top of page

Portuguese “the sweet language” and Patios

By Anthony Correa

Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world, the 3rd most spoken European language, and after Spanish the 2nd most spoken language in Latin America. Over 260m people worldwide can speak Portuguese.

It is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Guiné-Bissau and São Tomé e Príncipe. Portuguese has co-official status (alongside the indigenous language) in Macau, and in East Timor. Portuguese speakers are also found in Goa in India.

Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes once called Portuguese “the sweet language” and Spanish playwright Lope de Vega referred to it as “sweet”, while the Brazilian writer Olavo Bilac poetically described it as a última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela (the last flower of Latium, uncultured and beautiful). Portuguese is also termed “the language of Camões”, after one of Portugal’s greatest literary figures, Luís Vaz de Camões.

The Portuguese language spoken by the local populations evolved and changed with the voyages of discovery. In Macau, a dialect or patios known as Macanese developed over several hundred years. The language is also called by its speakers Papia Cristam di Macau (“Christian speech of Macau”), and has been nicknamed Dóci Língu di Macau (“Sweet Language of Macau”) and Doci Papiaçam (“sweet speech”) by poets. In Portuguese it is called Macaense, Macaista Chapado (“pure Macanese”), or Patuá (from French patois).

It combines elements of Portuguese, Cantonese, Malay, and Sinhalese and has been classified as a critically endangered language by UNESCO. It is now only spoken by a few Macanese families in Macau and Hong Kong as well as some of the Macanese diaspora.


bottom of page