Gibraltar's Llanito, the language of Gibraltar, endangered

English and Spanish have coexisted on the Rock for three centuries, with a unique and rich mix of words and expressions to which Latin, Arabic, Maltese and Italian also contribute.

However, a number of factors mean that their use is declining.

Professor Oda-Ángel analysed the situation in a paper presented at the International Congress of the Spanish Language (CILE) held this week in Cadiz.

The city of Gibraltar stands out for its focus on history, law and international relations, but it is also a unique place, almost like an open laboratory, which allows us to dissect and discover the rich sociolinguistic processes taking place in this small territory where English and Spanish have converged since the 18th century. It is the only case of Spanglish, alive and evolving, that we can find on European soil. In Gibraltar this confluence of the two languages, of morphosyntactic and phonetic borrowings and of alternation of linguistic codes is called llanito and is in danger.

El llanito: the Spanglish of Gibraltar

When we look at Gibraltar from a sociolinguistic point of view, we can analyse two different but related questions: what is spoken in Gibraltar and what is the situation of Spanish in the city? Spanish is spoken Spanglish, known in its local variant as llanito and the situation of Spanish in Gibraltar could be described as an example of a unique heritage Spanish.

Journalists and citizens crowd the fence to see the closure. / E.S.

Yanito or llanito is the affectionate nickname by which the inhabitants of the Rock are known and also the name of the particular speech of this territory. In all the territories where the two languages, English and Spanish, meet, a very similar phenomenon occurs, with its logical variations. It is known as Spanglish which, in the case of Gibraltar, is enriched with some words from Latin, Arabic and also Maltese and Italian. Llanito is a speech, not a dialect, nor a language. It is the continuous alternation of linguistic codes from English and Spanish in one or more sentences throughout a conversation. And, as we well know, the "speech act" is different at each moment and in each speaker.

In Gibraltar we have identified a clear case of dysglossia, if we understand it as the social situation in which a speaking community uses two different languages in different spheres and for different social functions.

The evolution of llanito: from phonetic borrowings to Spanglish

The process of Britishisation, the change in the education system and its effect on the Spanish language.

In Gibraltar everything is history. Spanish was the lingua franca of the city until the mid-20th century. In order to understand its evolution, we have to start from a key event in the recent history of the Rock: the repopulation of the territory carried out by the British military authorities, following the exodus of the Spanish Gibraltarians, in the context of the War of the Spanish Succession.


Once the cession of the territory had been confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht, the British soon saw the need to repopulate the city with new inhabitants who came mainly from different regions of Spain, but they also granted work and/or residence permits to groups of Sfardis, Genoese, Maltese, Indians and, finally, Moroccans from Tetouan and Tangiers. The majority linguistic group was Spanish, as can be seen from the first censuses carried out.

Aduana de GibraltarAduana de Gibraltar

Gibraltar Customs House / ERASMO FENOY

After World War II, the UK began an intense process of Britishisation of Gibraltarian society, which at the time was overwhelmingly a Spanish-speaking and culturally and linguistically diverse community. The language of instruction had always been Spanish, but the British introduced major changes in the educational model of the city with a monolingual education in English, based on the British educational system.


The evacuation of the civilian population of Gibraltar, during World War II, is one of the most dramatic episodes in the local history of these citizens and has a great significance for them with a great symbolic load in the awareness of this human group. The period known as the evacuation will have two distinct phases:

1st phase: evacuation 1939-1942.

2nd phase: return home 1943-1951.

During these years, some 13,000 Gibraltarians were forced to leave their homes to various destinations (Casablanca, London, Trinidad, Jamaica, Mauritius, Madeira and Ulster).


When the British began evacuating the civilian population of the Rock, they began to find that their Gibraltarian subjects scarcely spoke English. With the return of the evacuees, the British education system began to be applied and the prohibition of speaking Spanish in schools became standard practice.

