Macanese Negation in Comparative Perspective: Typology and Ecology

In: Journal of Language Contact
Giorgio Francesco Arcodia Associate Professor of Chinese, Department of Asian and North African Studies, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Venice, Italy,

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Macanese, the near-extinct Portuguese creole of Macao, is an Asian Portuguese Creole language closely related to Malaccan Papia Kristang. In this paper, I argue that a distinctive feature of Macanese vis-à-vis other Asian Portuguese Creoles is its system of negation; specifically, its usage of the negators nunca and nádi. Negators deriving from Portuguese nunca ‘never’ and não há-de ‘shall not’ are attested in several Asian Portuguese Creoles: while their usage varies considerably, the former usually acts as the negator for realis predicates, whereas the latter typically negates irrealis predicates. In this paper I argue that, differently from other Asian Portuguese Creoles, Macanese nunca is also the only available negator for adjectival and nominal predicates, independently from tam features. Through a comparison with other Asian Portuguese creoles, and with the adstrates and substrates of Macanese, I also discuss the possible origin of these features.

1 Introduction*

The Macanese language, also known as Maquista/Makista, but often referred to by its local name (autonym) patuá (Chin. 澳門土語 Àomén tǔyǔ or 澳葡土生土語 Ào-Pú tǔshēng tǔyǔ), is the near-extinct Portuguese-based creole of Macao. It is a language associated with the Macanese (Port. macaense, Mac. maquista) people, i.e., the people of mixed Portuguese and (mainly) Asian descent whose roots are in Macao (Pinharanda Nunes, 2012a).

Macanese was spoken in the Macanese community roughly until the first half of the xx century. With the gradual diffusion of education in Standard European Portuguese (from the beginning of the xx century) and outward emigration, Macanese underwent decreolization and, eventually, disappeared from everyday use (Pinharanda Nunes, 2014): although exact figures are lacking (to the best of our knowledge), it is safe to assume that there are less than a handful of native speakers left in Macao,1 although there is a somewhat larger number (perhaps near 50–100) of (semi-)speakers with varying degrees of fluency, possibly also among members of the Macanese communities in North America, Portugal, Brazil and Australia (Pinharanda Nunes, 2012a-b; p.c. 2016). While there are at present activities aimed at preserving Macanese, notably involving the Dóci Papiaçám di Macau (‘sweet language of Macau’) theatre group,2 and even language courses offered by the Universidade de São José in Macao,3 its use in everyday life is extremely limited.

Macanese shares many key features with other Asian Portuguese Creoles: for instance, the postnominal genitive marker -sa, and the typical preverbal tam markers pfv’ (< Port. ‘already’), prog’ (< estar ‘be, stay’) and lôgo / fut/irr’ (< logo ‘soon’; Pinharanda Nunes and Baxter, 2004; Ansaldo and Cardoso, 2009). Among apc s, Macanese most closely resembles Malaccan Papia Kristang (see Baxter, 1996; Ansaldo, 2009; Cardoso, 2012; Pinharanda Nunes, 2012a-b): actually, Macanese has sometimes been seen as the continuation of Kristang in Macao (Tomás, 2009; Pinharanda Nunes, 2014; see below, Section 3.1). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Macanese is also the apc which was arguably most influenced by Sinitic languages (specifically, Hokkien and Cantonese; see Pinharanda Nunes, 2008; Arcodia, 2017; Lebel, 2018), although the role of Sinitic has often been downplayed in the literature (see Tomás, 1988; Cardoso, 2012).

In this paper, I argue that a distinctive feature of Macanese vis-à-vis other Asian Portuguese Creoles, especially Kristang, is its system of negation; specifically, its usage of the negator nunca for adjectival and nominal predication (‘ascriptive negation’; see below, Section 2). A negator deriving from Portuguese nunca ‘never’ is attested in several Asian Portuguese Creoles, as well as (arguably) in some African Portuguese Creoles, and even in some dialects of European Portuguese4 (Teyssier, 1986). While its usage varies considerably, one of the features of nunca is that it negates states of affairs in the past, as e.g., Malabar Creole Portuguese nuka (Krajinović, 2018: 69), or in the past and present, as Kristang ńgka/nungka (Baxter, 1988: 138; see below, Section 5.1); Macanese nunca too is either seen as a negator for the past (Ferreira, 1978), or for both, past and present (Pinharanda Nunes, 2011; Lebel, 2018). These negators are generally opposed to forms deriving from Portuguese não há-de ‘shall not’ (Ansaldo and Cardoso, 2009: 4), as e.g., Macanese and Kristang nádi, negators for irrealis predicates (Ferreira, 1978: 30; Baxter, 1988: 141). Compare the following Macanese examples.


