AUTHOR: Levey David
TITLE: Language Change and Variation in Gibraltar
SERIES: IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society 23
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
Tyler K. Anderson, Department of Languages, Literature and Mass Communication,
Mesa State College.
David Levey's book focuses on the possible impact of Spanish language contact on
the English of the adolescents and pre-adolescents living in the British colony
of Gibraltar. After comparing the findings from the present study with similar
data collected in the 1980s and 1990s, the author concludes that the English in
this Iberian colony is losing Spanish-contact features and moving toward a
While intended for specialists in language contact, the book is quite accessible
to non-specialists. The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter
provides a brief introduction to the linguistic situation in Gibraltar,
including a description of Yanito, the local term used to denote the mixing of
Spanish and English in the same communicative exchange. This introduction to the
linguistic environment is followed by a discussion of the purpose of the study:
to describe the language use patterns and the Gibraltarian youth's phonetic
realizations in English.
Chapter two presents a history of the British colony, beginning with the
Phoenicians, moving on to the British occupation of 1704, discussing the
implications of World War II on the colony, and finally ending with a discussion
of the present-day Gibraltar. Of great interest is the description of the
tensions between British Gibraltar and Franco's Spain, with a detailed portrayal
of the consequent thirteen-year blockade.
The third chapter presents the research methodology, which is positioned within
a variationist framework. Data was selected from more than 40 hours of
recordings, which stemmed from interviews with 72 Gibraltarian youth, taken over
a period of seven months. The interviews partially consisted of an informal chat
used for gathering personal information (i.e. mother tongue, language choice in
several domains, television viewing habits, contact with Spain and UK, etc.).
Also included in the procedure is the reading of an English wordlist, which is
used in the analysis of the phonetic realizations of the youth of Gibraltar (see
chapters five and six). In this same vein, participants were also asked to
translate several phrases from Spanish into English, as prompted by the
researcher; this translation task was used solely to corroborate the findings of
the wordlist. All data were analyzed in conjunction with four social variables:
sex, age (adolescent or pre-adolescent), ethnicity (Autochthonous majority,
Jewish, Indian, Moroccan) and class (Upper middle class, Middle class, Lower
middle class, and Working class).
Chapter four presents the results of the informal chat, with a presentation of
the findings regarding language choice in the home and school domain and the
informants' most comfortable language. These were analyzed taking into
consideration the four social variables. Also included in this chapter was a
description of factors which influence language choice and behavior, including
language attitudes, contact with the UK and Spain, and language competence.
Language attitudes were gauged based on reactions to recordings of several
well-known personalities (e.g. David Beckham, Queen Elizabeth II), with the
purpose of determining whether the informants were capable of distinguishing
language varieties. It was concluded that even though there was a hint of accent
tolerance, there was a ''clear preference for British accents'', with the RP
accent being the most favored (p. 85).
Chapters five and six present the results of the phonetic analysis. First, the
author presents a detailed examination of the vowel system of the Gibraltarian
youth, and in the following chapter presents the consonant system. Each chapter
considers the four social variables, and compares the sound system of Gibraltar
with that of other varieties of English, including Spanish-influenced English.
The book concludes with a summary and implications of the findings, pointing to
convergence toward a British standard.
In this monograph on language contact in Gibraltar, Levey makes an important
contribution to the understanding of the phonetic state of youth in the British
colony. Aside from the few orthographic errors, this book is well organized and
well written. The historical summary of the contact situation is a great
strength of this book; the accessible presentation of this information
facilitates an understanding of why language change may be taking place.
As with any book, this one is not without its flaws, beginning with the title.
At first glance one would have expected to see how all languages of
communication in Gibraltar (i.e., Spanish, English, Yanito) are experiencing
language change. This anticipation is exacerbated in the opening chapter where
the author discusses, albeit briefly, each of the languages, along with several
manifestations of language contact, including phonological influence,
borrowings, and code-switching. Only when reading the objectives of the study
does one realize that the author plans to focus on only one of the languages in
this contact situation.
Also misleading was the chapter title ''Language choice, competence and
attitudes''. While one anticipates a detailed inquiry into each of these three
topics, language competence and attitudes are simply treated in cursory
evaluations. On the contrary, ample quantitative evidence is presented for items
such as television viewing habits. Interestingly, few of the topics discussed in
this chapter seem to be relevant to the subsequent discussion on language change
As regards language attitudes, the discussion is brief and lacks clarity, with
only minimal results presented. The methodology used to uncover language
attitudes is suspect, with no explanation as to why more conventional methods
(i.e. the matched-guise technique, ethnographic interviews) were not
implemented. Of great concern is the connection of certain dialect features to
celebrities. A participant may prefer David Beckham over Queen Elizabeth,
without any reference to the language variety that each uses. Thus, the
informants' attitudes are linked to the personality and not language, as is the
focus of the study.
With regards to the social variables included in the study, the focus on
ethnicities seems unmerited, especially in considering that only six informants
came from both the Indian and Moroccan populations. While these two groups may
have an impact on the linguistic situation on the Rock, the analysis of their
speech community seems impractical and unwarranted, and leads to an imbalanced
study. This is especially evident in the presentation of the vowel system, where
only diphthong/monophthong variants witness some possible trends that
demonstrate a potential change in progress. Similarly, the inclusion of these
two groups seems unfounded based on the fact that the datasets used to compare
the current data did not make such a distinction, thus making it impossible to
determine if language change is taking place in these ethnic groups.
One of the strengths of this monograph is the ability to compare the phonetic
features of Gibraltar English with other varieties of English, including several
British varieties and Spanish-influenced English. However, at times the author
compares certain features with ''American English'' or ''Australian English'', as if
no language variation exists within these political borders. The comparison is
therefore lost, because the reader does not know which variety of American
English to contrast with the feature in question.
Obviously, many of the limitations mentioned here are minimal, and should not
diminish in any way the overall quality of this book. The study is innovative
and interesting, and the line of inquiry used in the book invites further
research into language change on the Rock. Of great interest is further research
regarding the current state of the other two modes of communication used in this
British colony, namely Spanish and Yanito.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Tyler K. Anderson received his PhD from The Pennsylvania State University in
Spanish Linguistics. He is currently an assistant professor of Spanish at Mesa
State College, where he teaches courses in Spanish language and second language
acquisition. His research includes language attitudes and manifestations of
contact linguistics, including the acceptability of lexical borrowing and
code-switching in Spanish and English contact situations.