in

Bilingualism and the decline of Spanish in Gibraltar (I)

Charles Durante

Charles Durante The Decline of Bilingualism in Gibraltar

Charles Durante on the Decline of Bilingualism in Gibraltar Part 1. Read Part 2: ‘The anatomy of bilingualism in Gibraltar (II)’

Before we embark on an examination of what bilingualism is and how it is applied to Gibraltar, we must have a workable definition of the concept itself.

A simple definition of bilingualism would be: the capacity to make alternate use of two languages in contrast to monolingualism or multilingualism. However, this definition does not allow for those who make irregular use of one or the other language or those who have not used the language at all for many years (so-called ‘dormant bilingualism’).

Nor does it allow for many people who have developed a considerable skill in comprehending a foreign language but who do not speak it-this applies to the Gibraltarian child who understands Spanish but will rarely, if ever, speak it or those who have learned to read in another language, but who cannot speak or write it.

Nor does it allow for many people who have developed a considerable skill in comprehending a foreign language but who do not speak it-this applies to the Gibraltarian child who understands Spanish but will rarely, if ever, speak it or those who have learned to read in another language, but who cannot speak or write it.

Our definition leaves unclear the level of proficiency that has to be attained before the speaker can claim to be bilingual. The notion of proficiency raises complex issues. The obvious answer is to say that people are bilingual when they have achieved native-like fluency in both languages. According to this high standard, most Gibraltarians would not be considered fully-fledged bilinguals.

But maybe we have set the bar too high. People who have perfect fluency in two languages do exist, but they are the exception not the rule.

The vast majority of bilinguals do not have equal command of their two languages: one language is more fluent than the other, interferes with the other, imposes its accent on the other, or simply is the preferred language in certain situations.

Studies of bilingual interaction have brought to light several differences in linguistic proficiency both within and between individuals. Many bilinguals fail to achieve native-like fluency in either language.

Some achieve it in one (their preferred or dominant language) but not in the other.

English enjoys this privileged status in Gibraltar. It is a pity it should have acquired this kind of dominance at the expense of Spanish.

Scholars tend to think of bilingual ability as a continuum: people find themselves at different points in it, with a minority approaching the theoretical ideal of perfect, balanced control of both languages, but many being some way from it, and some having very limited ability indeed.

Charles Durante The Decline of Bilingualism in Gibraltar
Charles Durante The Decline of Bilingualism in Gibraltar

This article concentrates on the theory of bilingualism. It is important to recall that bilingualism develops in a human context, at a given historical moment. If we employ the well-known distinction in linguistics between diachronic (historical development of a language) and synchronic (the state of a language at any given moment), then, there has been a radical change in the way we use Spanish.

Any recording of the Spanish used by local women and children during the evacuation 1940-1946 (the wrench was not just cultural and social, but linguistic as well) provides evidence of how Spanish has deteriorated in the intervening years. Watch this video below:

Where the local women at the time use Spanish with what the Spaniards would call ‘soltura’ (ease, fluency), the current situation shows how the language has been impoverished and simplified.

Most Gibraltarians in the 1940s probably had little contact with the English-speaking garrison, unless your husband worked for the War Office. Spanish was still the everyday language of most Gibraltarians.

Predictably, politics contributed to the neglect of Spanish, with the closure of the frontier severing all contact with the mainland and cutting off family and linguistic ties.

This was further exacerbated by Franco’s anti-Gibraltarian campaign. If we could recover the fluency we had in the 1940s, we would be a truly bilingual community.

A second article will examine additive and subtractive bilingualism, code-switching and bilingualism as manifested in Gibraltar.

Read Part 2: ‘The anatomy of bilingualism in Gibraltar (II)’

What do you think?

6 points
Upvote Downvote
Clubhouse Gibraltar

El sector empresarial apoya la iniciativa de Clubhouse Gibraltar

The PSOE’s great victory at the recent General Elections and its likely alliances with progressive parties open the door to a reinforcement of good cross-frontier relations between Gibraltar and Spain.

Reach-Alcance Numero 11: Por unas relaciones maduras