Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gibberish may derive from Llanito

Perhaps it comes as no surprise to many... but did you know that the term 'Gibberish' may have derived from the Llanito spoken in Gibraltar?

Well... Wikipedia thinks so!

Gibberish is a generic term in English. It means talking that sounds like speech, but has no actual meaning. This meaning has also been extended to meaningless text or gobbledygook. The common theme in gibberish statements is a lack of literal sense, which can also be described as a presence of nonsense.

A further definition of gibberish in Wiktionary, the free dictionary, says it is speech or writing that is unintelligible, incoherent or meaningless. (can often be seen here!)

A family of language games in English are sometimes referred to as "Gibberish". Comedian Sid Caesar was noted for what he called "double-talk", an ability to speak varieties of nonsense syllables that sounded as if he was speaking various foreign languages.

Origin of the term

According to Wikipedia, the term is first seen in English in the early 16th century. A common theory is that the word comes from the name of the famous 8th-century Islamic alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, whose name was Latinized as "Geber", thus the term "gibberish" arose as a reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon often used by Jabir and other alchemists who followed.

A second explanation, says Wikipedia, is from the British (sic) 'colony' (now of course, a British Overseas Territory) Gibraltar (from Arabic Gabal-Tariq, [Gibel Tarik] meaning Mountain of Tariq), whose residents frequently speak in Spanish and English during their conversations. Gibraltarians will often start a sentence in Spanish and switch to English halfway through, making it difficult for non-locals to follow.

Very true... we do!! :)

UPDATE: 21st February 2009 - 22:34

I have been contacted by Garrett Wesley Gibbons of Brigham Young University in the USA, who is currently blogging about a Gibraltar Documentary Film project he is in the process of putting together. Garrett has kindly informed me of a paper he wrote, entitled Did 'gibberish' originally describe the speech in Gibraltar (Yanito)? > An Alternative Etymology for Gibberish.

It's an interesting read... and my thanks to Garrett for sharing it!


Garrett said...

Great blog post! With Llanito-related topics, it's often hard to tell where something really came from. Everyone has a different spin on the origin of this phrase or the other, and it's funny that even terms that may describe Llanito (like "gibberish") are filled with different opinions.

Great work!

Cybernest said...

Quite so Garrett... and in Gibraltar, no hay mucho que nos guste mas que porfia different opinions... y una buena bronca! Disputes around here are a 300 year old tradition! heh heh

Gracias also por tu article! Esta muy bien escrito mate y te doy congratulations for a nice bit of writing y tu interes en nuestro querido Gib y our llanito language!

One little thing I noticed in your article... que quizas deberias darle un repazo... and I hope I'm not being pedantic... pero este paragrph, I would humbly suggest... needs a little edit:


"No documentation of the history of the English Gibraltar seems to exist beyond that Arabic origin... "

That, I think, should of course read, "the history of British Gibraltar seems to exist beyond that Arabic origin... "

Una cosa que me intriga mucho es... what brings an American University graduate to focus on such an obscure (for Americans) subject as Llanito as spoken in Gibraltar... or even, con tu film documentary (in progress)... in short, why your interest in Gibraltar?

Oh and my apologies to any 'English only' speaker trying to read this. Now you know what a good example of Gibraltarian llanito 'gibberish' looks like! :)