A Brief Introduction to Llanito, Europe’s Most Quirky Language

The Rock of Gibraltar; Andres Alvarado/flickr
The Rock of Gibraltar; Andres Alvarado/flickr
Photo of Mark Nayler
26 September 2018

The dialect of Gibraltar is Llanito, a dialect of Andalusian Spanish laced with English, Genoese, Maltese and Portugese. Reflecting the blend of cultures that have shaped Gibraltar itself, Llanito is Europe’s most quirky and intriguing language. Read on to find out why.

One of the most bizarre aspects of arriving in Gibraltar for the first time is overhearing the locals speak in Llanito. The British overseas territory’s native dialect is a mixture of Andalusian Spanish laced mainly with British words (often with a Spanish pronunciation) as well as many from Genoese, Maltese, and Portuguese. Llanito also reflects a Jewish influence and uses words from Haketia, a dialect once spoken by Sephardic Jews in Morocco and the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. Combined with Gibraltarians’ rapid-fire delivery and frequent code-switching – changing from Spanish to English or vice versa in the same sentence – this rich heritage makes Llanito Europe’s quirkiest and most fascinating language.

Llanito is the weird and wonderful language of Gibraltar; Bernard-Verougstraete/pixabay

Gibraltar’s local dialect is peppered with squashed-together English expressions or abbreviated English words pronounced with a Spanish twist. Take chakaru, for example, which means a bouncer or a “chucker-out”. Others are great fun: chinga is chewing gum, saltipina are salted peanuts and juva is vacumn cleaner, from… well, that one’s pretty obvious. Yet other words have resulted from a confusion between Spanish and English, such as aceitero, which in Llanito refers to an oil tanker: but aciete is the Spanish for olive oil, not for oil used as fuel, which is petróleo.

Llanito reflects Gibraltar's various historical influences; quinntheislander/pixabay

Llanito’s unique mixture of English and Spanish – in which many Gibraltarians are bilingual – is particularly evident in its calques, a linguistic term which refers to a phrase taken from another language by way of literal translation. One example is “to call someone back”: in Spanish, this would be volver a llamar – “to return a call” – but Llanito takes the Spanish for “back” – atrás – to render the phrase literally as llamar para atrás. A calque from Spanish to English is the Llanito expression “Don’t give me the can”, which means “stop annoying me”: here, the Spanish phrase – no me des la lata – has been literally translated into English while retaining the original sense. As well as calques, there is frequent code-switching between English and Spanish in Llanito, such as te llamo p’atrá anyway – “I’ll call you back anyway”.

Just like its architecture, Gibraltar's language was formed by a blend of different cultures; quinntheislander/pixabay

Though you’ll still hear Llanito being spoken on a visit to Gibraltar, some historians and linguists are predicting its imminent disappearance. This is owed mainly, they say, to the fact that English is now the language in which young Gibraltarians are educated and in which they speak to their parents. As Francisco Oda, former director of the Gibraltar branch of the Cervantes Institute, recently told a Spanish newspaper: “The new generations do not know half of the vocabulary that we know as Llanito… [A]s Gibraltar becomes more and more British, Llanito, like Spanish, is on the wane among local people.” All the more reason, then, to head to Gibraltar as soon as you can to pick up some of Europe’s most intriguing language.

Five Useful Words/Phrases in Llanito

A como están?: how much are they?

Apparró: the Upper Rock of Gibraltar

Cagona/Panaera: a Gibraltarian one-pound note

Chico: half pint of beer

Jipio: a jiffy

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