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Why is there so much Arabic in Spanish?

Reading time: 4 min
Spanish is a language of the Romance group, that is a descendant of Latin. However it differs from its relatives - French, Romanian, Italian, Catalan and Corsican. The main difference is in its grammar.

Surprisingly, Arabic had a significant influence on Spanish. The fact is that a large part of the Iberian Peninsula was under the rule of Arab Muslims. That's why Spanish has tens of thousands of words of Arabic origin. Although many Spaniards don't even realize it.

To dive deeper into this topic, we offer a little historical background.
Historical background
In the Middle Ages, in the early 7th century, Arab Muslims invaded the Iberian (Pyrenean) Peninsula, where Spain and Portugal are located today.

By the way, the Iberian Peninsula now boasts the Basque Country, the beautiful Mediterranean coast, the vibrant Arab architecture of Andalusia, Catalonia, and Valencia. But these are not the only interesting places on this peninsula.

Arab Muslim groups invaded from the south and settled on the peninsula. The conquest even reached almost present-day France. It took them only 7 years to conquer the entire peninsula. At the end of these seven years, the state of Al-Andalus appeared on the Iberian Peninsula. Arab rule over the Iberian Peninsula began and lasted for 8 centuries until 1492, when the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand regained power.

The images below depict the State of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) and a map of the state.
Who lived in Al-Andaluz?
  • Berbers
  • Arabs
  • Christians who converted to Islam (known as "muladíes" in Spanish, meaning "those who are not pure Arabs")
  • Arabized Christians (known as "mozárabes" in Spanish, who did not abandon their faith but adopted the Arabic language and Arab customs)
  • Jews
  • Slaves (who worked in the army and palace)
Education under Arab rule
The Arabs developed education, organized schools and libraries, and the literacy rate among the population was higher than in Christian Europe. The works of the great Muslim scholars, philosophers, and writers were translated.
Arabisms in Spanish
Borrowings from Arabic are observed in vocabulary, as the local language was already established by the arrival of the Arabs. The Spanish linguist and language historian Rafael Lapeza identified more than 4,000 Arabisms. Let's look at some interesting Arabisms below.
When studying the subjunctive mood, we come across the word "ojalá." It expresses a wish for something to happen.

¡Ojalá tengas suficiente dinero! I hope you have enough money! / May you have enough money!

Literally it means "may Allah want it." Nowadays this word has completely lost its religious meaning and few Spaniards are aware of its origin.

"Al" article
Many words begin with "al." This is the Arabic article, for example, almeja (clam), almacén (warehouse), almacenar (to store), algodón (cotton), alcachofa (artichoke).
"Í" suffix
To indicate someone's origin, the suffix "í" remains from Arabic. For instance, marroquí (Moroccan), iraquí (Iraqi), kuwatí (Kuwaiti).
Some interesting words
Rehén - hostage. From Arabic "rahn."
Mezquino - mean, vile. From Arabic "miskin."
Embarazar - to become pregnant. From Arabic "baraza."
Tarea - task. From Arabic "tariha."
Halagar - to flatter, to court. From Arabic "khalaq."
Gandul - lazy person. From Arabic "gandur."
Next, we suggest grouping Spanish vocabulary of Arabic origin by themes. In addition to that, many words have been preserved from the fields of military affairs, governance and judiciary, trade, currency units, and agriculture.
It's time for practice!
We found two videos where two native speakers (one Arabic-speaking and one Spanish-speaking) are asked to pronounce a specific word in their native language.
Here is the summary of the article in Spanish:

La influencia árabe en el idioma español es evidente. Desde el siglo VIII hasta el XV, los árabes gobernaron gran parte de España, lo que llevó a una gran cantidad de palabras árabes que se introdujeron en el idioma español. Hoy en día, todavía se pueden encontrar muchas palabras de origen árabe en el español moderno.

Algunas palabras comunes que vienen del árabe son "aceituna" (oliva), "azul" (azul), "alfombra" (alfombra), "albóndiga" (albóndiga), "alcoba" (alcoba), "alcalde" (alcalde), "acequia" (canal), "algarrobo" (algarrobo) y "azúcar" (azúcar).

Además de las palabras, la influencia árabe también se puede ver en la gramática española. Por ejemplo, la construcción "ir + infinitivo" se usa para expresar el futuro, lo que refleja la falta de una forma verbal para el futuro en el árabe.

En resumen, la influencia árabe en el idioma español es un recordatorio de la rica historia y cultura de España, y las palabras árabes siguen siendo una parte importante del vocabulario español en la actualidad.

Author: Julia Korotkova

Now you know why Spanish has many words of Arabic origin!

However, the article only covered a portion of this topic. If you are interested in Spanish and its culture, immerse yourself in the language with us. An interactive journey awaits you through the places of Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.

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