Until two years ago, university student Kevin Martens Wong had never even heard of his ancestral tongue, let alone spoken it.
The Singaporean linguist was researching endangered languages when he stumbled upon Kristang in a book. As he dug deeper, he realised it was the language of his maternal grandparents. […]
A unique creole of Portuguese and Malay, with elements of Chinese languages such as Mandarin and Hokkien, it was spoken by at least 2,000 people across the Malayan archipelago at its peak in the 19th Century, according to Mr Wong.
But today there may be as few as 50 fluent speakers left, along with more in Malaysia where the language is also in decline.
The main reason for its decline is that its own community has come to see it as economically irrelevant. […]
But Mr Wong and a group of language enthusiasts hope to change things.
Their group, called Kodrah Kristang – “Awaken Kristang” – holds weekly free language classes. They aim to build a critical mass of fluent Kristang speakers who can pass it on to future generations. […]
But reviving a dying language is not easy. One main challenge is that Kristang is mostly a spoken language and has rarely been recorded.
There is no standardised spelling or pronunciation system […]
Kristang does not have words for basic concepts such as apple, nurse, station or camera. “But we do have several words for genitalia,” deadpans Mr Wong.
To solve this problem, his group invented new words with mash-ups of Kristang’s root languages. […]
Some of these linguistic inventions can take on a poetic bent – a camera is “pintalumezi” or “light-painting machine”, while grammar is “osulingu”, or “bones of language”.
The group has also organised visits to the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca, started work on a dictionary and textbook, created free online audio courses, and even done YouTube covers of pop songs in Kristang. […]
“One day we would like to see Kristang be recognised by the wider community,” says Mr Wong.
“There are no economic reasons for it to come back. But it’s part of our shared historical fabric and heritage.”
Good for them! And to head off the usual complaints about pointlessness, nobody is forcing these people to pointlessly try to revive their economically pointless language, but I don’t see that their efforts in that direction are any worse than, say, taking up needlepoint or canasta. Thanks for the link, Paul and Trevor!