Education in Gibraltar had been in the hands of religious institutions, mainly Catholic, which taught in Spanish: "It is impossible to use English textbooks for the education of students in class, the language used is Spanish, which is understood and spoken by the native inhabitants". The return to normality after the evacuation forced the Governor of Gibraltar to draw up a document entitled "A new educational system for Gibraltar" which contained the basic lines proposed by the colonial secretary, Miles Clifford, who was commissioned, in October 1943, to draw up a report containing the main changes to be made to the educational system of the Rock. The report was amended several times and finally submitted to the Governor in April 1944.

The main lines of the new system spoke of the need, in its eleventh point, to introduce the English language and connections with the British Empire as the basis for the pupil's entire academic life. Furthermore, the report expressed the inability of Gibraltarians to express themselves fluently in English and that, therefore, the English language should be taught from primary school onwards, making it clear that English should be the only language of instruction.

Following the Clifford Report, Spanish began to be taught regularly in all schools in Gibraltar only from the age of eleven ("Emphasis throughout the whole of school life should be on the English language and the Imperial connection. (...) Too many Gibraltarians are unable to express themselves with any real fluency in English. (...) Oral English should be taught from the very beginning, and English should be the sole language of instruction throughout. The young Gibraltarian should also acquire a command of good Spanish and it should be regularly taught in all schools from 11-plus by properly qualified language teachers").


As a result of this policy, children now have their first contact with Spanish as a foreign language in the Gibraltar education system from the age of 4 and, in my opinion, the approach to the teaching of Spanish should take into account the linguistic differences that pupils present when they arrive in class. As a general rule, in Gibraltar's classrooms we find very heterogeneous groups of pupils with very varied abilities in Spanish. There are some Spanish-speaking students, others who understand Spanish but barely speak it and, finally, there are students who are starting from scratch. Gibraltarian teachers who teach Spanish have to adapt their teaching to all of them in parallel and in the same classroom and make great efforts to obtain the best results.

Spanish in Gibraltar: causes for its conversion from a lingua franca to a heritage language

Due to historical vicissitudes, Spanish has ceased to be the mother tongue of Gibraltarians and has become a heritage language, passed down from childhood in the private sphere, i.e. in the home, from parents to children and now, in many cases, from grandparents to grandchildren. Since English became the dominant language and the language of formal education, Gibraltarians have been abandoning their inherited ability to use Spanish. And the future is worrying because as the older generations disappear, there will be less need to communicate in Spanish in the family sphere, to which it is currently relegated.

I would like to highlight four fundamental causes for understanding the disconnection with the Spanish language and culture in Gibraltar:

1.- The change in the education system carried out by the British authorities after the evacuation of the civilian population during the Second World War, and which we have analysed above.

2.- The closure of [the fence] (Medio siglo del cierre de la verja de Gibraltar Historia (rota) de dos ciudades) in 1969.

3.- Technological change.

4.- Political indecision.

The closure of the frontier was a gesture of great help from the Spanish government to the British plans to Britishise the Gibraltarians. With dramatic consequences for the Gibraltarians and the people of the Campo de Gibraltar, the Spanish government threw the Gibraltarians into the arms of their metropolis with almost no turning back.

Two people walk down a Gibraltarian street. Two people walk down a Gibraltarian street.
Two people walk down a Gibraltarian street. / ERASMO FENOY (Gibraltar)

The closure of the frontier (1969-1982) had many effects on the populations on both sides and condemned the Gibraltarian population to isolation, making them more dependent on the metropolis and its language, consolidating for the generation that suffered the closure what can be considered as something similar to language disloyalty or as a situation very close to linguistic conflict due to the disastrous consequences that this political decision had on the personal and collective identity of the majority of the population.