In what follows, I will argue that the different reality status of negators does not apply to adjectival and nominal predication in Macanese: nunca is virtually the only marker for this subtype of negation, independently from tam features. See e.g., example (3), in which the state of affairs negated (namely, being a beach) is located in the future, in an irrealis context.5


Through a comparison with other apc s, and with the adstrates and substrates of Macanese, I will also discuss the possible origin of this pattern of usage for nunca.

The paper is organized as follows. Firstly, I will provide a brief sketch of a typology of negation, based on Veselinova’s (2013; 2015a-c) and Miestamo’s (2005) work, thus setting the stage for my analysis (Section 2). Secondly, I will elaborate on the history and ecology of Macanese, and I will introduce the corpus on which the present research is based (Section 3). I will then present in detail the evolution of the Macanese negation system, focussing on the functions of nunca and nádi at different stages of the creole (Section 4). Lastly, I will propose a comparative overview of the systems of negation of a sample of apc s and of the substrates/adstrates of Macanese, discussing the possible pathway(s) of development for Macanese nunca (Section 5).

2 Theoretical Background: a Typological Overview of Negation

As pointed out by Dahl (2010) and Veselinova (2013; 2015a-c), typological studies of negation have tended to focus on ‘standard negation’ (see i.e., Miestamo, 2005), defined as ‘the negation strategy used in main declarative sentences where the predicate is a full lexical verb’ (Veselinova, 2013: 107–108).


Needless to say, there are several more types of negators in the world’s languages, often employing a different strategy from standard negation. The most obvious and clear cases are those in which there is ‘a complete formal and constructional difference’ between the expression used for standard negation and another type of negation (Veselinova, 2013: 112). However, the differences may be more subtle, and include morphological differences, i.e., formal identity, but different boundedness status (free morpheme in one case, bound morpheme in another), and constructional differences, i.e., formal identity, but different syntactic constructions (Veselinova, 2013: 113–114); there are also cases of ‘alternating’ strategies for specific types of negation, i.e., both a construction identical to standard negation and another construction, depending on various factors (Veselinova, 2013; 2015a).

In Veselinova’s (2015a, 2015c) typology, the following types are included, besides standard negation (my examples).


The term ‘stative negator’ can refer to a negator which is used for all the four types of predication seen just above (i.e., ascriptive, existential, locative and possessive predication); also, all negators which differ from standard negation may be termed ‘special negators’ (Veselinova, 2013; 2015c; see below).7

Preliminary typological research (on a 96-language sample) by Veselinova (2015a) suggests that special constructions (i.e., distinct from the construction used for standard negation) marking existential negation (b.) seem to be cross-linguistically widespread (but conspicuously rare in the languages of Western Europe and parts of Southeast Asia; Veselinova, 2013: 117); special ascriptive negators (a.) are also quite common, as they are found in nearly a third of the languages of her sample (see below). On the other hand, special negators for predicative possession (d.) seem to be very rare – and, indeed, often special negative existentials also negate predicative possession (as e.g., Turkish yok; Göksel and Kerslake 2005; Veselinova, 2013; 2015a). Locative negation (c.) too is often conveyed by the same construction as existential negation, although this association is not as frequent as the identity of existential and possession (Veselinova, 2013; 2015a).

