Spanish Language Day: Llanito

Today is Spanish language day.  Habíamos pensado de escribir algo en español but we thought we’d mix it up!  Welcome to our first blog en llanito.  Yep, today we honour lo nuestro.  The way we change de un lenguaje a otro mid sentence, como no terminano la palabra (see what I did?) and how we have our own unique words and even dictionary.

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What Is Llanito?

Whilst the official language in Gibraltar is English, unofficially y entre amigos or socially, we speak what is known as Llanito.

Llanito is a mix of Spanish, English and vocabulary which hails from our Genoese, Hebrew, Maltese and Portuguese heritage.  The Llanito language tambien tiene palabras from Haketia, a dialect once used by Sephardic Jews in Morocco as well as the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Meilla.

The interesting thing about Llanito is the code switching, la manera que hablamo andalu one moment but then just as easily switch to English.  Also, the speed in which we speak which causes those trying to learn Spanish in Gibraltar no end of problems.  Not only do we speak at a hundred miles per hour pero the fact que usually none of our sentences are fully Spanish or includes words which will not be used in Spain is not the perfect conduit for learning.

History Del Llanito Language

Back in the 19th Century the British were starting to build the dockyards.  To do this they needed a larger work pool than the local population could provide.  Spanish, Genoese and Portuguese labourers made up the majority of the workforce y de aqui, according to local historian, Tito Vallejo is where mucha de la palabra llanita came from.  The issue was que como nadie se entendia, words were pronounced how they sounded to the various workers and from there a unique language was born.

Another contributing factor to the birth of the Llanito language was the fact that up until the Second World War there was no legal obligation to attend school so many children did not learn English.  At the time, the predominant language in Gibraltar was very much Spanish.  So much so, that, according to Mr Vallejo, English was on the verge of disappearing.

The introduction of the Irish Christian Brothers and Loreto Nuns into the local schools and the evacuation of local families away from Gibraltar during the War was the start of the increased use of the English language in Gibraltar.


Returning to Gibraltar after an extended period in places like England and Ireland during the War, local children had been exposed to the English language to an extent that they had not previously.  Upon their eventual return there was also a change to the laws which meant que education was now compulsory and English therefore became much more prevalent given that it is the language in which lessons are taught in all local schools.

That said, for decades after the War lo que se escuchaba en lo patio when kids were playing or whenever there was un pati (party) or social gathering was Llanito.  That could be because at the time, whilst our exposure to Spain was limited due to the closure of the border from 1969 to 1982 our TV and radio offerings were  mainly in Spanish.

Why Is Llanito Dying?

Years back when I started working I remember a work colleague telling me that her kids did not speak Spanish.  I was shocked y no comprendia como eso podia pasa!.  I mean, as adults we continuously switch from one language to the other.  Como no aprendian lo niño lo mismo?  I actually told this work colleague que I thought it was a shame that she was not ensuring that her kids learn both languages.  Bueno, el que escupe pa riba le cae pa bajo!  Ma llanito que eso no se que hay!  This literally means “he who spits up will end up with spit on their face” or perhaps a better simile would be what goes around comes around.

Effect of TV

Cuando my generation were small lo unico muñequito (cartoons) que podiamo mira en English were between 7pm and 8.30pm cuando echaban algo en GBC.  I remember always running up from el patio to watch things like Thundercuts, He-Man, Fraggle Rock (yep, I’m an 80s child after all!) pero por la tarde and during holidays when we could watch TV all day then the only offerings were in Spanish.  This meant que lo niño teniamos the best of both worlds and we learnt English and Spanish simultaneously. Unfortunately this is no longer the case y  el problema es que ahora, our unique language is slowly dying.

Nowadays our children literally have hundreds of TV channels to choose from. Not that they watch anything like cartoons or films porque parece que lo unico que ven en el televishon e YouTube. Mindless crap posted by YouTubers que se creen que e fact!