From that moment on, the relationship with the UK intensified. It was much easier to go to London than to La Línea. Gibraltarian students went to study at British universities, they stopped considering studying in Spain, which was normal before the closure. That generation of young people who experienced the closure at first hand preferred to distance themselves from everything Spanish and began to identify the Spanish language and culture with a dramatic event in their lives. Only the passage of time could soften the initial rejection of the symbolic burden that the use of the Spanish language meant to them. Fortunately, half a century after those events, perceptions have changed, but the damage to the status of Spanish in the Rock is almost irreversible.

As for technological change, and its effect on understanding the transformation of Spanish as a heritage language, we have to analyse the effect on households of the introduction of satellite media broadcasts. Under the analogue communication system, Spanish radio and television coverage was assured in Gibraltar, so that the whole population was exposed to daily contact with the language, despite the monolingual English education.


The technological change that began in the 1990s with satellite broadcasting made it possible to extend the education system in English with the media from the metropolis already able to enter Gibraltarian homes. This technological change has fundamentally affected the younger generations who see in the English-language media a continuity with the English-language education system. The presence of British television channels in homes, in bars, cafés, etc. has increased significantly, replacing Spanish media. You will rarely see a Spanish language television channel in any public place in Gibraltar.

In addition to the introduction of satellite broadcasts, it is appropriate to introduce here another major cause for understanding the crisis of Spanish on the Rock, namely the use of the internet by young Gibraltarians. Exposure to social networks is almost exclusively in English. This practice has become widespread and the effect on the future of Spanish will be much greater than that produced by satellite broadcasts. In these conditions, the use of the internet is shaping digital knowledge and communication in English, which contributes to a greater distance from the Spanish of these young people and its progressive impoverishment.

With regard to the media, Gibraltar currently publishes only one daily newspaper, The Gibraltar Chronicle, in English, and several weekly newspapers with a large circulation, such as Panorama, also in English. Since 2004, El Faro de Gibraltar, owned by the now defunct Andalusian company Grupo Información, has been published in Spanish on a weekly basis. In the past, however, Gibraltar's cultural duality was more widely reflected in the press. The daily El Calpense (1868-1982) was written entirely in Spanish and continued to be so until the closure of the frontier. At that time it changed ownership and continued to be published in English until its disappearance shortly before the opening of the frontier. Despite its name, the Gibraltar Guardian (1872) was also published in Spanish, as was El Anunciador (1885-1940), which became the most widely read newspaper in Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar. In addition, there were other publications in Spanish such as Luz (16 March 1946) which was born as an organ of expression of the Association for the Advancement of Gibraltar Civil Rights (AACR), the political party led by Sir Joshua Hassan, Chief Minister of Gibraltar for almost forty years. The main aim of this publication was to defend the rights of evacuated Gibraltarians. Other minor publications such as the biweekly El Cronista de Gibraltar (1813) was written in Spanish and featured the British imperial coat of arms on its masthead.


As for the audiovisual media, Gibraltar's television station, the GBC (Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation), founded in 1963, does not broadcast any programmes in Spanish. However, Radio Gibraltar (also owned by GBC) broadcasts two hours of its programming in Spanish, preceded by a ten-minute news programme. This is the only presence of Spanish in the Gibraltar media.

In a survey I was able to carry out among 700 young Gibraltarians, I found that only 3.5 % said they only watched Spanish television channels, compared to 42.4 % who said they only watched British television channels. In contrast to the television viewing habits clearly in favour of British channels, radio shows have a different trend. 34.4% said they listened to all the radio channels available to them, although 22.5% said they listened only to Spanish radio channels and 19.9% regularly listened to Radio Gibraltar (the only one with proper local programming).


Finally, the last reason I can put forward to explain the conversion of Spanish from a lingua franca to a heritage language is the political hesitation of the Government of Gibraltar, which has devolved responsibility for education, to introduce bilingual education into the education system. Traditionally there is great resistance to adopting bilingual education, including from the general population. This position is due to the fact that Spanish is perceived as a threat that may contribute to the dilution of Gibraltar's British linguistic, cultural and even political heritage over time.

