A. Bigandet

Korrespondenz anzeigen

Zitiervorschlag: Cardoso, Hugo (2015): A. Bigandet. In Bernhard Hurch (Hrsg.): Hugo Schuchardt Archiv. Online unter, abgerufen am 21. 09. 2023. Handle:


Die Korrespondenz zwischen A. Bigandet und Hugo Schuchardt wurde von Hugo Cardoso bearbeitet, kommentiert und eingeleitet.

Die Webedition wurde unter Mitarbeit von Patricia Candea erstellt.


Paul Ambroise Bigandet was born on August 13th, 1813, in Malans, near Besançon (France). After a religious education in France, he joined the Société des Missions Étrangères and, in 1837, was sent to Southeast Asia as a missionary, to work in what is now Malaysia and Thailand. As confirmed in Bigandet’s letter to Schuchardt, he called on the Southern Burmese coast as soon as he arrived in Asia, and eventually became involved in the missions of that part of the continent. Later, not long after the British colonial annexation of Southern Burma of 1852, Bigandet was made responsible for the Catholic missions in this region. In 1856, he was nominated Bishop of Ramatha and Administrator of the missions of Pegu and Ava (Buckland 1906: 41), in which capacity he travelled extensively in the region. In 1870, the Burmese territory was divided into two vicariates and, although Bigandet was put in charge of both at the time, after 1872 he became Vicar-Apostolic of Southern Burma only (Candier 2000).

Bigandet had a significant scholarly production during his time in Southeast Asia. He was a renowned Pali scholar and a recognised authority on Burmese Buddhism, having penned one of the most influential 19th-century treatises on the subject: The life or legend of Gaudama, the Budha of the Burmese (1858). His works concerning the Catholic missions in Burma include a detailed historical account from the 18th century onwards (Bigandet 1887). At the end of a missionary career spent almost entirely in Southeast Asia, Bigandet died in Rangoon, on March 16th, 1894.


The whereabouts of the letters from Schuchardt to Bigandet is unknown.

Briefedition und Kommentare

There is a single letter from Bigandet to Schuchardt in the Schuchardt Archiv, dispatched from Rangoon and dated March 21st, 1882. Perhaps due to the letter’s unusually challenging handwriting, the correspondent’s name was earlier mistranscribed and the letter is now classified in the archive’s catalogue under “BÉGANDET [?], A.” (Wolf 1993: 117).

The letter is written in French and, as Bigandet himself states, it was a reply to a letter he had received earlier from Schuchardt, probably inquiring about the status of the Portuguese language or Portuguese-based Creole in Burma and also on whether any printed texts were to be found – which would explain Bigandet’s remark that he was not in possession of any such documents (“Je n’ai absolument aucun ouvrage composé en patois portugais”).

At the time of writing, Bigandet was 68 years old and was well established in his position as Vicar-Apostolic of Southern Burma. While we cannot be sure of the ways through which Schuchardt came to contact Bigandet, his prominence within the structure of the Catholic Church in Burma certainly made him a likely informant for the type of inquiries Schuchardt wished to make. As a matter of fact, Bigandet appears to have been in a particularly good position to comment on the issue of Portuguese Creole in Southern Burma: not only had he spent many years in the region, he reveals to have acquired this language in the course of his missionary work and also to have witnessed its demise.

Linguistic contribution

Though short, Bigandet’s letter to Schuchardt is highly significant in that it is the clearest known account of the presence and demise of a Portuguese-based Creole language in Southern Burma (in modern-day Myanmar) in the 19th-century. Bigandet’s report clarifies that, in 1837, a Portuguese “patois” was still conspicuous enough in the life of the Christian communities of Rangoon [Yangon], Maulmain [Mawlamyine], Tavoy [Dawei] and Mergui [Myeik] that an incoming missionary would feel the need to learn it in order to perform their duties; but also that, even at that time, the speech community was already quite constrained and, in the space of 40-odd years, the language had completely disappeared. The sociolinguistic scenario described is therefore one of rapid language obsolescence between the 1830s and the 1880s, and that is how, as a consequence of Bigandet’s testimony, Schuchardt portrays the situation concerning Burma in his article on Asian-Portuguese in general (Schuchardt 1889: 476-477).

Bigandet also points out a few salient linguistic traits of the Portuguese “patois” he had acquired in these locations: (near-total) absence of nominal and pronominal morphology (including number morphology), (near-total) absence of articles, lack of agreement between adjective and noun, the absence (when compared with the Portuguese etyma) of final –r in verbal forms, and, finally, the presence of preverbal operators ja (for past tense) and lo (for future tense) – all features that can also be recognised in the Asian-Portuguese Creoles documented in places such as India, Sri Lanka or Malacca. Therefore, Bigandet’s letter allows us not only to establish the chronology of the demise of the “Portuguese” language from Southern Burma but also to ascertain that what was indeed spoken in the region at the time was a Portuguese-based Creole language which, in all known respects, was absolutely typical of the Asian-Portuguese Creole cluster. However, he appeared to have been aware of differences between the various types of Portuguese “patois” in Asia, which he attributes to “les langues des pays ou il a été introduit”, i.e., to linguistic differences in the various contact settings involving Portuguese on the continent.


Bigandet, Paul Ambroise. 1858. The life or legend of Gaudama, the Budha of the Burmese, with annotations. Rangoon: Pegu Press.

Bigandet, Paul Ambroise. 1887. An outline of the history of the Catholic Burmese Mission from the year 1720 to 1887. Rangoon: Hanthawaddy Press.

Buckland, C.E. 1906. Dictionary of Indian Biography. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.

Candier, Aurore, 2000. 'De la collaboration coloniale: Fortune des missions catholiques françaises en Birmanie, 1856-1918'. In Revue Française d’Histoire d’Outre-Mer 87(326-327) : 177-203.

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Die von A. Bigandet an Hugo Schuchardt verschickten Briefe befinden sich in:

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