Going back to ascriptive negation, the focus of the present study, its distinctiveness was recognized already in Horn (1989: 451), who highlights that the negator for “negative identity statements” and for “constituent (especially nominal) negation” is often distinct from that used in standard (and existential) negation. Special constructions for this subtype of negation are found in 30 out of the 96 languages in Veselinova’s (2015a) sample, as hinted at above. Ascriptive negation is not so strongly associated with another type of negation, as is instead the case for existential and possessive negation: special ascriptive negators are used as a ‘general negative copula’ in only 7 languages in Veselinova’s sample (2013: 119). Also, ascriptive negation seems to overlap to some degree (in 5 out of the 30 languages with special ascriptive negators) with standard negation for the future.

Another important parameter in the analysis of systems of negation is that of symmetry, which is central in Miestamo’s (2005) often-quoted work on the typology of (standard) negation. According to Miestamo’s analysis, symmetry may be understood on two levels: constructions and paradigms. Thus, a symmetric negative construction is one in which a negative marker is added, with no further structural changes, whereas in an asymmetric construction, besides the addition of the marker(s) of negation, there are further structural changes (Miestamo, 2005: 52). Compare Italian (9; own knowledge) and Diola Fogny (Niger-Congo; Sapir, 1965: 33, qtd. in Miestamo, 2005: 53).


While in examples (9a-b) the only difference between the affirmative and the negative sentence is the addition of the negator non (symmetric), in examples (10a-b) ‘marking of the future is affected by negation, since the negative future marker replaces the positive future marker’ (asymmetric; Miestamo, 2005: 53).

As to the paradigmatic level, symmetric paradigms, generally speaking, are characterized by ‘a one-to-one correspondence between the members of affirmative and negative paradigms’ (Miestamo, 2005: 52); asymmetric paradigms, on the other hand, lack this one-to-one correspondence. Italian may be used, again, as an example of symmetric negation, as every verb form can be negated (Miestamo, 2005: 63–64; due to space constraints, we list only a few randomly selected verb forms).


Each affirmative verb form has a negative counterpart in Italian, and hence no distinctions get lost. Other cases may be less clear (see the discussion in Miestamo, 2005: 67–72), but on the whole, the definition of paradigmatic symmetry is quite straightforward.

Paradigmatic asymmetry, on the other hand, occurs when the distinctions made in the affirmative and in the negative are not the same. Often, distinctions get lost in the negative, leading to ‘neutralization’ (Miestamo, 2005: 54), as in the following Komi-Zyrian example (Uralic; Rédei, 1978: 105–108, qtd. in Miestamo, 2005: 11). In example (12), we can see that the tense distinction between the present (12a) and the future (12b) is lost in the negative: (12c) negates both.


However, neutralization is not the only manifestation of paradigmatic asymmetry: affirmative and negative paradigms, for instance, may be based on a distinct set of tam values (‘different-system asymmetry’; Miestamo, 2005: 54). In fact, asymmetry is a more complex notion than symmetry, in Miestamo’s typology. An extensive discussion of the possible asymmetries between affirmative and negative constructions and paradigms is obviously beyond the scope of the present work (and the reader is referred to Miestamo, 2005: 72–162): what we want to stress here is that there are indeed many ways in which asymmetry may surface. A simple case of constructional asymmetry in the tam domain is the dropping of a tam marker of the affirmative in the corresponding negative construction, with no replacing counterpart, or the other way around (i.e., ‘a marker not used in the affirmative is added in the negative’; Miestamo, 2005: 118). At the paradigmatic level, tam categories which are available for the affirmative may not be available for the negative; also, the affirmative and negative paradigms can be based on different categories, as e.g., in Swahili, in which ‘[t]he affirmative and negative tam-markers categorize the temporal and aspectual properties of an event in different ways’ (Miestamo, 2005: 126), and it is not possible to set up a one-to-one correspondence between tam categories in the affirmative and in the negative.

In short, there are many ways in which asymmetry is manifested in systems of negation. While for the sake of conciseness I chose not to present them exhaustively here, I will refer to Miestamo’s typology in what follows, whenever appropriate.

