Borders, Language Shift, and Colonialism in Gibraltar, 1940–1985

Part of the Palgrave Studies in European Political Sociology book series (PSEPS)


This chapter considers language policy and practice in Gibraltar between 1940 and 1985. This period is important because it includes the wartime Evacuation and the Spanish border restrictions and closure, and it is also fundamental in the emergence of a Gibraltarian identity and democratic rights. These developments were facilitated by growing accessibility to the English language. From being largely the preserve of the colonial establishment and the elite, it emerged as pre-eminent in official use, the media and culture, and the higher oral registers.

Miles Clifford, Gibraltar’s Colonial Secretary 1942–1944, headed the committee entrusted by Governor Mason MacFarlane with the task of reorganising the whole educational system of Gibraltar for the post-war era. The Clifford Report of 1944 introduced a state system and gave a central role to English. Both MacFarlane and Clifford were enlightened rulers and indeed Clifford’s papers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford show that in his concern for his colonial subjects he was a man ahead of his time. Although not everyone saw that the days of empire would be limited, colonialism in Gibraltar, in its closing stages, had unexpected nuances.

Education and a command of English became vital in the post-war years in the campaign for civil rights and political empowerment. With Franco’s government’s campaign against Gibraltar and the border closure the English language and the sense of attachment to Britain gained further consolidation. This co-existed with the move away from overt colonialism.



I acknowledge, and am thankful for, the valuable research on education in Gibraltar carried out by Albert Traverso and Edward Archer and the work and publications of the different members of the Lancaster project and also the contribution of local historians, such as Tommy Finlayson’s seminal account of the Evacuation. I am grateful to the writers of other works on language, to the Hispanic Studies Department of the University of Birmingham for its unfailing support in my PhD studies. Libraries and archives both in Gibraltar and in the UK have been extensively used in my research for both primary and secondary material.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ScholarHagley, StourbridgeUK

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