Language and identity in Gibraltar


Cristina Suárez Gómez and Lucía Loureiro Porto (English Studies, Universitat de les Illes Balears)


April 26, 2017 (9.00-12.00)


Aula de Graus, Edifici Ramon Llull (Campus universitari)

Number of seats



9:00-9:45. Cristina Suárez & Lucía Loureiro (Universitat de les Illes Balears): “Sociolinguistic situation in Gibraltar: English, Spanish, Yanito”

9:45-10:30. Elena Seoane (Universidade de Vigo): “Gibraltarian English: compilation of a corpus (ICE-GBR)”

10.30-10.45. Coffee break

10:45-12:00. M G Sanchez (Escritor gibraltareño): “The border and its impact on the Gibraltarian mind”


Cristina Suárez & Lucía Loureiro (Universitat de les Illes Balears): “Sociolinguistic situation in Gibraltar: English, Spanish, Yanito”

Recent studies on the sociolinguistic situation of Gibraltar show that English has become the main language among the youngest generations of Gibraltarians (Levey 2008; Weston 2013). However, the situation has not always been like that. Older generations are not considered so proficient in English, and Spanish is still a dominant language among them. In fact, most of the Gibraltarian population can be proficient in English, Spanish with an Andalusian accent, and Yanito, a local vernacular language that has emerged as a result of code-switching from Spanish and English, with minor influences of Italian, Hebrew and Arabic (cf. Moyer 1998; Weston 2011, 2013; Levey 2008, 2015). It can be difficult to pin down exactly when English became the main language for younger Gibraltarians. A number of reasons have been discussed as the main causes for this decline in the use of Spanish, especially amongst the youngest generations, and this is a subject that has given rise to an intense debate (Levey 2008, 2015; Weston 2013). Relevant socio-historical factors have been used to justify the rise of English as the dominant language, as is the case of the blockade of the frontier during Franco’s regime (1969-1982), but this has been recently discarded by local scholars such as Jennifer Ballantine (Director of the Gibraltar Garrison Library, part of the recently created University of Gibraltar), who considers that the evacuation of Gibraltarian civilians to the UK during WWII should be taken into account to justify the Anglicization of the Gibraltarian population. In this talk we will illustrate the current sociolinguistic situation with examples of the different varieties coexisting in this tiny, though linguistically invaluable, territory of the UK in the Iberian Peninsula.

Levey, David. 2008. Language Change and Variation in Gibraltar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Levey, David. 2015. Gibraltar English. In: Jeffrey P. Williams, Edgar W. Schneider, Peter Trudgill & Daniel Schreier (eds), The Lesser-Known Varieties of English vol 2, 51-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Moyer, Melissa G. 1998. Bilingual conversation strategies in Gibraltar. In: Peter Auer (ed.), Code–Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity, 215–234. New York: Routledge.

Weston, David. 2011. Gibraltar’s position in the Dynamic Model of Postcolonial English. English World-Wide 32(3): 338-367.

Weston, David. 2013. Code-switching variation in Gibraltar. International Journal of Bilingualism 17(1): 3-22.

Elena Seoane (Universidade de Vigo): “Gibraltarian English: compilation of a corpus (ICE-GBR)”

As the global language it has become, English has indigenised in a wide array of countries and territories, which now speak a distinct variety of this language; our case in point is Gibraltar English. Analyses of the linguistic landscape of Gibraltar so far have mainly focused not on English but rather on Llanito, a local vernacular variety characterized by code-switching between Spanish and English with influence from other languages. The data regarding Gibraltar English, however, are merely impressionistic, based on scattered examples and not on representative linguistic corpora of this variety of English. In 2014 the current research team, Variation in English Worldwide (ViEW,, was appointed to compile the Gibraltar component of the International Corpus of English (ICE) project and thus create the first electronic and widely available resource for its study. This pioneering project began in 1990 with the aim of creating comparable corpora of English worldwide for their study (Nelson 2006: 736-740). The first varieties of English to be collected were those of Great Britain, Australia and other widely recognized inner circle native varieties. Only more recently has attention been paid to outer varieties such as Nigerian, Fijian or Sri Lankan English, where English is spoken as a second (or third) language. The time gap between older and more recent ICE corpora involves considerable differences in the way of compiling, annotating and later accessing the corpora.

This paper aims to describe and contextualize, from a methodological perspective, the compilation of ICE-Gibraltar (ICE-GBR). After a brief introduction to the history of the ICE project, I will illustrate its design, annotation and some technical differences between the old and the new generations of ICE corpora. I will explain the shortcomings we need to face when aspiring to collect particular ICE text categories in Gibraltar; for example, Student Essays and Exam Scripts of adult speakers are hardly available in a territory where up until 2015 there was no University. Another pervasive question that we need to take into account for every text is whether the speaker/writer qualifies as a “true Gibraltarian”, since most of the Gibraltarian adults have studied abroad (mainly in the UK) and spent a number of years there, which might have an influence on their English. I will thus explain our struggle to keep a constant balance between rigor, in following the general ICE framework and design, representativeness, in portraying the local reality of the culture-specific production of English in Gibraltar, and pragmatism, in adjusting the ICE design to the oftentimes restricted availability and adequacy of data.

Nelson, G. 2006. World Englishes and corpora studies. In Kachru, Braj B., Yamuna Kachru, and Cecil L. Nelson, eds., The Handbook of World Englishes. Oxford: Blackwell, 733–50.

M G Sanchez (Escritor gibraltareño): “The border and its impact on the Gibraltarian mind”

My presentation will focus on the Gibraltar-Spain border and the impact it has had, and continues to have, on the Gibraltarian mind. I will start by looking at the history of the border and analysing the reasons why it was built in the first place. I will then briefly consider some of the key events associated with the border: the closure of 1969, the partial reopening of 1982, the full reopening of 1985, as well as the different ‘border crises’ that have erupted over the years. I will use a selection of media to illustrate my talk, including photographs, film, newspaper cuttings, and textual selections from my own books and those of others. According to the American novelist Janette Turner Hospital, border zones are spatially problematic areas because “in the nature of things, control is not in the hands of the traveler.” I will argue in this presentation that this sense of 'spatial unpredictability' has not only shaped Gibraltarian perceptions of Spain and Spanish governmental policy in general, but has also played a considerable part in determining the make-up of Gibraltarian social and linguistic identity. 

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