3 The Macanese Language: History, Context, Sources

3.1 A Historical Overview of the Ecology of Macanese

What is now known as the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is famous as the last European settlement in Asia, having been returned to Chinese sovereignty only in 1999. Portuguese traders were active in Macao probably already in 1553, although it appears that they became a permanent presence only a few years later, between 1556 and 1557 (Pinharanda Nunes, 2014). By the time of the settlement of Macao, Goa and Malacca had already been occupied for almost fifty years, and the Portuguese had already started developing a trade network in Southern China (Ansaldo, 2009). Tomás (2009: 50) pointed out that the Portuguese presence in Asia ‘was based on a network system rather than on the control of a territory for the production of goods’, which led to ‘cross-pollination’ of cultural and linguistic elements among the settlements (see also Ansaldo, 2009: 75). The convergence of features among apc s is easily explained in this context.

It is important to stress the point that the ‘Portuguese’ traders and settlers in Asia had in fact different backgrounds, and, besides European nobles and merchants, the Portuguese population of Macao included casados, i.e., European Portuguese men married to Asian women from other Portuguese enclaves, often speakers of varieties of Malay (Tomás, 2009; Pinharanda Nunes, 2012b), and mestiços, i.e., the mixed-blood offspring of those European-Asian unions (Pinharanda Nunes, 2014: 39). Indeed, the ‘Portuguese’ population of Macao mostly came from the Asian settlements, often Goa and Malacca, rather than from Europe. This trend became especially strong after the fall of Malacca to the Dutch (1641), which brought large numbers of residents to Macao (Tomás, 2009), and continued well into the 19th century (Pinharanda Nunes, 2012b). Moreover, African slaves were present in significant numbers since the early days of Portuguese Macao, and until the end of the slave trade in the 19th century; we can reasonably assume that they may have had a role in the formation of the Macanese creole (Pinharanda Nunes, 2014: 29). Pinharanda Nunes (2014: 30) describes the linguistic landscape of the Portuguese community in the early days of Macao as such:

[…] the historic and demographic data referenced allow us to envisage a dominant ruling Portuguese society in Macao at that time, composed of a fluctuating minority speaking sixteenth-century European Portuguese. On the other hand, a vast majority was made up of L1 and L2 speakers of Kristang from Malacca, as well as other Asian Portuguese-based Creoles, non-creole Asian varieties of Portuguese, pidginized varieties of creoles spoken by South and Southeast Asians from regions not occupied by the Portuguese, and varieties spoken by the African slaves who could have been native speakers of African Portuguese-based Creoles as well.

According to Pinharanda Nunes’s analysis, the ‘vast majority’ of speakers of non-standard varieties of Portuguese, creoles, and other languages did not have close contacts with the minority speaking European Portuguese, and hence received little input in the metropolitan Portuguese of the time. In this scenario, it is likely that Kristang had a major role in the formation of Macanese, and perhaps, as hinted at earlier (Section 1), the latter might even be seen as the continuation of the former (Pinharanda Nunes, 2014: 30).

What about the languages spoken by the ethnic Chinese population? The Sinitic languages native to the area surrounding Macao belong to the Yue/Cantonese group (especially, the Zhongshan dialect). However, Hokkien-speaking fishermen and traders were active in Macao too (Baxter, 2009). Actually, in the context of the so-called “China trade”, i.e., the trade between China and (some) Western countries between the 16th and the early 20th century, a form of pidginized Portuguese developed as a lingua franca: the main ports involved in the early days of the China trade were Macao and Canton, and the first speakers of this pidgin probably were Chinese traders who developed this variety in contact with speakers of ‘Portuguese’ (used here as an umbrella term for all the non-standard and creolized/pidginized varieties mentioned above) and/or Macanese (Baxter, 2009; Li and Matthews, 2016). We will return to this point below.

However, there is some debate as to the role of Sinitic languages in the formation of the Macanese creole. Differently from Malacca, at least until the mid-19th century the contacts between the Portuguese and the Chinese population were regulated: only few Chinese traders could enter the inner city, which was protected by walls, and they had to leave at nightfall. While a significant number of ethnic Chinese had converted to Christianity by the mid-17th century, their integration into the community was slow, (again) before the 19th century (Pinharanda Nunes, 2012b). Also, while, as said above, mixed Portuguese-Asian families were common in Macao, apparently this did not include Chinese wives at the beginning, and the Chinese presence in Macanese households was mostly limited to the muitsai (maidservants; Pinharanda Nunes, 2012b: 316).

