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Californian professor studies ‘Llanito’ in research project

Robert Newcomb, a professor at the University of California Davis, recently visited Gibraltar on a research project, studying bilingualism on the Rock.

Mr Newcomb is an Associate Professor in Spanish and Portuguese and one of his specialisations is Iberian literature and culture.

During his visit to Gibraltar Mr Newcomb spent a lot of his time researching Gibraltarian literature in the Garrison Library.

He would like to eventually write a book that would deal with Gibraltarian literature and how it fits into the literature of the Iberian Peninsula.

“There has been almost zero discussion among the people I know of Iberian studies about the literature from Gibraltar,” Mr Newcomb said.

“That’s an exciting thing that I hope to bring, at least among fellow academics.”

Mr Newcomb added that before this book would come to fruition he would need to do extensive research and even some follow up visits to the Rock.

“I have always been interested in how different literary traditions in the peninsular relate to one another,” Mr Newcomb said.

“I was designing an undergraduate course called the Iberian Mosaic that would be taught in Spanish but the general idea was to let students know how diverse the peninsular was in terms of languages and different forms of literary expression.”

Mr Newcomb said that in the States people know about Spain, even less about Portugal and they know the symbol of the Rock from Gibraltar due to the Prudential adverts.

“The idea of Gibraltar as a community or Gibraltarians as a people I would say 99.9% of Americans have no idea about, myself included until an embarrassingly recent time,” Mr Newcomb said.

Mr Newcomb decided to include Gibraltar into his course on the Iberian Peninsula.

The bilingualism of the people of Gibraltar who can write and speak in both English and Spanish is something Mr Newcomb found his resonated with his students.

“It was a very pleasant surprise,” Mr Newcomb said.

“Gibraltar was the last unit in the course and my students – the majority studying Spanish at UC Davis tend to be Mexican American – code switch between English and Spanish all the time with their friends.”

“The idea there was such a place where people switched naturally between English and Spanish, mixing the two, or choosing to people one language or the other depending on the social context was fascinating for them.”

Mr Newcomb added that the fact there was a border between Gibraltar and Spain was interesting to the students who drew from their knowledge of the Mexico – US border.

The students read stories by Mark Sanchez and Humbert Hernandez were similar to themes that are discussed in Mexican American ‘Chicano’ literature.

“Many of the students really identified with the characters and the situations in the stories by Mark Sanchez from his book Rock Black or by Humber Hernandez,” Mr Newcomb said.

“Many of the final papers I received were about Gibraltar – completely disproportionate to the population. Gibraltar came in second in the number of final papers.”

Mr Newcomb added that the mixing of English and Spanish was “mind boggling” to the students.

“It was exactly as they did but the accents you had in English and Spanish was completely distinct from American English or Mexican Spanish,” he said.

“So the idea there was this other place that had no much in common with their day to day reality which they had never heard of until they took the course was this real revelation for them.”