Ou Mun, Macao, Ao Men and Macau *
“Edificio Pik Tou Garden” is a (very pleasant, says who knows) apartment building in Macau.
MB February 2021 Special Report | One city, four ‘languages’
But beyond that, the name of the building is a remarkable metaphor for the local language environment: Edificio is the Portuguese word for building, Pik Tou means jade wave in Cantonese, Garden,… you know.
“Three different ‘languages’ in four words is quite striking and one of the things which makes Macau unique,” states a leading expert on local language ecology, John Wheeler.
Local Cantonese-speaking people describe that as the saam man sei jyu (三文四語), referring to written Chinese, Portuguese and English and spoken Cantonese, Putonghua, Portuguese and English.
The government itself has adopted a policy of promoting “three written languages, four spoken languages” (três línguas, quarto idiomas, in Portuguese).
Over the next 20 pages, we will explore the role of each of one of the four, and take note of the views of locals who master all four languages (quadrilinguals), an ability that will be increasingly common in the next 20 years in Macau, and one that brings a key competitive advantage, as Macau’s is to be further integrated in the Greater Bay Area, by playing the role of a hub for linkages between China and the Lusophone world.
As put by John Wheeler, “It seems likely that the four main languages present in Macau will continue to blend for the immediate future, assisting in giving Macau (SAR) its unique linguistic flavour.”
* The order of the four words has to do with the interest that each of the four languages arouses in the population of Macau, according to some studies. But for us and for many others, Macau is the (romanization for the) name of this land.
Co-ordinated by João Paulo Meneses
Cantonese in peril?
The May 2012 controversy
澳门 or 澳門?
EOZGY, the Pǔtōnghuà’ school
The status of Portuguese as an official language
Portuguese has witnessed a renewed interest in recent years thanks to China’s focus on highlighting Macau as a Sino-Lusophone hub. However the meaning and practice of being an official language end up being rather nuanced.
Judiciary: what remains of bilingualism
A doctoral thesis carried out in Macau in 2016, among the Portuguese community based here, showed what has always been known: “there is no interest from the Portuguese community in learning [Chinese] in a general way,” says Vanessa Amaro, the author.