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Montevideo, May 30th 2023 - 03:48 UTC



Dissertation: Spanish-English contact in the Falkland Islands

Friday, July 29th 2022 - 10:26 UTC
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Yliana Rodríguez holds a PhD from the University of Leiden (The Netherlands). She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Center for Foreign Languages of UdelaR (Uruguay). Yliana Rodríguez holds a PhD from the University of Leiden (The Netherlands). She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Center for Foreign Languages of UdelaR (Uruguay).

By Yliana Rodríguez (*) for MercoPress – A cosmic coincidence happened to me some months ago. I was notified that my PhD defense committee only coincided on June 14, meaning that would be the date to defend my thesis about Falkland Islands English in contact with Spanish.

The dissertation is in the area of contact linguistics, a field of study that has developed within contemporary linguistics. It is a dynamic area of research interested in understanding how language systems change when speakers of different languages and cultures interact. Contact studies are valuable for many areas of knowledge, for instance, language change research, sociolinguistics, language awareness, ethnolinguistics, anthropology and archaeology.

The socio-historical contexts in which the different varieties of Spanish and English have come into contact with other languages have given rise to complex and varied situations. The contact between these two languages in the Falklands does not escape the rule. My dissertation elaborated on a study of the historical and sociolinguistic factors that defined the linguistic encounter between Spanish and English in the Falkland Islands, focusing on the contact’s repercussions, both in the place names sphere and in its vocabulary. This piece aims to summarise and evaluate its main findings.

The approach of my work follows the idea that contact varieties are shaped by their social histories. Within such an outlook, my dissertation intends to build on this research tradition, hoping to collaborate with the scholarly community in proposing satisfactory explanations of the phenomena of language contact. This work – composed of several case studies– aimed to show that the changes induced by contact obey communication strategies, economic necessities, the impact of immigration, and attitudinal factors, amongst others.

Falkland Islands English is one of the three varieties of the South Atlantic Ocean and ranks amongst the group of “lesser-known varieties of English”. Since the English settlement in 1833, the Islands have been continuously inhabited by English speakers. In 2000, Andrea Sudbury had pointed out that the history of the Islands’ settlements is atypical compared to the colonization of much of the English-speaking world, since the only linguistic varieties that came into contact were those English dialects spoken by the settlers, without the influence of other languages. However, English was also in contact with the Spanish spoken by the gauchos, resulting in a Spanish linguistic contribution in terms of vocabulary.

My research output includes a broad array of data confirming that FalklandsEnglish is also the result of contact with Spanish, asserting that ‘pure’ dialect contact scenarios are the exception rather than the norm. The linguistic evidence of such contact, however, is reduced to words and place names emerging from what was probably a jargon for cattle business and lifestyle. I argued that the Falkland Islands English vocabulary originated from the contact of English varieties as well as Spanish. The latter, together with some native American words, contributed to the ultimate shape of Falklands English lexical idiosyncrasy. These words have been included in the local dictionary, and light up old Islanders’ eyes when asked about their meaning or use.

Even though Spanish-English contact continues into the present, heavy Spanish-English contact took place simultaneously with Falkland Islands English formation. The onset of the contact – and chiefly its peak – can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when businessman Lafone leased part of the southern part of East Falkland, the largest of the Falkland Islands which today is named after him: Lafonia. My dissertation’s focus, i.e., Spanish-English contact in the Falklands, began with the launching of Lafone’s cattle raising business, followed by labour force migration, in a territory where the British Crown had just settled, marking the beginning of a still-lasting bond with the mainland. The 19th century was decisive for FIE configuration, and the fact that archives show significant numbers of people with the occupation of gaucho and related duties indicates the origin of the many camp-related Spanish loanwords found in this study.

Given the number of Spanish loanwords attested in the FIE lexicon (around 20% of the words registered in the local dictionary), a jargon was probably spoken as a result of Spanish and English speakers' interactions. This jargon was probably a simple sound system, one- or two-word utterances, without much grammatical complexity. Gauchos left the Islands when the economy shifted to sheep husbandry, therefore, the jargon did not undergo expansion so as to represent the first stage in the life cycle of a pidgin. It is worth noting, that even though it is common to talk about gaucho-heritage and gaucho words, it is important to acknowledge that people with professions other than the gaucho one (but related to it) were also agents of linguistic contact. Rural labourers, women and children were very probably part of the contact scenario.

The dissertation has attempted to bridge a gap in the literature on English as a contact language, arguing that Falklands English is both the result of contact amongst English varieties as well as contact with a Spanish variety, a product of both linguistic and social factors. The findings of the dissertation can be narrowed into the two main topics: toponomastics and loanwords, and delve into theoretical, factual and methodological findings.

Place naming analysis revealed that within the Spanish toponyms used to refer to the archipelago – as well as to its various geographical features and places – there are two groups: one that is used locally and belongs to the gaucho legacy (over 200 toponyms), and another group used by the Argentinians in their maps of the Islands as a bastion of their long sovereignty claim over the archipelago (for the Islanders, the first constitutes endonyms and the second exonyms). The data suggested that the second group of names is being used as instruments of the sovereignty claim, thus provoking negative feelings in the Falklands population, a subject that is well known to Islanders but which, to my knowledge, had not been studied until now. With respect to the Spanish place names that are actually used by Islanders, data showed that they correspond to the archipelago’s gaucho era, i.e., they were coined by then. Maps and Islanders’ narratives constantly refer to them, and locals are well aware of their origin. These toponyms reveal profound acculturation and inter-linguistic processes, i.e., dropping the generics, omitting articles and adapting to the English phonology.

Studying Falkland Islands English vocabulary unveiled and evidenced historical facts that can otherwise go unnoticed. This suggests that lexicon studies help better understand the development of cultures. Spanish words are not limited to horse-riding terminology, as it had been claimed by other scholars, but also to other semantic fields such as animals, food, tools, clothing, and physical elements, amongst others. Fieldwork also indicated robust evidence of disuse of these words. Understandably, the modernisation of countryside practices, such as transportation and animal farming, has made the words redundant. Finally, it was noted that the Falklands variety has not been included in Oxford University's historical dictionary, denoting the under-researched status of the dialect.

This dissertation was not only the first to study a South American Spanish variety in contact with a British variety of English, but it was also the first scholarly work to study Native South American names in a Southern Hemisphere English variety. Even though these words have probably made their way through Spanish, contemplating their etymology is instructive in the absence of other historical data to reveal the myriad types and contexts of cultural encounters.


(*) Yliana Rodríguez holds a PhD from the University of Leiden (The Netherlands), a Master in Human Sciences and a BA in Linguistics from UdelaR -Universidad de la República (Uruguay). She is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Center for Foreign Languages of the Faculty of Humanities of UdelaR.


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  • imoyaro

    One single word...gaucho. Imagine how poor Gauchito Drink feels! They wouldn't even know he was “a little gaucho.”

    Jul 29th, 2022 - 04:52 pm +4
  • Roger Lorton

    The English language has been heard on the Islands since 1765 - continuously since 1771.

    Jul 30th, 2022 - 01:18 am +3
  • Jo Bloggs

    Red Baron

    When you were here did you notice anyone talking about ‘camp’ rather than ‘the country’ when referring to anywhere outside of Stanley?

    Did you notice that the Spanish names are used for horse gear?

    Did you notice anyone talk about pasa libres?

    There are lots of examples.

    Jul 30th, 2022 - 02:18 am +1
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