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The Silk Roads left a significant legacy, indeed, their impact on various aspects can be seen up to today in our common heritage. These different interactions between civilisations led to an evolution in languages, even though their languages originated from distant lands. This is precisely what happened between the Malay and the Portuguese languages.
In the sixteenth century, the Portuguese were a main actor in a large part of the Maritime Silk Roads, from the Southeast Asia region to the Persian Gulf, through the Indian Ocean. At the same time, the coastal city of Malacca became one of the major trading ports of the region, and was interconnected with many ports of the area. Especially thank to the peaceful treaties, which encouraged these countries to trade in friendly terms. Thereby, attracted by this safe environment, Malacca’s central position, many merchants from diverse lands such as India, China, or Pegu (in modern Burma) came to Malacca. Since the Malay language was spoken in these lands, and was spoken as far as the coasts of Southern Vietnam, up to regions in the Southern Philippines. Eventually, the Portuguese learnt it as a tool to facilitate trade.
Consequently, the Portuguese who settled in this vast region exchanged, and had many contacts with the locals. Therefore, they acquainted themselves with the Malay language, and the local culture.
The interactions of the two cultures led to an evolution of both languages. Naturally, most of the Portuguese words that got integrated with the Malay language were related to navigation or trading. Nevertheless, words linked to activities, games, or even arts exist. The other way around, Malay language also influenced the Portuguese language. As an example, in both languages the word “ball” is identical: “bola”.
Consequently, these exchanges between Portuguese and Malay traders, led also to further knowledge of Europeans about the Malay culture. For instance, an Italian wrote in 1521 the first glossary in Malay language. Moreover, the Malay language was described as “the most courtly of the oriental tongues” by a Dutch sailor; while Saint Francis Xavier wrote some comments in Malay in his doctrines in the 1540s.
These past communications between Portuguese and Fareast people are still effective today, as the Malay and Portuguese languages kept their mutual influences. There is still an important community in Malacca inherited from this time. They are descendants of Portuguese people who blended with Malaccans during years, representing the cultural diversity of the legacy of the Silk Roads. As well as, the Portuguese and the Malay languages, which are nowadays two of the most spoken languages in the world, are amongst the many traces of our common heritage.