The Arab influence on the Spanish language

The Arab invasion of Spain lasted for almost nine centuries. It comes as no surprise that the Spanish language has been highly influenced by the Arabs.

Ever been to Sevilla? This city in Andalucia is famous for flamenco and tapas, and is a big favorite destination for Expats. Did you know that the name Andalucia actually comes from the Arabic name Al-Andalus?

The Arab influence on Spain dates back a long way, dating back to the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. While the original Peninsular or Iberian Spanish language, also called Castilian, evolved from Latin spoken by Romans residing in what is now modern-day Spain, Arabic was brought over by the Moorish conquest that established the vast and powerful Emirate of Córdoba. All the way through the 13th century, the area from Gibraltar to the Pyrenees was heavily influenced by Arabic-speakers.

The Arab advance was halted in Poitiers in the year 723, which is why the Arab influence is least noticeable in the northeastern part of the peninsula. The Catalan language also holds very few lexical elements from Arabic, whereas the Spanish language has almost 4000 words with Arabic origin. The more south you travel in the peninsula, the more you notice the Arabic influence in the language spoken.

It is estimated that up to 8% of the Spanish dictionary is rooted in Arabic. However, it is difficult to know the exact number of words deriving from Arabic origin.

An interesting phenomenon in the Spanish language is the existence of word pairs or words that describe the same thing but derive from different origins (one Latin and one Arabic). Examples include aceituna and oliva (olive), alacrán and escorpión.

Below is a short list of Spanish words acquired directly from Andalusi Arabic, including the Spanish meaning of the word as well as the Arabic etymology:

    • aceituna: From Arabic الزيتون‎ az-zaytun, “olive”
    • albóndiga: Meatball. From Arabic al-bunduqa (البندقة) “the ball.”
    • alcohol: From Arabic al-kuhul (الكحول), fine powder used as eye makeup.
    • ojalá: “I hope”; “I wish that…”. From law šhaʾ allāh “If God wills.”n n

Words weren’t the only things that the Arabs brought over to Spain. They also gave us Arabic numbers which, to be honest, are much simpler than Latin numbers!

They also influenced our intelligence by introducing algebra and the game of chess. They also gave us the ‘garbanzo’ for which all Spaniards will be eternally grateful.

This particular etymology of Arabic influence on the Spanish language is a very interesting topic. If you’re trying to get down to the basics of studying Spanish, I’d recommend looking further into its history to fully understand how far the language has come.

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