Call to Protect Portuguese in Macau

Macau was a Portuguese territory until 1999 and is Portugal’s only ex-colony which is not a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa or CPLP), although Portuguese is one of its official languages. It is now an autonomous region of China, similar in status to its neighbor across the Pearl River, Hong Kong. With giant casinos and malls, its 700,000 people live on fewer than 13 square miles of land, making it one of the most densely populated and wealthy regions in the world.

The legislature is concerned that three proposed laws would place “the English language in a position of clear supremacy over Portuguese” and that “the singularity of Macau and its role as a bridge between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries is at stake.”

In a letter to the legislative leader, Pereira Coutinho argued that the laws’ language options were “also liable to violate… the Basic Law of the Macau SAR, which establishes Portuguese as the official language,” and therefore “compromise Macau’s connection to the Portuguese-speaking world.”

His concerns include “the possible loss of the characteristics” of the territory “as a ‘beacon’ of Portuguese speaking in the East” and “the future of thousands of young people who have dedicated themselves to learning the Portuguese language in Macau.”

Data released in November 2019 showed that the teaching of Portuguese has grown overall in Macau over the past 20 years under Chinese administration, despite an initial decline. In 2018/19 there was an increase in numbers studying Portuguese of about 20%.

Still, in primary and secondary education, the total number of schools with Portuguese offerings almost doubled, while the number of teachers rose 119% in the same levels of education.

In higher education, there was a 374% increase in the number of students in Portuguese-medium courses between the academic years 1999/2000 and 2019/2020.

After more than 400 years under Portuguese rule, Macau became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1999, with a high degree of autonomy for an agreed period of 50 years.

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