The Arabic Roots of Spanish

When Arabic-speaking Muslims from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711, they introduced unique architecture, philosophy, and social norms to the territory. The Arabic language deeply influenced the local vernacular Latin dialect, which eventually became Spanish.

In the 15th century, this territory was now the Spanish kingdom and was presided over by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Despite the Inquisition, the Spanish language already deeply reflected Arabic influences. Some Arabic words also shaped the English language, as you can see by a few nouns in this list.

Arabic (spoken)SpanishEnglish
zaytun aceituna olive
shatranj ajedrez chess
habaqah albahaca basil
alhafaalféizar windowsill
aljabrálgebra algebra
zurafahjirafa giraffe
laymunlimón lemon
sindiyyahsandía watermelon

Historians traditionally viewed this period of Islamic rule as a time of “convivencia,” or living together, because it’s been widely accepted that Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in relative harmony and abundance. In modern times, however, historians question this seemingly idyllic picture. You can read more about the Muslim and Arabic influences in Southern Spain and the diverse views of life during this period in this “Beardy History” article.

Finally, with all the sweet holiday treats not so far behind us, I leave you with one more Arabic word: “as-sukkar,” meaning “azúcar,” or sugar!

Published by Alison Trujillo

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