In this scenario, Sinitic varieties should have had a very limited role in the formational period of Macanese. There is however some consensus on the point that Cantonese, the dominant Yue dialect in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and in present-day Macao, had a role in the later development of the Macanese creole, after the relaxation of the rules on the separation between the Portuguese and the Chinese population, and with the diffusion of intermarriage with ethnic Chinese. This is visible, for instance, in the use of the copula (< Port. são), under the likely influence of the Cantonese copular verb 係 haih (Baxter, 2009: 286–287), inter alia.

Also, there are reasons to hypothesize that the segregation between foreigners and ethnic Chinese in early Macao was not as rigid as is usually assumed, and some (Hokkien-speaking) Chinese traders were allowed to live in the settlement from very early on (Ansaldo and Matthews, 2004: 2). Moreover, while marriages between the Portuguese and the Chinese were not common, a distinguishing feature of Macao was the presence of many ethnic Chinese concubines (and illegitimate offspring) in Macanese households (Ansaldo, 2009: 77).8 As Ansaldo and Matthews (2004: 4) point out, “[a]s mothers and nannies, these Chinese women must have played a significant role in the development of Macanese from an early stage”. Thus, it is probably advisable to keep an open mind as to possible Sinitic influence throughout the entire history of Macanese (see Arcodia, 2017).

In sum, there is little doubt that Yue dialects, particularly Cantonese, have provided an ongoing influence on the later development of Macanese. As to the early phase of development of the Creole, the Malayo-Portuguese blueprint and restructured Malay varieties were obviously dominant; however, there is reason to believe that Hokkien may also have played a role.

In this connection, it is worth citing the observations made at the end of the 19th century by Pereira (1899–1901: 55, my translation; see also Cabreros, 2003), according to whom there were three distinct varieties (sociolects?) of Macanese.

  • a. macaista cerrado / puro, ‘pure Macanese’, “spoken by the lower classes”

  • b. macaista fallado pelos chins, ‘Macanese as spoken by the Chinese’

  • c. macaista “modified to approximate standard (Metropolitan) Portuguese”

Taken at face value, Pereira’s remarks illustrate two more important aspects of the linguistic ecology of Macanese at the end of the 19th century. Firstly, what we call ‘Macanese’ must have had more basilectal and more acrolectal varieties. Secondly, some form of Macanese was spoken also by the ethnic Chinese, and thus the creole might have been subject to ‘double’ language contact – in the speech of the bilinguals of Eurasian ancestry, and in the speech of the bilinguals whose dominant language was a Sinitic variety.

However, an alternative interpretation could be that Pereira’s macaista fallado pelos chins is rather a pidginized variety, perhaps related to the earlier Portuguese pidgin (used in the China Trade) which we mentioned above. It could have been a rudimentary second language with much variation, ongoing influence from Cantonese, and with a set of crystallized, frequent structures.

The issue is far from trivial: given that, as we shall see below (Section 3.2), we have (very limited) data available for a form of pidgin Portuguese, we might want to know whether this is a stage in the development of Macanese, or just a separate, parallel variety. While we cannot elaborate on this here due to space constraints, there are both important differences and similarities between the pidgin and Macanese; given the early model provided by Kristang (as well as, arguably, other apc s), we see as unlikely that the pidgin is a source language for Macanese. We tend to agree with Li and Matthews (2016: 143), who suggest that the three varieties mentioned by Pereira may have represented a continuum “from Portuguese via Macanese spoken natively to pidgin Portuguese spoken by Chinese traders”. Be it as may, the available evidence points toward the existence of a pidginized form of Portuguese/Macanese, still spoken in 19th century Macao; this variety must have thus been yet another player in the linguistic ecology of Macao.

