Charles Durante: Yanito, Spanish and Identity Gibraltar (II)

Charles Durante

Read Charles Durante on Gibraltarian Language and Identity Part 1

National and cultural identity is usually inextricably linked to a language. A country like Spain with strong regional polities, will inevitably experience linguistic and cultural tensions between the official language and the regional languages which have served as a means of enshrining the values of the ‘patria chica’. Franco was aware of this and decided to suppress Catalan. The bombing of Guernica was also an attempt to weaken Basque resolve and their language.

Charles Durante Gibraltar, Language and Identity
Charles Durante

Gibraltar is fortunate to enjoy a bilingual heritage. Sadly, and almost irreversibly, Spanish has experienced a sharp decline both in the standard achieved and in the extent of its practice. This downward spiral is clearly evident in the fluctuating A Level results in Spanish. In 2018 there were fairly promising results showing an improvement, though there were more grades B and C than A* or A in a subject where formerly an A or B was almost guaranteed.

If we recall that the examination is designed for pupils studying Spanish as a foreign language, then the lower grades are a clear indication that Spanish is becoming more and more a second language, learnt in school, and lacking the prestige and standing accorded to English. Someone once claimed that Spanish was now a foreign language in Gibraltar and though I vigorously rebutted this view, I fear it may one day become true.

The older generation bemoans this state of affairs. However, they are not defeatist or crestfallen; instead, they have suggested ways of halting and, possibly, reversing this downward trend.

Charles Durante Books

Immersion in Spanish from an early age (yes, you can have immersion in two languages simultaneously); the teaching of Spanish should be done in Spanish (I believe this is happening already)by teachers adequately equipped to do so; parents should use both English and Spanish at home, and even set aside time when only one language should be used; reading material in Spanish, ensuring that books, magazines and newspapers are available locally; school trips to Spain with the clear pedagogical aim of improving the pupils’ Spanish; a greater awareness of Spanish history, geography and culture.

It was lamentable that parents felt obliged to send their children to the Instituto Cervantes to ensure they improved their Spanish, a task which could so naturally have been done at home or in our schools.

Instituto Cervantez Gibraltar

It is easy but lazy to claim that because we have our own peculiar blend of ’Yanito ’ we can ignore Spanish, the language not only of Spain, but of Central and most of South America and, increasingly, of the United States also. Some have predicted the demise of ‘Yanito’ as a direct consequence of the decline of Spanish.

However, I think the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated! It’s still alive though its nature has changed as we have become more Anglophone and our distance from our ethnic roots in Genoa, Portugal, Malta, Spain and Britain has increased. Some words and phrases have fallen into desuetude and here Tito Vallejo is the local expert who will support this proposition.

Read Charles Durante on Gibraltarian Language and Identity Part 1

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