How much Portuguese is spoken in Macau?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Here's another place that's kind of like Macau in one respect.


There's an article here from today on a journalist's one-day trip to Macau to contrast it with Hong Kong:
Macau was the first and last of the European colonies in China. Portuguese sailors arrived here in the 16th Century and it became an important trading post before being outgrown by Hong Kong and falling into slow decline. Portugal administered Macau until 1999 when it was handed back to China, two years after the UK handed back Hong Kong.

Almost 10 years on, the Portuguese influence is what attracts many to Macau.
One of the reasons he made the trip was to find out just how much Portuguese is still spoken there, but there's pretty much no information on that in the article:
In Macau, all the street signs and shopfronts are written in both Chinese characters and Portuguese, a unique combination, which got me wondering if anyone actually still spoke Portuguese in Macau and I headed into Portuguese language bookshop to find out.

The lady working there said it was still possible to learn Portuguese in Macau, but that most schoolchildren learned English as their first foreign language.

As in Hong Kong, Cantonese is the main language locals use. It's extremely complicated, with more tones than the four that exist in Mandarin, and uses the traditional Chinese characters where modern Mandarin uses simplified forms. Yet astonishingly some foreigners have mastered it – the small American boys in front of me in the queue for an iced tea order their drinks in fluent Cantonese.
Hm, that's pretty vague. Luckily the Portuguese Wikipedia has some more information:

As línguas oficiais são o português e o cantonês. O último é dominado, em 2006, por cerca de 91,9% da população e falado correntemente por cerca de 85,7% da população, tornando-o a língua, ou mais precisamente o dialecto chinês, mais falado de Macau. O português é só dominado por cerca de 2,4% da população e falado correntemente por cerca de 0,6% da população.
So Cantonese is known by 91.9% and commonly spoken by 85.7% of the population, whereas Portuguese is known by 2.4% and commonly spoken by about 0.6%. The population is 538 thousand, which means there should be about 12,000 or so people that speak Portuguese in total.

It's in a country like China's best interests to keep the language strong in Macau though, because an area like that where it's easy to find fluent speakers of a major language is always a plus to a country, in addition to the fact that it makes it easy for Chinese citizens studying the language to make trips there to practice it instead of all the way across the ocean.

You can see the same thing in an area like Saint Pierre et Miquelon, two islands just off the coast of Newfoundland (a mere 25 km away) with a total population of just over 6000 that are owned by France and are often used by Newfoundlanders to practice French instead of going all the way to Quebec. There are flights from St. John's for example, as well as a bus and then ferry service that goes directly from the city, I believe. 90 km or so to the ferry, 25 km trip over the sea, and if you're from there I assume within 2 to 3 hours or so you can find yourself in a tiny part of France. Here's some more info on the place from Wikitravel.

2 comments:

Antonielly said...

It's in a country like China's best interests to keep the [Portuguese] language strong in Macau though, because an area like that where it's easy to find fluent speakers of a major language is always a plus to a country, in addition to the fact that it makes it easy for Chinese citizens studying the language to make trips there to practice it instead of all the way across the ocean.

Great point in favor of fostering multilingualism in countries!

Anonymous said...

Pesquisei nas ruas em Macau e meu achado foi que em cada 100 pessoas, 64 falavam português, o que significa, na pesquisa, que 64% da população de Macau fala português.

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