My kids are continuously swiping on their tablets whenever there is something which is not of interest to them, giving a clip seconds to capture their attention. Everything they watch is in English. Indeed it is mostly American English.  This means that not only are they not exposed to the Spanish language aparte de lo once a week lessons en la ecuela  or cuando they listen to my husband and I speak, but, their English words include things such as candy, trash and wahter!!!

How Can We Save Our Language?

Saving the llanito language will be a difficult process porque our schooling, given that we follow the British system, needs to be in English.  In addition, the closure of the Instituto Cervantes in Gibraltar will also have had a negative impact on our children’s ability to learn spanish and consequently, llanito.  That said, there are many linguists who are determined to save our unique language and hopefully by way of collective effort no aseguraremo que no perdemo nuestro unique ability de habla lo do languages mixing effortlessly de uno pa otro.

Typical Llanito Words

So if you are reading our blog from somewhere other than Gibraltar and you have had no prior knowledge of llanito you may be wondering what words are typically of the llanito language.

I remember going to a pool in Spain as a young child, I must have been about 10 or 11 years old.  I wanted some sweets so I went to the small shop at the swimming complex.  Full of confidence (algo que my children now would never be able to do porque their Spanish language skills are non existent in the case of my youngest and weak with my eldest,I asked for “bolillas” when referring to sweets.  The shop attendant looked at me as if I had grown a second head y me dice “bolillas??”.  Now as a young child used to hearing this day in and day out I had no idea that this was not the proper Spanish word for sweets, rather, I should have been asking for “caramelos”.  Anyway after some pointing to what I wanted I eventually got what I was after and learnt something new.

This incident made me aware de que our language is unique y que to be fluent in Spain I would need to be aware of what is actual Spanish and what is Llanito.  Despite this I had another similar thing happen when visiting my brother during his time at La Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Upon arrival we decided to order some pizza. Pizza which for some reason had peas on it!!! Have you ever had peas in pizza??? Anyway I caused a few laughs when saying la mia sin chicharro. Chicharros being peas in Gibraltar and the Andalusia region. Unbeknownst to me however, en Madrid la palabra correcta es  guisantes.

Typical Llanito Words

There are many other words which are typically only used in Gibraltar by way of the Llanito language and we even have our own dictionary.  Here are some typical Llanito words and their corresponding Spanish and English equivalents:

QuequiCake Pastel/Tarta
Pluma PenBoligrafo 
BolloBread rollBocadillo
ChutRubbish tipVertedero

This last word, cuecaro, really makes me laugh porque de chica my grandpa always ate cuecaro for breakfast.  Hasta me acuerdo de como miraba la lata.  It was only very recently cuando yo estaba shopping en Morissons que me di cuenta que cuecaro era una llanita!  Simply Quaker Oats made to sound Spanish!  I even had to call my mum and ask if I was right.  Me dice, si claro!!! De verdad no me lo creia, this could have led to another bolilla or chicharro incident!

Typical Llanito Sayings

There are also some uniquely llanito phrases for example:

Te llamo p’atra when saying you will call someone back instead of saying “te devuelvo la llamada.”

Casarse por la policía.  This is in essence a civil wedding and the correct Spanish version would be boda civil.  This saying came about because traditionally civil weddings were conducted by the police.

Another typical saying, when speaking about people going to prison was “va pa el castillo”.  Translated this means “he/she is going to the castle”.  This might sound strange but, for many years the local prison was housed in the Moorish Castle and thus no one would use the typical spanish word of “prisión”.

We do not however say things like “Buenos morning” instead of Good Morning or Buenos Dias or something as ridiculous as “Ninety nueve pence” as suggested in a recent article in Sur In English!

Happy Spanish Language Day!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our indulgent post highlighting our own type of Spanish language. If you are privileged enough to be able to speak llanito, be sure de hablarlo en casa and everywhere pa que lo niño lo ecuchen y lo aprendan so our language survives for years to come. And, our Spanish followers, muchas gracias por vuestro apoyo,  esperamos que os haya gustado este blog.

Be sure to check out our blog on Easter food (although you can of course enjoy these at any time of year!) which includes some Gibraltarian dishes which we are sure you will love.

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