Macau or Macao? – A case study in the fluidity of how languages interact in Macau SAR

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Macau is a small Special Autonomous Region (SAR) of China, located on the Pearl River Delta, adjacent to Hong Kong. Unlike Hong Kong, its colonial heritage is Portuguese, rather than British. Macau’s official languages are Portuguese and Standard Chinese and the most widely spoken local language is Cantonese. With the influx of gaming finance into the city, English has also come to a role of increasing prominence. There are also substantial number of Filipinos working in the city who speak Tagalog as a first language in many cases. As a small state with a highly fluid linguistic situation, Macau can provide insights into how languages rise and fall in use and status. Macau can also be a useful tool for re-evaluating such concepts as linguistic imperialism and the concentric circles model of World Englishes. As well as evaluating the existing literature, this paper presents the results of a questionnaire survey into language attitudes amongst students at Macau Polytechnic Institute. The results reveal that students attach a higher status to English than Portuguese, despite the latter being the former colonial and current official language. Evidence, however, indicates that Portuguese is likely to continue to be important as a distinguishing feature of Macau SAR.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-91
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of English as an International Language
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Chinese
  • Macau
  • Portuguese
  • World Englishes


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