As anthropologists look for coins and pieces of clay, linguists analyze texts and search for words. Then linguists rend words to pieces, argue, make theories and finally return a verdict: «This word was loaned». When you speak Spanish, you probably do not suspect that sometimes you also speak Arabic. Even in simple conversations, you use the words far from Latin origin. How did these words creep into Spanish?
Let us go back to the Spain of the 7th century. That was a dark time: Hispania, ruled by German tribes, formed part of the Visigoth Kingdom. Divided by intrigues and contradictions, Hispania had no clear direction of its development. Everything changed in 711 when the Moors invaded Spain.
When we say «invasion», normally what comes to mind are cruel battles, violence and blood flowing everywhere. However, it was not strictly the case with the Arab conquest of Spain. Of course, the Moors met a certain resistance from the local population, but it was weak and loath to act. In less than one year, the whole Iberian Peninsula except a small chunk in the north fell under the Moorish control. A new Muslim state arose. Al-Andalus.
The conquerors did not behave like real conquerors. They did not intend to destroy the existent civilization and implant their own regime. On the contrary, they considered cohabitation to be enriching for both sides. The Moors brought culture and knowledge to the Visigoths who were ninety-five percent illiterate. They founded schools and libraries, made education accessible for normal people. Some scientists say: «If it wasn’t for the Arabs, the European development of writing and reading in the Iberian Peninsula would have started much later».
The Moors gained a perfect understanding of construction. They erected many beautiful palaces, illuminated streets, constructed aqueducts… The irrigation technology they used literally livened up the drought-ridden Peninsula. They showed the locals how to make use of melting snow and made it possible to grow hygrophilous plants even in a dry climate. At that stage, the Spanish terms for building and agricultural terms, names of new occupations, materials, plants, fruit and vegetables were being replaced:
albañil, alarife, alfarero, azotea, alféizar, tabique, alfombra, almohada, algodón, jarra, taza, albaricoque, azúcar, aceite, alfalfa, zanahoria, berenjena, azogue, alcohol, alcanfor, azufre, talco, jabón, ajedrez etc.
The Moors changed the administrative and trade systems. Thus, in modern Spanish we have: alcalde, alguacil, almacén, almoneda, aduana, albarán, arancel, aldea, alquería, arrabal, ceca, zoco, tarifa, fanega
As the appearance of Moorish people in the peninsula was connected with danger, many Arabic names for constructions connected to military life, lookout towers, military ranks. Were kept in Modern Spanish with words such as jinete, barbacana, ronda, atalaya, alcázar etc.
Many words loaned from Arabic start with «al». «Al» used to be and still is a determine article in the Arabic language. It is always written together with a determined word. Spanish copied that tendency and the Arabic article «al» became a prefix in Spanish. Being a natural system, languages react easily to the changes of modern life. Soon after the Arabic words became common in everyday use, people start adding the prefix «al» by habit even to Latin words: Ex.: almeja = al + mitulu (latin); alpiste = al + pistu (latin)
Many Spanish place names retain Arabic roots as well. Troponins, probably, is the easiest way to follow the route of the conquerors. Imagine if you triumphantly conquered new territories, the first thing you do is to make everyone know that henceforth it belongs to you. Psychologically it is a very important step, as it brings satisfaction to you and frightens your enemy. You put your flag into the ground and change the name. That was exactly what the Moorish people did when they first came to the Iberian Peninsula. In April 711 T’ariq ibn Ziyad crossed the Gibraltar straits and landed at the bottom of the mountains with his 7-thousand strong army. Mountain, «Yabal» in Arabic, was the first thing the commander saw and said: «It is mine». Gibraltar whose name is derived from «Yabal T’ariq», T’ariq’s mountains.
Gibraltar < Yabal T’ariq
A sacred symbol of life in Arabic culture has always been the image of water. With such a respectful and devout attitude to water, they could not splash around in the rivers and ponds in the peninsula. Guadalén, Guadalajara, Guadalupe, Guadalquivir keep the Arabic part “Guada” which means «river». Some Spanish cities contain in their names the word «la frontera». Although, the word «frontera» has nothing to do with Arabic, historically it indicates you the frontier between the conquered and free lands. Jimena de la Frontera, Jerez de la Frontera, Vejer de la Frontera, Castellar de La Frontera are the places that became witnesses to blood-thirsty battles and a craving for power.
The history of the language is the history of the world. For eight centuries, Spanish and Arabic existed side by side. It was not until late in the 15th century that the Moors were expelled, and by then literally thousands of Arabic words had become part of modern Spanish.
We recomend you to take a look at other contributions from Dasha to this blog.