. The title, which is in Malay, means “Hm! I know!”

Hem! Aku tahu!

Hm! I know!

Nguă díă, teng nguă krénsă. Ísi krénsă bomóng prigăsózu. Ngkă bai skólă.

One day, be one child. This child very lazy. Not go school.

Éli-să mai mandá ku éli “bai skólă,” el nggére.

He POSS mother send KU15 he go school he not-want

Éli kuré champurá ránchu, bai nalá-nalí, nádă sibrísu nté.

He run mix friend, go there-here nothing work not-have

Éli-să mai falá ku éli “kántu bos ngkă bai skólă,

He POSS mother talk KU he “if you not go school,

yo lo’ faze kukís m’ póku bendé.”

I FUT make cake a few sell

Éli-să mai ja fazé síngku góreng-písang mazánti,

He POSS mother PAST make five fried banana at first

falá ku éli “bai bendé.”

talk KU he go sell

Éli ja tomá ísi síngku góreng-písang, éli ja bai.

He PAST take this five fried banana he PAST go.

Éli ja sai di káză, ja bai bendé. Ja bai túdu bánda;

He PAST leave of house PAST go sell PAST go all place

nggéng nggére komprá.

No-one not-want buy

Éli lo’ bai útu bánda, ja ngkontá nguă bélu, básu di álbi.

He FUT go other place, PAST meet an old (man) under of tree

Ísi bélu falá ku éli, “Bos keng ta bendé, beng nakí la!”

This old-man talk KU he you who PROG sell, come here la16

El ngkă falá nádă. Bélu falá toná, “beng, yo olá.”

He not say nothing. Old-man talk again come, I see

Éli olá ta bendé síngku góreng-písang.

He see PROG sell five fried banana

Ísi bélu falá ku éli “bos keré fiká ríku kă?”

This old man talk KU he you want stay rich ?17

Éli falá “Ki sórti fiká ríku?”

He speak what manner stay rich

Ísi bélu falá “bos ubí, yo ki ta falá ku bo, bos keré fiká ríku.”

This old-man speak you hear I REL PROG talk KU you you want stay rich

Ísi krénsă falá “keré.” Bong. Éli ja kumí nguă góreng-písang.

This child talk want good he PAST eat a fried banana

Kabá kumí, ísi bélu falá ku éli “bos, úndi ta bai, bo nang skisé:

Finish eat this old-man talk KU he you where(ever) PROG go you not forget

falá hem! Aku tahu’”. Ísi krénsă falá “bong.”

speak hem aku tahu this child speak good

Ja kabá kumí nguă, ja bai. Ja bai, éli ta bai na kamínyu: Hem! Aku Tahu.

PAST finish eat one PAST go PAST go he PROG go in street hem aku tahu

Kabá el olá nté jénti komprá, ja bai káză. Éli-să mai falá ku éli

Finish he see not-be person buy PAST go house he POSS mother talk KU he

“Ai famílă, ki nóbes?” éli falá ku éli-să mai, “Hem! Aku tahu.”

Ah young-man what news he speak KU he POSS mother hem aku tahu

Éli -să mai ta olá, pidí “Ki palabra akéli, ‘hem aku tahu’?”

He POSS mother PROG look ask what word this hem aku tahu

Mai éli chomá ku éli “da yo olá kuántu góreng-písang fiká!”

Mother he shout KU he give I see how-much fried banana stay

Falá ku éli “t’ nguă sejá.”

Speak KU he be one only

Free translation:

One day there was a child; this child was very lazy, and wouldn’t go to school. His mother would send him to school, but he’d refuse. Instead he would go and play with his friends, and go here and there, but wouldn’t do any work. His mother told him “If you won’t go to school, then I will make some cakes for you to sell.” So at first she made five banana fritters, and told him to go and sell them. He took these five fritters, and went; he left the house to go and sell them. He went everywhere (but) nobody wanted to buy. He went on, and met an old man under a tree. The old man said to him “You there, with things to sell; come here.” The boy said nothing. Again the old man spoke: “Let me see.” He saw that he was selling five banana fritters. The old man asked him “Do you want to become rich?” The boy asked “How do you mean, become rich?” The old man said “Listen, you I’m stalking to. Do you want to become rich?” The boy said that he wanted to. All right. He ate one of his fritters, and when he’d finished, the old man said to him “Wherever you go, don’t forget to say ‘hem, aku tahu’.” The boy said “All right.” He ate another banana fritter, and went. He went to the street, and kept saying ‘hem, aku tahu’. When he saw that nobody was buying, he went home. His mother said “Hey there–what’s new?”, but he merely replied ‘hem, aku tahu’. His mother stared at him, and asked “What sort of words are these, ‘hem aku tahu’?” She shouted at him “Let me see how many fritters are left!” And he replied that they remained only one.

