The Arabic influence on the Spanish language

Have you ever been to Seville? This southern Spanish city, famous for flamenco and tapas, is a favorite destination for tourists. It’s part of the Spanish province of Andalusia, which is also home to the cities of Cordoba and Granada. Did you know that Andalusia actually comes from the Arabic name Al-Andalus?

Arabic and Spanish have an intimate relationship dating back to the Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. While the original Peninsular or Iberian Spanish language, also called Castilian, evolved from Latin spoken by Romans residing in what is now modern day Spain, Arabic was brought over by the Moorish conquest that established the vast and powerful Emirate of Córdoba. All the way through the 13th century, the area from Gibraltar to the Pyrenees was heavily influenced by Arabic-speakers.

Estimates propose that up to 8% of the Spanish dictionary is rooted in Arabic, which is the second largest lexical influence on the language after Latin. However, it is difficult to know the exact number of words deriving from Arabic origin. An interesting phenomenon in the Spanish language is the existence of word pairs, or words that describe the same thing but derive from different origins (one Latin and one Arabic). Examples include aceituna and oliva (olive), alacrán and escorpión

To illustrate the links between Spanish and Arabic, below is a short list of Spanish words acquired directly from Andalusi Arabic, including the Spanish meaning of the word as well as the Arabic etymology:

  • aceituna: From Arabic الزيتون‎ az-zaytun, “olive”
  • albóndiga: Meatball; ball. From Arabic al-bunduqa(البندقة) “the ball.”
  • alcohol: From Arabic al-kuhul(الكحول), fine powder used as eye makeup.
  • ojalá: “I hope”; “I wish that…”. From law šhaʾ allāh“If God wills.”

How much do you know about Spanish from Spain? Do you want to find out more? Reach out to an Account Manager and see what they can do to localize your material for a Spanish audience. Before you know it, your clients will be saying “¡Olé!”