How many of these words did you know came from Arabic ?
All Spanish students are more or less familiar with Latin roots of words from Romance languages such as Romanian, French, or Italian. However Spanish, which is also a Romance language, is also heavily influenced by Arabic: 8% of its words derive from this language!
And it is no surprise: for almost 800 years, the Muslims inhabited practically all of present-day Spain, with the exception of the North, and it is in Andalucía where Muslims had the greatest influence, since the Kingdom of Granada was the last kingdom they left behind. If you have ever visited the South of Spain, you most likely have seen the Moorish style reflected in the Architecture in many corners of the region. However, their influence can also be found in gastronomy, agricultural methods, and science. And of course, in the Spanish language, specifically in the Andalusian dialect, which has a large number of Arabic words or ‘Arabisms’.
On the occasion of the international Day of The Arabic Language on 18th December, how about we analyse 10 Spanish words that come from Arabic?
1. Aceite (oil)
The term that gives its name to this golden liquid, which is so popular throughout Spain, comes from the Arabic az-zait, which literally means jugo de aceituna ‘olive juice’. And it comes as no surprise that the name of the fruit also derives from Arabic: aceituna comes from the Arabic word azzaytúna. Out of curiosity, did you know that the Spanish word aceituna can be used a synonym for the Spanish word oliva, but that the latter is of Latin origin?
2. Azúcar (sugar)
The original Arabic word for azúcar (sugar) was sukkar and the Mozarabic (a mixture of Arabic and romance languages) was assúkar. But the interest thing here is that actually the Arabs, who were great scholars of Classical Greece, took the word from the Greek word sakjar (which comes from Persian before Sanskrit).
3. Algodón (cotton)
It was the Muslims who first introduced cotton to the Iberian Peninsula, so it makes sense this word derives form classic Arabic: qutn. The term would later evolve into al-qutun; this word shows the incorporation of the Arabic ‘a’ or ‘al’, which is a very common linguistic feature of Arabic: it is the definite article, meaning “the”, that eventually became part of the Spanish word.
4. Café (coffee)
The name of this highly prized beverage among Spaniards derives from the term qahwah, which means ‘stimulant’, an abbreviation from the word qahhwat al-bun or ‘coffee plant’. By the way, if you are a coffee lover and you live or study Spanish in Spain, don’t miss the blog on how to order coffee in Spain!
5. Albahaca (basil)
As with many words beginning with ‘-al’, albahaca is an Arabic word: alhabáqa. Although, it seems that the Spanish found it hard to pronounce this term because the actual word is albahaca (or ‘albaca’, is also accepted) and not alhabaca. But did you know that other European languages took the name of this popular plant from Greek? Basilico in Italian, basilic in French, basil in English, Basilikum in German…
6. Azafrán (saffron)
Saffron is essential in Spanish Gastronomy and is a key component of Paella – and it is all thanks to the Muslims who introduced it to Spain, along with its most important ingredient: rice! The word azafrán comes from the Arabic za’farān, although it originates from Iranian and means ‘which has golden stigmata’.
7. Almohada (pillow)
Almohada is another word that shows the incorporation of the prefix ‘al’, which is a main characteristic of Arabisms. Its origin is in the Hispanic Arabic term muhádda, which is a derivative of hadd meaning ‘cheek’ – which we stick to our pillow every night when we go to sleep!
8. Guitarra (guitar)
Although this great instrument was played even before the Arabs arrived on the peninsula, the Spanish term comes from the Arabic kitara, which in turn originated from the Greek word kithara.
It is perhaps one of the most semantically powerful Spanish words in Spanish vocabulary and it also comes from the Arabic expression wa shā’ llah which means ‘God willing’. Remember to always use the subjunctive after using Ojalá!
10. Limón (lemon)
And we finish our list of ‘10 Arabic words in Spanish’ with the term that gives its name to this citrus fruit. It comes from the Arabic laymūn which in turn comes from the Persian limu and the Sanskrit nimbū.
What a fantastic language! With so many Arabic words in Spanish, this language has become one of the richest and most historically interesting in Europe. And you? What other Arabic words do you know? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!