There is a general conviction in the Executive, and less and less in the city's opinion, that until now there was no need for bilingual teaching within the Gibraltarian education system because Spanish was learned at home and English at school. The problem is that with the passage of time and the predominance of English in all areas, the new generations have stopped using Spanish at home. It is logical to think that in the very near future they will be incapable of transmitting this language to their future generations in the family environment, where today we can already observe young parents who are still able to speak Spanish with their elders, but very rarely speak it with their children beyond a few single words. Today, the elders speak predominantly Spanish, adults and some of the young people speak Spanglish and children speak English with a few words in Spanish.

The linguistic borrowings from English in the area around the Rock of Gibraltar: from primitive llanito to Spanglish
As we have seen, the British presence in Gibraltar has had a great influence on the way of life in Gibraltar, but also in the towns around the Rock. This influence is felt in all areas of daily life, with a particular impact on La Línea. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 8,000 workers, almost all from La Línea, commuted to Gibraltar every day. These workers, with little education, were responsible for adapting English words to Spanish phonetics. Nowadays, the new generations do not use these terms, but they understand their elders when they use them. The increased education of young people from Campo de Gibraltar will put an end to this type of adaptations derived from the initial lack of knowledge of the English language. Some of these words are already in disuse: capotí (cup of tea) time to snack or have a cup of tea; cuécaro (quaker oats trademark) oat flakes; liquirbá (liquorice bar) liquorice; infleita (to inflate) pump to inflate inner tubes; marchapié (semantic calque of footpath) pavement; mebli (marble) marble; doquia (dock-yard) shipyard; jopar (hop) to leave a place quickly; sospe, sopen, zospe, zospen (willow pan) pan; pudinpé (pudding pan) baking dish; chinga (chewing gum) chewing gum; etc.

These phonetic adaptations are what some researchers define, in my opinion erroneously, as llanito. It is true that at first the Gibraltarians used them due to his low level of knowledge of the English language, as was the case in La Línea for the same reasons, but it is also true that the Gibraltarians used them due to his low level of knowledge of the English language, as was the case in the use of this "initial or primitive llanito" has been relegated to the older and less educated population on both sides of the fence that separates the two cities, but with the change in the education system in the Rock and the greater knowledge of English.

On the other hand, the current llanito generates expressions in Spanish derived from a literal translation from English such as: te llamo pa'tras (to call back) te devolveré la llamada; dinero vuelto (back money) reintegro; estar de libertad (holiday) estar de vacaciones; hacer teléfono (to make a telephone call) llamar por teléfono; voy a aplicar (to apply), in the sense of submitting an application, etc.


In short, what some researchers consider as llanito, is what I call "primitive llanito": they are borrowings of words that Spanish takes from English, but which it adapts morphosyntactically and phonetically to Spanish. This primitive llanito is practically obsolete and will remain in history.

Beyond this, the current llanito is the peculiar form of Gibraltar Spanglish. They are two different phenomena: one is evolving with a tendency to disappear (in the case of the current llanito or Gibraltarian Spanglish) and the other has almost died out (in the case of the primitive llanito) in parallel with the greater language education of the speaking community and the greater weight of English.

The Cervantes Institute: the first and only institution in Gibraltar for the dissemination of Spanish language and culture.
On 4 April 2011, the Instituto Cervantes in Gibraltar was opened to the public with great acceptance among the population of the Rock, as demonstrated by the 4,500 registrations formalised since its opening. Fifty-one per cent of these enrolments were from students under 16 years of age (almost all of whom were native Gibraltarians) and the remaining 49% were from adults. Similarly, 58% of the total number of pupils at the school were native Gibraltarians and 42% were native British Isles and other nationalities.

Broadly speaking, three age groups with a well-defined linguistic profile could be distinguished. On the one hand, a large group of people over 60 years of age, generally monolingual in Spanish. Another group aged between 30 and 60 with skills in English and Spanish and, finally, children or young people, mostly monolingual in English and with some or little ability to communicate in Spanish. The high number of enrolments in this age group was evidence of the great linguistic divide in Gibraltar compared to the past.


