A Bit About Gibraltar

Gibraltar, the last remaining colony in Europe, is approximately three miles long from North to South and three-quarters of a mile wide. The total area of Gibraltar, affectionately called “the Rock” by locals, is a little over two and half square miles and slowly growing with land reclamation. Despite its small size and proportionately dense population of just under 30,000, Gibraltar has a unique culture that stems from its divergent history.

At varying points in its past, Gibraltar was under Islamic or Spanish rule; but has been under British control since 1704 when the territory was taken in the War of Spanish Succession. Since then, the territory has been a point of contention between Britain and Spain.

Gibraltar is classified as a non-self-governing territory of Britain with an English-based legal system. The northern border is shared with Spain, which is colloquially dubbed by locals as the “Garlic Wall.” The main road that takes Gibraltarians toward Spain is Winston Churchill Avenue, which dangerously crosses Gibraltar International Airport’s runway. The road gets closed off for each landing and takeoff of a plane –a growing problem now that the airport has more than the three flights a day. Currently, the mainly limestone territory’s economy is based on financial services, tourism, shipping, and the Internet. With a tax code independent from the United Kingdom, Gibraltar now serves as a major international financial center. For tourists, Gibraltar is known for its Barbary apes –the only wild primates left in Europe. According to legend, the territory will cease to be British when the apes leave Gibraltar.

Regardless of its small size, the Rock has its own currency, postage stamp, airport, way of speaking, and identity. The official language of the territory is English, but spoken languages also include Spanish and Llanito. Llanito, or Yanito, is form of speaking that is unique to Gibraltar. It is described as a mix of English and Spanish with borrowed words from Italian, Genoese, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Maltese, and Spanish Gypsy. Llanito is not linguistically classified as a unique creole language or dialect, but considered code switching between English and Spanish. This simply means that a speaker of Llanito has the ability to switch between the two languages from sentence to sentence or within a sentence.

There is no formality to Llanito, and the way it is spoken differs person to person.  The amount of English or Spanish used is largely dependent on the speaker, topic of conversation, and location. Generally, informal settings have a stronger Spanish based speech pattern while formal settings use a greater proportion of English.

The distinctiveness of Llanito is reflective of the Rocks’ multicultural history. Although Gibraltarians consider themselves English rather than Spanish, this classification does not encompass the complexity of the citizens’ identity. In a similar vein as how locations on the Rock have official English names but are called by the local Spanish name in daily conversation, Gibraltarians are neither fully English nor Spanish.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco perpetuated the already strained relationship between Spain and Gibraltar by closing the border between the two nations in 1966 and banning all trade by 1969. The border remained closed until 1985 when Spain was obligated to open all borders to other member nations of the European Union. Franco’s aim was for Gibraltar to falter and surrender into becoming a part of Spain, but his actions only pushed the territory further into the arms of the English.

While the foreboding presence of Spain has been on Gibraltar’s back for over three centuries, England as the colonizing nation has not gone out of its way to win the people over. Gibraltar is often times brought up in English-Spanish negotiations, while the territory hopes to eventually be decolonized. Much to the discontent of Gibraltarians, the English House of Commons revealed in 2002 that England and Spain had been in negotiations over the disputed sovereignty of the nation for 12 years. The result of the negotiations was a possible shared sovereignty; however, the main point of strife was that Gibraltarians were never asked what they wanted. In reaction, Gibraltar held a vote where an overwhelming majority of 98 percent voted against Spanish sovereignty.

The three courses of action taken by England for its former colonies has been independence, integration, or free association. Gibraltar is currently part of the EU because it entered in as an English colony; however, membership would be null and void if it were to gain independence. Gibraltar would be forced to reapply for membership, which Gibraltarians fear will be vetoed by Spaniards. Entry into the EU requires a unanimous vote, and so the worry is that Spain will hold membership over Gibraltar’s head to force integration. Gibraltarians do not want integration with Spain, and England does not seem to be in any rush to integrate the colony. The option of free association is seen as unstable and leaves the future state of the territory too unclear. None of the three options are very appealing for Gibraltar, and so it remains in a territorial limbo. The political uncertainty of the Rock is a major contributor to the Gibraltarian identity and that is never better represented than in the use of Llanito.


For more information on Gibraltar:






by World Affairs Council Intern Natalia Mitsui