Arab Influence on the Spanish Language


Photo of Arabic language (Signat)

In my previous article, I wrote about the prominent influence the occupation of Muslims had on Spanish architecture. Where I live, in Madrid, there is a forgotten history of Arab and Muslim presence and impact.

Today, I want to discuss another important aspect of culture: language.

First, a brief explanation of the origins of the Spanish language. The modern Spanish language, Español, comes from a Castilian dialect, Spanish Castellano. Spanish Castellano originally came from the local dialect of Cantabria in Northern Spain, before spreading to Castile. When the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, and Aragon came together, the Spanish language slowly started to spread, before it ultimately became the mainstream language of Spain. It then moved into South America through imperialism, as Spain colonized many regions. Currently, 18 countries in the Americas speak Spanish, including Argentina, Costa Rica, and Peru.

Map of Spanish language usage across the world. (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)

As for Arabic, Muslims view it as an extremely important language because it is the language of the Holy Qur'an. Many believe that it is above all languages because God created it as the best language and it is also the language of Paradise. This belief is reinforced because of the Prophet Mohammed, who spoke about the importance of the Arabic language.

Currently, Arabic has many different dialects and forms of speaking in many different regions of the world. Modern Arabic is part of the Arabo-Canaanite sub-branch of Western Semitic languages; Arabic originally comes from a language called Proto-Semitic, from the Afro-Asiatic Area. This language is known for its wide range of vocabulary and lyrical properties.

During the occupation of the Muslims in the Iberian peninsula, Arabic spread into many regions, including where Spanish was spoken at the time. In many areas, elementary education for reading and writing in Arabic spread, and soon, even those who spoke Spanish knew some basic Arabic. Soon, even native Spanish speakers preferred speaking Arabic. This led to the Spanish language borrowing some words and roots from Arabic. As these two unique languages came into contact and merged, both languages underwent some changes. In the Iberian Peninsula, before the Muslims moved in, Latin and basic Spanish were mainly spoken. After the Arabs conquered the peninsula, Arabic became the main spoken language in the center and in the southern part. As Latin and Spanish and Arabic came together, many different languages, known as the Romance languages were born: Mozarabic (spoken by the Christians under Muslim rule and was a language where Arabic words morphed into Spanish words), Aragonese (spoken in Aragon and Navarre), Leonese (spoken in the kingdom of Leon and had lots of Arabic roots), and Castilian (now modern Spanish).

As a result, even today, many everyday words and vocabulary have Arabic roots. Here is a brief list of some words:

  • Sugar:

  • In Spanish: azúcar, in Arabic: sukkar

  • Oil

  • In Spanish: aceite, in Arabic: az-zeit

  • Fruit juice:

  • In Spanish: zumo, in Arabic: zum

  • Orange:

  • In Spanish: naranja, in Arabic: nāranja

Of course, there are many, many more words.

Similar to architecture, the Muslim presence that was once in Spain has a profound effect on current Spanish culture. Language is an extremely important aspect of Spanish life, and the Golden age of the Iberian Peninsula has deeply affected Spanish. To me, this research and process of writing this article were extremely interesting, as this showed me how often, many languages are intertwined and "borrow" words from each other. As I am currently learning Spanish, this was an interesting aspect of it that I had never known before. Research on this topic showed me even more the importance of acculturation and diversification of cultures.


Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others