The last phase in the history of Macanese begins in the mid-19th century, as mentioned in the introduction, when schooling in European Portuguese for the Macanese population became more common, and Macanese went through a process of decreolization (i.e., convergence towards European Portuguese). In point of fact, Arana-Ward (1978) refers to the variety spoken before World War ii as the ‘Old Dialect’ or ‘Old Macanese’, as opposed to the more acrolectal variety spoken in her time. This process of decreolization was halted by the end of intergenerational transmission of the creole starting from the 1920s-1930s, when Portuguese (in Macao) and English (in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Macanese diaspora) came to be seen as more valuable languages by Macanese families (Pinharanda Nunes, 2014: 38). This is mainly because speaking Portuguese was important to obtain good employment in Macao.

To conclude this overview, a summary of the evolution of the linguistic ecology in the history of the Macanese is presented in Table 1 (adapted from Arcodia, 2017: 166).


3.2 The Corpus Used in the Present Study

While Macanese has never enjoyed official recognition and has never been taught in schools (except for the very recent academic efforts mentioned above, Section 1), we do have at our disposal a significant amount of written documentation from different historical periods.9 Moreover, apart from written records, a recent (2007) corpus of spoken Macanese has been collected by Mário Pinharanda Nunes of the Universidade de Macau.

The oldest extant data of a Portuguese variety spoken in Macao, most likely the pidginized variety mentioned above (Section 3.1; see Li and Matthews, 2016), come from two sources: the 澳門紀略 Àomén Jìlüè ‘Monograph of Macao’ (1751), and the 澳門番語雜字全本 Àomén Fānyǔ Zázì Quánběn ‘Compendium of Assorted Phrases in Macau Pidgin’ (printed circa 1870–1890, but most likely older; Li and Matthews, 2016). The Monograph contains geographical, historical and administrative information on Macao, but also a small Chinese-Portuguese glossary (with Chinese characters suggesting the pronunciation of the Portuguese word, following Cantonese phonology); the later Compendium is but an expanded and revised version of the glossary in the Monograph (Li and Matthews, 2016: 149). The Compendium is especially valuable as a source of data because it provides more (short) phrases than the Monograph, and not only individual lexical items.10 While, as said earlier (Section 3.1), we do not believe that the Compendium language is a direct antecedent of Macanese, we shall anyway take the Compendium data into consideration, as it was arguably part of the linguistic landscape of Macao.

As to the Macanese creole senso strictu, the earliest body of data in our sample comes from the Ta-Ssi-Yang-Kuo (Chin. 大西洋國 Dàxīyáng Guó, ‘The Atlantic Country’, i.e., Portugal). The tsyk was a Portuguese language journal concerning the Portuguese Far East, and the issues from 1899 to 1901 are available as scanned copies on the web.11 The oldest text published in the tsyk dates back to 1824, and while the journal is written, as expected, in Standard Portuguese, it also contains texts written in (some form of) Macanese, presented as “aids for the study of the creole dialects of the Far East” (subsidios para o estudo dos dialectos crioulos do Extremo Oriente). The series contains 8 subsidios on Macanese, which include three poems, five letters from the readers, two descomposturas (‘quarrels’), two collections of riddles and two songs.

However, the larger set of data comes from the œuvre of José dos Santos Ferreira, also known as “Adé” (1919–1993), by far the most prolific writer in the Macanese language. He belonged to the last generation of fluent speakers of Macanese, and his work represents a conscious attempt to record the language before it disappeared (Ansaldo and Matthews, 2004). Within the vast production of this author, we collected a sample of 8 short stories, 3 plays and eleven poems. While this is an extremely valuable set of data, it is important to stress the fact that it might not be representative of the actual language spoken at the time, especially given the broad range of variation that was likely to be present in Macanese society, since the texts all come from a single individual.

Lastly, as mentioned above, there is one corpus of contemporary spoken Macanese, collected by Jean Michel Charpentier (in 1984) and Mário Pinharanda Nunes (in 1999 and 2007). For the present study, we could access (courtesy of the author) the transcriptions of the 2007 recordings, which were conducted in the Macanese community in Vancouver and San Francisco. This is the only significant body of data of the ‘decreolized’, acrolectal spoken variety of Macanese, and is thus of immense value for research on the Macao creole. The transcriptions we used involve seven women and men aged between 78 and 85 at the time of the interview, all born in the 1920s in Hong Kong (except for one informant); also, they had all been in their new countries for at least forty years then.