My experience as director of the Instituto Cervantes in Gibraltar taught me to group students not according to age, but according to their language skills. Those who had had some contact with Spanish as a heritage language passed down from their parents and/or grandparents were taught the language in a similar way to how it is taught in schools in Spanish-speaking countries. Meanwhile, with non-Spanish-speaking pupils, who had no previous competence, the methodology of Spanish as a foreign language was applied.

More than five hundred Spanish courses were given and more than two hundred cultural activities were held. The Cervantes was very well received in the city and identified by the Gibraltarians as a place to reinforce the knowledge of the Spanish language and a showcase for the pan-Hispanic cultures of the world.

5.- The future of the llanito and Spanish go hand in hand
The llanito would not exist without Spanish and neither would it exist without English. Therefore, in order to know if llanito is in good health, we would have to know if Spanish and its alternation with English are in good health. Knowing the conditions of one, we will discover the situation of the other. In this sense, as we have been able to learn throughout the presentation, Spanish has gone from being the mother tongue of the local population to a heritage language that will be lost over time as new generations stop communicating in our language.


Intergenerational transmission is essential for the survival of the language and, in fact, in Gibraltar it has been maintained thanks to this family transmission, but in the immediate future, with the disappearance of the older generation that has kept Spanish alive, the linguistic heritage will disappear and will turn the Spanish of Gibraltar into a language in an agonising, alarming situation and, with its extinction, it will also drag the llanito with it. Therefore, unless action is taken, I believe that both will eventually disappear. And that can only be remedied by the Gibraltarians themselves.

What is clear is that the llanitos are very proud of their way of expressing themselves, of their ability to use English and Spanish in conversation in a natural way. There is a growing social awareness that focuses on the alarming situation of the loss of the ability to use both languages. This social concern demands action aimed at achieving a bilingual public education that ensures the protection of the two languages, an idea that is closely linked to and seen as another unique feature of the city's collective identity. Bilingualism would be a very beneficial and decisive instrument for the future development of the city and its new generations. It is fortunate for everyone to have both languages within reach and to be able to use them to a greater or lesser extent.

Perhaps it is worth thinking that if the llanito is saved with the gradual restitution of Spanish, it would not be so bad to introduce bilingual programmes in the education system. Saving the llanito would also guarantee the perpetuation of the unique identity that Gibraltarians claim and defend. In this way, the idea of a possible bilingual education system could gain sympathisers. This is a deeper and, if possible, more controversial issue.

If the Gibexit negotiations, which are currently underway, are satisfactorily concluded, it is foreseen that the frontier will be removed, and this would reinforce the alternation of both languages. For practical reasons, it would perhaps be the right time to take into account the voices calling for new horizons that would lead to bilingual education in the education system, which is the direct responsibility of the Gibraltar government.

The speech of La Línea: these are the expressions that only a Linense would recognise

This week, the capital of Cádiz has been the setting for the 9th International Congress of the Spanish Language; a forum in which, among other issues, the richness of the Spanish language has been highlighted, with special pride in the Andalusian dialect, and also addressing in different activities, conferences and papers held at this congress the idiosyncrasies of many languages in border territories, with a mixture of roots and cultures. This is the case of the Campo de Gibraltar, in general, and in particular of La Línea de la Concepción, a city bordering Gibraltar. Thus, we share this article published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of La Línea in which we learn more about this unique Linense speech.

Infleita, quequi, carne conbí and yersi are concepts with which only a lousy person is familiar. The uniqueness of the town of La Línea also leaves its mark on the way the people of La Línea speak; a local jargon of its own, conditioned by its border position with Gibraltar. Therefore, in this series of special articles on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the city of La Línea, we could not overlook this particular speech of the people of La Línea.

