The Sociolinguistics of Gibraltar in the 21st Century

On 16 November 2016 we hosted the Seminar The Sociolinguistics of Gibraltar in the 21st Century. The program comprised three talks, the first by Cristina Suárez-Gómez (University of the Balearic Islands) with the title “Gibraltarian English and its status within ‘World Englishes’”, which dealt with the recent history of Gibraltar and the linguistic status of Gibraltarian English according to model of analyses of World Englishes, essentially Schneider’s (2007) Dynamic Model and the analyses of data by D. Levey and D. Weston. The second talk, entitled “The compilation of the International Corpus of Gibraltar English: problems and prospects” was delivered by Raquel Pereira Romasanta and Elena Seoane (University of Vigo) and explained the challenges encountered and resources involved in the ongoing compilation of the Gibraltar component of ICE, in which all speakers of the seminar are involved. Finally, Dr. Jennifer Ballantine, Director of the Gibraltar Garrison Library and the Research Institute for Gibraltar and Mediterranean Studies (University of Gibraltar), talked about “Language in Gibraltar”. Here follows the abstract of her talk. We would like to express our gratitude to all the staff members, undergraduate, MA and postgraduate students who attended the seminar.

It can be difficult to pin down exactly when the English language became the main language for Gibraltarians, that is, as opposed to Spanish, and even then, the question of Spanish as a mainstream language in Gibraltar deserves further consideration. It is clear, however, that English has become the main language for a younger generation of Gibraltarians.  A number of reasons have been discussed as the main causes for this decline in the use of Spanish, especially amongst the Generation Y, and this is a subject that has given rise to much debate. It is certainly a question that I have given much thought to, especially in light of Gibraltar’s geo-historical context where we see a community rising from the ashes, so to speak, from a 1704 conquest that turns everything around for Gibraltar. From that point on we see a territory informed by a multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism that has continued to influence the cultural identity of the place. Still, this diversity also brought many different languages to Gibraltar, with records telling us of a polyglot society, of people ‘speaking in tongues’ , and of Gibraltarians who recall hearing Maltese and Genoese being spoken in their homes well into the 20th century.  So my question is, how have we arrived at this point in history when all these languages have all but disappeared and we are now concerned that Spanish is also in decline.  My paper will therefore be concerned as much with the 21st century as with the historical past, as a means to understand a trajectory that informs cultural and linguistic norms in Gibraltar.