  1. A letter to the writer from Nicolas Nunis, aged twenty-one.

Yo-să káru kambrádu. Yo pidí pedráng káuzi yo ngkă skribé ku bos akéli díă yo

I POSS dear friend I ask pardon because I not write KU you that day I

ja achá bos-să kátră. Bos keré sabé ki-fói yo ngkă skribé? Yo ja toká

PAST get you POSS letter you want know why I not write I PAST incur

duénsă malaria. Ku dos mínggu yo toká fiká na káză, drumí sejá, ngkă fazé

illness malaria KU two week I incur remain in house sleep only not do

sibrísu. Agóră yo ja teng tántu bong, ku yo podí skribé ku bos. Mútu mersé pádi

work Now I PAST be much good KU I able write KU you many thanks for

bos-să kátră. Bo sabé ki yo gostá les éli, káuzi agóră yo gostá skribé nos-să

you POSS letter you know that I like read it because now I like write we POSS

Papiá Kristáng. Nakí di Ipoh, jénti Kristáng mpóku, tapí na Mălákă teng tántu

Papia Kristang here of Ipoh person Kristang few but in Malacca be many

jénti-jénti Kristáng, ku éli túdu chádu papiá ísi línggu. Jénti

person person Kristang KU he all clever speak this language person

Makáu papiá nos-să Papiá Kristáng sámă ku yo-să. Na Măláká agóră teng

Macao speak we POSS Papia Kristang same KU I POSS in Malacca now be

nguă pádri keng ja beng dalí Makáu. Éli, ki-óră éli rezá na gréză,

one priest who PAST come from Macao he when he pray in church

papiá Kristáng ku the congregation; tapí nalá na Mălákă nté

speak Kristang KU the congregation but there in Malacca not-be

tántu jénti Makáu.

many person Macao

Free translation:

My dear friend. I ask pardon for not having written to you on the day I got your letter. If you want to know why I didn’t write, I have had malaria for the past two weeks, and had to stay at home, doing nothing but sleep, and not going to work. Now I am very well and am able to write to you. Many thanks for your letter. You know that I enjoyed reading it, because now I like to write in our Papia Kristang. Here in Ipoh, Creoles are few, but in Malacca there are many Creole people, and they are all clever [enough] to speak this language. Macao people speak our Papia Kristang the same as I do. There is now in Malacca a priest who came from Macao; when he prays in the church, he speaks Kristang to the congregation; but there aren’t many Macao people in Malacca.

  1. Some verses from a popular song:

Pasá la nónă-să pórtă  Passing the young lady’s door

Nónă na janéla ríbă  Lady at the upstairs window

Di ki nónă pula na chang  From which lady jumps to the ground

Pulá bábă-să brásu  Jumps into boyfriend’s arms

Ka bábă la teng kunténdi  If boyfriend is contented

Ai! Nónă la mas kunténdi  Ah! Lady is yet more contented

Kalú la lo’ bai lónzi  If she goes far away

Nádi kazá útu jénti  She will not marry another

Na séu la ki plantá strélă  In the sky, which plants (grows) stars

Na jading ki plantá flor  In the garden, which grows flowers

Sidádi la ki plantá géră  The town, which grows war

Kórsang planta amór  The heart grows love

Pasá la nónă-să pórtă  Passing the young lady’s door

Nónă mpé na janélă  Lady standing at the window

Bábă la tirá chapéu  Boyfriend takes off (his) hat

Nónă la pinchá anélă  Lady throws (down) a ring

  1. Some proverbs:

Águ kaládu teng tántu lagrátu  “Still waters hold many alligators”

Kuspí na séu, kai na róstu  “Spit in the air, it will fall on your face”

Kal chang ngkă chupá águ?  “What ground doesn’t absorb water?”

Ólu gráni, trípă kănínu  “Big eyes, small belly”

Pedré na flói, ganyá na tamból  “Lose on the flute, gain on the drum”

Kal tígrí lo’ kumí éli-să jerisáng?  “What tiger would eat its own family?”

Acknowledgements

The material in the present outline is based largely on the speech of Mr. Nicholas C. Nunis, then aged 21, of Malacca, and was collected by the writer in Malaysia during the summer of 1968, and in subsequent correspondence with him. Others deserving credit for help with the language at that time are Mr. and Mrs. E. Lazaroo and Mr. E. Spykerman, all in middle age and all resident in Ipoh, Mrs. Rosil da Costa, aged 66 (who provided the song and proverbs) and Mr. Eric da Silva, aged 45 (who provided the story), both of Hilir, Malacca. Joan Marbeck.

Text by: Ian Hancock