The Influence of Arabic Words in the Spanish language

by Efrain NievesAl andalus

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.

Top 10 Spanish Words of Arabic Origin

Spain’s Impressive Arabic Legacy: Great Places to Explore the Country’s Moorish Past

Dworkin, Steven N. (2012). A History of the Spanish Lexicon: A Linguistic Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 83.

Versteegh, Kees (2003). The Arabic language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 228

Lapesa, Raphael (1960). Historia de la lengua española. Madrid. p. 97.

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Pa’lante Latino showcases current events in the arts, entertainment, politics, and culture as it affects our community. Above all, we are ferocious advocates of the contributions that Hispanics/Latinos have made to the United States. We feature articles based on historical facts to reaffirm our relevance. Please email us at info@palantelatino.com.
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8 Responses to “The Influence of Arabic Words in the Spanish language”

  1. Excellent resource. People from Puerto Rico FORGET that just because it’s an island the influences are VAST and VARIED not just from a small pool of ideas and genes as some of the POLITICAL PARTIES would have them believe!!

  2. Remember the MOORS??? they were ARABS…..

  3. Sarah Velazquez Reply May 6, 2013 at 2:27 PM

    Thanks for sharing this information. In addition to the linguistic influence it is fair to note that 700 years of Moor dominance in Spain resulted in many people born in Spain having blood roots from North Africa/Africa. The results are still seen today especially in many Southern Spanish People. (Not unlike Southern portions of Italy and the isles). This results in immigrants from Spain not being 100% Caucasian in their racial make-up.

    • The Arabs ARE White-Caucasian. The original Maghreb before the Arabs were also white. We cannot see the racial composition of 711 as it’s today. The only tanned ones are the Bedouins and Tuareg nomads. Even if you look at the Egyptian mummies, they are fair haired (under the wigs) the Berbers or Ighizem (something like that) are also milky-white. Most ethnic Arabs that crossed into Spain were Syrian and North African Greco-Roman converts, meaning Assyrian (white) Arabs and Greek converts. In those days the Mediterranean was a ‘lake’. IN addition, the ethnic Arabs were finally asked to leave Spain in 1610, fearing an alliance with the Turks and a reinvasion from Algiers.

      • Agreed, Arabs are WHITE. We have a very bad habit in the US of calling anyone with a tan not white. Caucasian peoples originated in the Caucas Mountains and those people look darker than the British or Swedes. Have you been to North Africa? I have. And aside from having tans, most of those people are white. Africa is a varied continent and not every African is black. I have so often heard very dark Italians or Greeks called white, yet lighter skinned Spaniards or Arabs called non-whites. It is a very bad habit in our current political climate to call Spaniards and Arabs (Hispanics and Muslims) non-white so that they can be ‘other’ and thrown in with their mixed or non-white brethren.

  4. Another word of Arabic origin which is still used in Spanish is “ojalá”.
    (in Arabic it’s وشاء الله – wa-šā’ allāh), you’ll see that it roughly means “if God [Allah] wants it” or “and may God will it”. However, the best translation nowadays is “hopefully”, “let’s hope” or “I hope”.

  5. Ptolemaic greeks taught them everything. they changed their names and became muslims. To avoid being killed.

  6. Wow, you discovered the wheel, there are not 10 words, there are 25,000 direct word from Arabic in Spanish and 80,000 derived terms and -Latin-Arabic synonyms: piscine-alberca; cojín-almohada, oliva-aceituna, oleo-aceite etc etc. In addition, the very accent of Southern Spain and South America is Arabic pronunciation.

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