Besides raw language data, there are also a few grammatical sketches of Macanese available, and they come from different periods in the creole’s history. The oldest references are a 1-page sketch by Coelho (1881), and a brief sketch by Leite de Vasconcellos (1892; 1901). More extensive descriptions are offered by José dos Santos Ferreira himself (1978), and Arana-Ward (1978); note, however, that the variety described by Adé is far more conservative than the one described in Arana-Ward, which is representative of the post-wwii dialect (as spoken in Hong Kong), and reflects the variety of Macanese spoken in Hong Kong at the time. More recent descriptions of the interaction of tam and negation in decreolized Macanese may be found in Pinharanda Nunes and Baxter (2004), Pinharanda Nunes (2011), and Lebel (2018); we will turn to this in the next section.

4 Negation and tam in Macanese

As hinted at in the introduction, Macanese may be described as an aspect-prominent language: with the notable exception of the most acrolectal/decreolized varieties (see below, Section 4.4), verbs generally appear in one form only (based on the Portuguese infinitive for most verbs), and may be preceded by one of the three (optional) aspectual markers pfv’, prog’ and lôgo / fut/irr’. The system of negation is based also on three terms: apart from the above mentioned nunca and nádi, a negator non (also spelled nang, nom, nu, no, não; Lebel, 2018: 163) is also attested.

Given the heterogeneity of the available data and descriptions of the Macanese creole, we chose as a starting point for the discussion of the system of negation and tam dos Santos Ferreira’s (1978) sketch grammar. Ferreira’s sketch is the most comprehensive and systematic (despite being very short – only 29 pages) general description of the language prior to decreolization, and is also representative of previous descriptions (see below). In Ferreira’s grammar, the three Macanese negators are said to cover, respectively, the semantic space of past (nunca), future (nádi), and present (non);12 in his view, the same tense categories are expressed by the three preverbal markers, thus yielding a symmetric tense-based paradigm, as summarized in Table 2.


On the other hand, the system is clearly asymmetrical at the constructional level, since aspect markers should not appear in the negative construction (e.g., *nádi lôgo would be ungrammatical). However, constructional symmetry is seen when no preverbal tam marker is present in the affirmative construction (e.g., dançá ‘dance’ vs. nunca dançá ‘doesn’t dance’; Lebel, 2018: 163).

This characterization of the set of preverbal markers and negators as tense markers is found in nearly all descriptions of the (pre-decreolization) Macanese creole, albeit with some differences. Ta, já and lôgo are described in the same terms in Coelho (1881) and Leite de Vasconcellos (1901), who however do not discuss negation. In the tsyk, the same description of preverbal markers is provided again (with some minor differences), and the negators are presented pretty much as in Ferreira’s grammar, except for the fact that nunca is said to be a negator also in the present tense for some verbs (we will return to this below, Section 4.2).

In fact, the primarily aspectual (rather than temporal) value of preverbal markers has been convincingly argued in Pinharanda Nunes and Baxter (2004).13 Interestingly, the aspectual nature of the same three markers has been argued not only for Macanese’s closest relative, i.e., Kristang (Baxter, 1988), but also e.g., for Malabar Creole Portuguese (Krajinović, 2018). However, the characterization of lôgodiffers slightly from that of and ta: the former is in fact defined primarily as a mood marker (irrealis), rather than as an aspect marker; it also contains an element of relative future (including future in the past), and is hence best seen as a mood/tense marker (Pinharanda Nunes and Baxter, 2004; see also Pinharanda Nunes, 2011; Pinharanda Nunes, 2019).

To the best of our knowledge, the only comprehensive study of negation in Macanese is Lebel’s recent article (2018). Lebel highlights that, differently from what has been claimed in many previous descriptions, tense is not a primary factor in the choice of negators, and that both non and nunca are but general negative markers “for all verb, aspect and tense [sic!]”, except for the future-irrealis, which is negated by nádi (Lebel, 2018: 163). Thus, the actual opposition would be between a general negator for anything but the future-irrealis, appe