Arab Influence on the Spanish Language
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Arab Influence on Spanish

Due to the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from 711 to 1492 AD, the Arab influence on the Spanish language was inevitable and can still be seen today.

Spanish was first spoken in the ancient region of Castilla, in northern Spain, while most of the southern part was under Muslim rule. This southern Andalusi Arabic influenced the Spanish language almost from the outset. The influence intensified as Castilla began to grow and move into Muslim parts, which had never spoken Castilian before, as did it when the “Arabized Christians” fled north into Castilian territory most notably during the time of the Almoravid conquest.


Modern day Spanish is therefore a mix of Old Castilian with Arabic elements. Confusingly, Modern Spanish still has some words which have a Latin and Arabic derivation for the same word, such as aceituna and oliva (olive) and jaqueca and migraña (migraine). Such influence in the Spanish language can mainly be seen in the southern part of Spain, which suffered the longest occupation. A few words have been borrowed into the language from Moroccan Arabic as well, due to its geographical proximity.

Most of the influence can be seen through vocabulary; most of which are nouns, so with fewer examples of verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, the general and grammatical structure of the language has remained relatively unchanged.

Examples of the influence of Arabic Language on the Spanish Language

  • Expressions such as “¡Ole!” and “ojalá” come from the Arabic “wa’llah” and “insh’allah”, which mean the equivalent.
  • The polite Spanish “usted” is said to come from the Latin “vuestra merced”, but “ustadth” is the Arabic word for professor/teacher, so it may also have these roots.
  • The suffix –í, which is used in Spanish to show relationship or belonging, comes from the masculine adjective marker in Arabic, eg. Andalusí, Marbellí, Zaragocí, (Someone from Andalucía, Marbella, Zaragoza).
  • Many words in Spanish beginning with “al” or even just “a” (sometimes the “l” is swallowed by the following consonant in Arabic) may have Arabic roots, as “al” is the Arabic equivalent of “the”, present at the beginning of every definite noun.

Here are a few examples:

Spanish English Arabic
AbalorioCheap jewelry bead Al-baluri
Aceite Oil

AceitunaOlive oilAz-zeitun
AlcaldeMayorAl-qadi meaning judge (derives from the verb qada- to judge)
AzúcarSugar Sukkar
Azafrán SaffronZa'firan. Perhaps from Safra (yellow)
JarraPitcher or other pot with handle(s).ǧarrah
Jirafa GiraffeZiraffa
Zoco or AzogueMarketSouk
ZumoFruit juiceZum

The number of words borrowed into the Spanish language from Arabic is unknown. The estimates vary massively according to different sources, and whether elements such as place names or derived forms are included in the count. One well respected authority names approximately 4000, the largest Spanish etymological Dictionary lists just over 1000, and the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language gives approximately 1,200 words, excluding place names and derivatives.

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