Charles Durante: Bilingualism in Gibraltar Part 3: Can the language of Shakespeare and Cervantes coexist in Gibraltar
The first two parts of Charles Durante’s incisive series on bilingualism in Gibraltar attracted great interest online and among our print readers, see The anatomy of bilingualism in Gibraltar (II). Today in his inimitable forthright style, he presents his final conclusions...
What can be said about bilingualism in Gibraltar which hasn’t been said already? I once heard that Spanish was a foreign language here. Any morning at the Piazza will controvert this silly notion. My parents would have been surprised to learn they had been speaking a foreign language all their life.
A high-ranking academic blithely expressed her view that she would not lament the loss of Spanish in Gibraltar. These intransigent and myopic views, from so-called enlightened people, are the obstacles we have to overcome when trying to maintain English and Spanish on an equal footing.
Because ‘Yanito’ is only spoken there is really no written record of its development over the years. However, see Mark Sanchez’s attempt to write a Yanito story in the Gibraltar Chronicle of the 5th March 2019. I can also think of words my grandfather used which have now disappeared. He would say ‘el gardao’, meaning the guard house.
We have A and B and C (Yanito), which is parasitic on A and B. Rejecting B (Spanish) is often prompted by the person’s limited linguistic ability. Instead of using both languages competently, the individual rejects one language and focuses on the language she prefers. It is a way of concealing one’s linguistic limitations.
How many of us can talk meaningfully about our work, reading, hobbies and entertainment in both languages?
Usually, we rely on English because it is the language of education and English is the official language so that speaking only English has no stigma attached to it. It is also the language of the Internet and most people engage in social media, access the Internet at home and conduct most of their business in English. Moreover, using Spanish for intellectual matters, for discussing abstract ideas, for subjects not closely associated with home, is considered both ostentatious and priggish. How many of us have read a Spanish newspaper or novel in the last twelve months?
The underlying perception is that you cannot be a true Gibraltarian if you speak Spanish like a native speaker. Of course, our Spanish will always reflect our overall linguistic paradigm, with English always dominant and Spanish only a close second. I am against linguistic purists who insist you should avoid a language unless you can use it competently and correctly. Any use of a second language should be encouraged, no matter how basic and halting our use might be.
Some people are sounding the death knell of Spanish. If Spanish goes, Yanito will follow and we shall end up as a monolinguistic society, having rejected what many people only acquire after taking great pains and spending lots of money.
Though English has become the global lingua franca, let’s not forget Spanish has actually more native speakers than English and is the language of a whole continent.
Spanish combines the old (Spain) and the new (Meso and South America). Spanish also has an unrivalled literary tradition, anyone who knowingly rejects Spanish is rejecting a very distinctive way of interpreting the world.
In future editions Reach will be offering our readers the views of other experts on language and literature on a subject which is central to our raison d’être, bilingualism.
Charles Durante on Bilingualism in Gibraltar Part 3: Can the language of Shakespeare and Cervantes coexist in Gibraltar