Last week on my way to work, a man stopped me to ask for the time. Upon answering him in Spanish, and as we got on the bus and started on our way to our destination, he respectfully remarked about my broken Spanish. A few minutes into our conversation regarding the Spanish language, the stranger said that, at times, people mistake him to be of Arab descent . I smiled because that has also been my experience often. However, he is actually from Cuba and I am of Puerto Rican descent. That interchange broke the ice between us and prompted a quick history lesson about the influence of Arabic words in the Spanish language by my newly acquired mentor.
The man who was in his late 50’s told me that the Arab influence in Spanish derives from the Arab dominated parts of some regions of Spain passed along to us via colonization of the Americas. Although this fact may come as no surprise to some of you, to me it was a fact that I did not know about. Frankly, I did not learn any world history in school and most of what I know today is self taught and/or passed down to me by people like this man who are eager to keep our history and traditions alive. So I was genuinely interested in what my bus companion was telling me and with every word he said, I envisioned a quick blog on Pa’lante to share this “influencia Arabe” with you.
I researched further and found out that:
The Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Arab-Moor Muslims in the early 8th century.
The Muslim domination of Iberia lasted for over seven hundred years extending from 711 to 1492 AD.
The influence of Arabic on the Spanish language is fundamentally lexical but its other influences are also briefly examined in this article. It is estimated that there are about one thousand Arabic roots and approximately three thousand derived words, for a total of around four thousand words or 8% of the Spanish dictionary – the second largest lexical influence on Spanish after Latin.
Here are a few Spanish words of Arabic origin:
Azúcar: لسكّر Sukkar.
Arroz: أرز ’Arúzz.
Aceite: الزيت Az-zait.
Café: مقهى Qahwa.
Hasta: حتى Hata.
Incredible how a request for the time brought me more knowledge and a pleasant conversation. I hope this blog helps us see how opening up the door to our past can help us find a relationship to our present. Be it in words or actions. The fact is that ours is a rich and varied culture peppered with a multi-ethnic ancestry.
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