Why Gibraltar’s Llanito dialect is rapidly dying out

Youngsters are turning their backs on the Spanish-English blend spoken on the Rock

The Llanito expression ‘estoy de libertad,’ which translates literally into Spanish as ‘to be free,’ means ‘to be on holiday.’

Pipería, chinga, corba… these and hundreds of other words used by speakers of the Gibraltarian dialect of Llanito could soon disappear. Younger generations are increasingly turning away from this rich blend of Spanish and English, along with bits of Portuguese, Genoese and Moroccan Arabic, traditionally spoken in the British overseas territory.

Many of the words and expressions in Llanito are literal translations from English into Spanish, often with deep roots in Gibraltarian culture. For example, to call somebody back – volver a llamar in Spanish (literally, to return to call) – is llamar para atrás (atrás being Spanish for back). Chingle means shingle, the stones found on the nearby beaches.

We’re going to lose all this very quickly. Parents and teachers only speak to children in English now” Historian Tito Vallejo Smith

“We’re going to lose all this very quickly,” says Tito Vallejo Smith, a retired member of the armed forces who now spends his time researching the history of Gibraltar and its rich linguistic traditions. “Parents and teachers only speak to children in English now.” He has collected hundreds of words and expressions (see box below).

“Llanito, understood as the vocabulary that emerged as a result of the partial knowledge of the two main languages here, is dying out,” says Francisco Oda, the former director of the Cervantes Institute, which promotes Spanish culture and language around the world, and recently closed its Gibraltar branch. “It is now only used by old people. The new generations do not know half of the vocabulary that we know as Llanito. That said, Llanito is much more than a vocabulary. Either way, as Gibraltar becomes more and more British, Llanito, like Spanish, is on the wane among local people.”

Aside from the disappearance of Spanish in Gibraltar, sociological changes among inhabitants are another reason that Llanito could disappear soon. The way people speak on the Rock has traditionally been the result of people’s ignorance of each other’s language, forcing them to adapt the words they heard each other saying. But today education standards are much higher and English is increasingly the language in which young people are taught.

A little bit of Llanito

Here are a few of the terms collected by Tito Vallejo Smith.

Afolinarse: To fall in; reflecting Gibraltar's status as a military outpost.

Corba: Coal bag; from a time before ships were fueled by oil.

Llamar para atrás: To call back

Chakaru: A bouncer, or chucker out.

Chinga: Chewing gum.

Harampai: A good party, supposedly from ham and pie.

Juva: Vacuum cleaner, from Hoover.

Pipería: Piping.

Saltipina: Salted peanuts.