Spain's Arab Connection Influenced the Language

The Moorish Invasion Added to Spanish Vocabulary

Seville, Spain on a sunny day.

LeeSeongSil/Pixabay

If you speak either Spanish or English, you probably speak more Arabic than you think.

It's not "real" Arabic you're speaking, but rather words that come from the Arabic language. After Latin and English, Arabic is probably the biggest contributor of words to the Spanish language. A large portion of English-Spanish cognates that don't come from Latin come from Arabic.

Spanish Words and Arabic Origins

If you know much about etymology, the English words you're most likely to think of as Arabic origin are those that start with "al-." This includes words such as "algebra," "Allah," "alkali," and "alchemy." These words exist in Spanish as álgebra, Alá, álcali, and alquimia, respectively. But they are far from the only Arabic-derived words in Spanish. A variety of other types of common words such as "coffee," "zero," and "sugar" (café, cero, and azúcar in Spanish) also come from Arabic.

The introduction of Arabic words into Spanish began in earnest in the eighth century. But even before then, some words of Latin and Greek origin had roots in Arabic. People living in what is now Spain spoke Latin at one time, but over the centuries, Spanish and other Romance languages (such as French and Italian) gradually differentiated themselves. The Latin dialect that eventually became Spanish was highly influenced by the invasion of the Arabic-speaking Moors in 711. For many centuries, Latin/Spanish and Arabic existed side by side. Even today, many Spanish place names retain Arabic roots. It wasn't until late in the 15th century that the Moors were expelled. By then, literally thousands of Arabic words had become part of Spanish.

Although it is believed that the English words "alfalfa" and "alcove," which originally were Arabic, entered English by way of Spanish (alfalfa and alcoba), most Arabic words in English probably entered the language by other routes.

Keep in mind also that Arabic has changed substantially since the 15th century. Some Arabic words from then aren't necessarily still in use, or they have changed in meaning.

aceite — oil
aceituna — olive
adobe — adobe
aduana — customs (as at a border)
ajedrez — chess
Alá — Allah
alacrán — scorpion
albacora — albacore
albahaca — basil
alberca — tank, swimming pool
alcalde — mayor
álcali — alkali
alcatraz — pelican
alcázar — fortress, palace
alcoba — bedroom, alcove
alcohol — alcohol
alfil — bishop (in chess)
alfombra — carpet
algarroba — carob
algodón — cotton
algoritmo — algorithm
almacén — storage
almanaque — almanac
almirante — admiral
almohada — pillow
alquiler — rent
alquimia — alchemy
amalgama — amalgam
añil — indigo
arroba@ symbol
arroz — rice
asesino — assassin
atún — tuna
ayatolá — ayatollah
azafrán — saffron
azar — chance
azúcar — sugar
azul — blue (same source as English "azure")
balde — bucket
barrio — district
berenjena — eggplant
burca — burqa
café — coffee
cero — zero
chivo — billy goat
cifra — cifra
Corán — Koran
cuscús — couscous
dado — die (singular of "dice")
espinaca — spinach
fez — fez
fulano — what's-his-name
gacela — gazelle
guitarra — guitar
hachís — hashish
harén — harem
hasta — until
imán — imam
islam — Islam
jaque — check (in chess)
jaque mate — checkmate
jirafa — giraffe
laca — lacquer
lila — lilac
lima — lime
limón — lemon
loco — crazy
macabro — macabre
marfil — marble, ivory
masacre — massacre
masaje — massage
máscara — mask
mazapán — marzipan
mezquita — mosque
momia — mummy
mono — monkey
muslim — muslim
naranja — orange
ojalá — I hope, God willing
olé — bravo
paraíso — paradise
ramadán — Ramadan
rehén — hostage
rincón — corner, nook
sandía — watermelon
sofá — sofa
sorbete — sherbet
rubio — blond
talco — talc
tamarindo — tamarind
tarea — task
tarifa — tariff
tártaro — tartar
taza — cup
toronja — grapefruit
zafra — harvest
zanahoria — carrot
zumo — juice