This language is something they are particularly fond of and of which this town is proud. The philologist María Ortega Amusco, a young woman from La Línea who five years ago focused her final thesis on this subject, gives a good account of this. "It is something very much ours and shared, a symbol of the brotherhood that exists between Gibraltarians and Linenses," she stresses. Ortega Amusco has a degree in Hispanic philology from the University of Granada, has worked in the United States and Scotland, and currently works as a language and literature teacher at Salliver School in Fuengirola.

Part of this university work was based on a sociolinguistic study involving surveys of ordinary citizens. "I went with a rucksack full of objects, my cousin Curro and a tape recorder to stop people in the street. I was very struck by the fact that, at the first question, everyone knew what I was doing and what I was looking for. Her work was not only appreciated by the people of Linares and the university evaluation committee, but also attracted the attention of the national media. "They even called me 'La niña de la carne conbí' (the girl with the meat). They are still looking for me today for things related to this, like a few months ago to help in a report in Archiletras", she adds.

For María Ortega, as for any other Linense, the idiosyncrasy of this area is something to be proud of, and in this case even to study. "This subject of speech is something that has always interested me. In my family there is very close contact with Gibraltar. We have family on the other side, my grandfather has worked going back and forth all his life, my brother and I have played basketball in the Gibraltar club. The Rock has always been very present in my life.

Among the main conclusions of this research, Ortega Amusco highlights that "although it is true that the use of the standard word is greater, the localism or term linense/yanito continues to exist, especially among the older population, where it is practically on a par with the use of the Castilian variety. This should come as no surprise, since it was they and their parents who had most contact with Gibraltar before the closure of the fence and who practically coined these terms. This variety is used more in family language and among women, who historically are the ones who worked inside Gibraltarian's homes".

The terms studied by Ortega Amusco that are most used in the everyday speech of the Linensess are carne conbí (95%), infleita (75%), hacer nitin (55%) and liquirbá (53%). It is interesting to note that among young people, the linense/yanita alternative to infleita is used by 100% of the population.

In second place, with less frequency, but still with a reflected validity are the terms quequi (37%), mebli (35%), rolipó (30%), chuar (29%), aliquindoi (28%), yersi (25%), washi (20%) and chinga (10%). Finally, according to this sociolinguistic study, the words and expressions that are least relevant today are the terms bequinpauda (5%) and bequi (5%).

This young philologist from La Línea considers that in the five years that have passed since she presented her research work, there has even been a revitalisation of concepts. "There are some that I firmly believe will remain, such as infleita or carne conbí, but others will inevitably end up disappearing from oral speech. However, they will remain in the idiosyncrasy of Gibraltar as a sign of identity, people will know how to recognise them and their meaning, they will be used with a smile, remembering that they are ours...


"EL HABLA LINENSE" (The speech of La Línea)

-Infleita (del ing. inflator). Bomba de aire, inflador.

  • Meblis (del ing. marble). Canicas.

  • Chinga (del ing. chewing gum). Chicle.

  • Bequinpauda o pauar (del ing. baking powder). Levadura.

  • Rolipó (del ing. lollipop). ‘Chupachups’.

  • Quequi o panquequi (del ing. cake y plum-cake). ‘Bizcocho’, ‘tarta’, ‘pastel’.

  • Bequi (del ing. bacon). ‘Bacon’, 'panceta'.

  • Liquirbá (del ing. liquorice bar). ‘Regaliz’, ‘barra de regaliz¡.

  • Carne conbí (del ing. Corned Beef). ‘Carne de buey enlatada que se vende en Gibraltar’

  • Yersi (del ing. jersey). ‘Jersey’, ‘rebeca’.

  • (Darse un) Washi (del ing. to wash). ‘Darse un baño en la playa’.

  • (Estar) Aliquindoi (del ing. *all looking to it). ‘Estar atento’, ‘alerta’.

  • Chuar (del ing. to choose). ‘Echar a suertes, elegir antes de un juego (equipo, portería, campo...)’.

  • (Hacer) Nitin (del ing. to knit). ‘Hacer punto’.