The Spanish language, one of the most widely spoken Romance languages, has a rich and diverse history that spans centuries. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Spanish language is the influence of the Arabic language on its vocabulary. The Muslim Moors’ occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from the 8th to the 15th century resulted in a unique blend of Latin and Arabic linguistic elements, which have left a lasting impact on modern Spanish. In this article, we will explore nearly 60 interesting Arabic-influenced words in Spanish, which reflect the historical and cultural connections between Spain and the Arabic world.
The Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century had a profound and lasting impact on the Spanish language, known as lengua española, which originated from Vulgar Latin. As Muslim forces from North Africa crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered parts of Spain, they brought with them the rich and expressive Arabic language. This vibrant culture left an indelible mark on Spanish vocabulary, giving rise to numerous words of Arabic origin that are still used in Spanish today.
During the Islamic conquest, the Christian kingdoms in Northern Spain managed to maintain their independence, but they too were influenced by the Arabic culture, leading to a fascinating blend of linguistic influences.
Many Spanish place names, such as the city of La Mancha or the Guadalquivir River, have Arabic roots, reflecting the geographical features and history of these regions. Spanish food, such as the popular garbanzo bean dishes, also bears the unmistakable Arabic element. The Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española) recognizes the significant contribution of Arabic loanwords and expressions in the modern Spanish lexicon.
Spanish music, particularly in the southern region of Andalusia, has absorbed the Arabic influence, creating a unique and enchanting fusion of sounds. Castilian Spanish, the official language of Spain, and its variants spoken in Latin America, have also adopted numerous Arabic words. The use of the definite article “al” in many Spanish words demonstrates the close relationship between the Semitic languages and Spanish.
The Arabic culture’s great impact on the Spanish language is evident in the extensive use of Arabic numbers and the widespread knowledge of classical Arabic among history buffs and speakers of Arabic. The philosophy of Aristotle and other ancient thinkers, preserved and transmitted by Arab scholars, also reached Europe through Muslim Spain. As a result, the Spanish language, enriched by the Arab influence, stands as a testament to the power of linguistic exchange and the enduring legacy of diverse cultures.
60 Arabic Words in Spanish
Below is our list of Words – each one is listed with the Spanish words, Arabic words, and English word meanings along with a brief etymology
- Aceituna (olive) – From Arabic الزيتون (al-zaytūn). Olives and olive oil were widely produced and consumed in the Muslim Iberian Peninsula, leading to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Acequia (irrigation ditch) – From Arabic الساقية (al-sāqiya), referring to a water wheel or an irrigation channel. The Moors introduced advanced irrigation techniques to Spain, which is reflected in the adoption of this term.
- Aduana (customs) – From Arabic الديوان (al-dīwān), meaning a government office or a book of records. The term was later used in Spanish to refer to customs offices responsible for regulating trade and collecting duties.
- Ajedrez (chess) – From Arabic الشطرنج (aš-šaṭranj), which comes from Persian شطرنج (šatranj). The game of chess was introduced to Spain by the Moors, and the Arabic term was adopted into Spanish.
- Alazán (sorrel horse) – From Arabic العذان (al-aḏān), which refers to a reddish horse. The Moors were known for their horsemanship and breeding of high-quality horses, which led to the adoption of this term in Spanish.
- Albañil (mason) – From Arabic البناء (al-bannā), meaning “the builder.” The Moors introduced advanced construction techniques to Spain, and the term was adopted to refer to skilled masonry workers.
- Albóndiga (meatball) – From Arabic البندقة (al-bunduqa), meaning “hazelnut,” which likely referred to the size and shape of meatballs. The Moors introduced a variety of dishes to Spain, including meatballs, which became part of Spanish cuisine.
- Alcalde (mayor) – From Arabic القاضي (al-qāḍī), meaning “the judge.” The term was used in the Muslim Iberian Peninsula to refer to local officials responsible for governance and administration.
- Alcázar (fortress) – From Arabic القصر (al-qaṣr), meaning “the palace” or “the fortress.” The Moors built numerous fortified palaces and castles throughout Spain, which led to the adoption of this term.
- Algodón (cotton) – From Arabic القطن (al-quṭn). The Moors introduced the cultivation of cotton to Spain, which became a major industry and led to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Algoritmo (algorithm) – From Arabic الخوارزمي (al-Khwārizmī), the Latinized name of the Persian mathematician and scholar Abū Ja’far Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī. His works on mathematics and astronomy influenced the development of algori
- Almacén (warehouse) – From Arabic المخازن (al-makhāzin), meaning “the storehouses” or “the depots.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to a place where goods are stored.
- Alhaja (jewel) – From Arabic الحاجة (al-ḥāja), meaning “the necessity” or “the precious thing.” The term was used to refer to valuable items, such as precious stones or jewelry, which were often traded between the Muslim and Christian territories.
- Almazara (oil mill) – From Arabic المعصرة (al-maʿṣara), meaning “the press” or “the place of squeezing.” The Moors introduced olive oil production techniques to Spain, leading to the adoption of this term.
- Almendra (almond) – From Arabic اللوز (al-lawz). Almonds were widely cultivated and used in Moorish Spain, leading to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Almohada (pillow) – From Arabic المخدة (al-miḵadda). The Moors introduced a variety of household items and textiles to Spain, including the use of comfortable pillows, which led to the adoption of this term.
- Alquiler (rent) – From Arabic الكِرَاء (al-kirā’), meaning “the hiring” or “the renting.” The term was adopted in Spanish to refer to the payment for the use of property or services.
- Alquimia (alchemy) – From Arabic الكيمياء (al-kīmīā’), which itself is derived from the Greek term χημία (khēmía). The Moors were known for their knowledge and practice of alchemy, which influenced Spanish scholars and led to the adoption of this term.
- Azúcar (sugar) – From Arabic السكر (al-sukkar). The Moors introduced sugar cane cultivation to Spain and developed advanced sugar production techniques, which led to the adoption of this term.
- Azulejo (tile) – From Arabic الزليج (al-zulayj), meaning “polished stone” or “glazed tile.” The Moors introduced elaborate tilework to Spain, which became a prominent feature of Spanish architecture.
- Barrio (neighborhood) – From Arabic البَرِّيُّ (al-barriyy), meaning “of the open country” or “outskirts.” The term was adopted in Spanish to refer to neighborhoods or districts within a city or town.
- Berenjena (eggplant) – From Arabic البَاذِنْجَان (al-bāḏinjān). The Moors introduced eggplants to Spain, which became a popular ingredient in Spanish cuisine, leading to the adoption of this term.
- Cifra (numeral, figure) – From Arabic صِفْر (ṣifr), meaning “zero” or “cipher.” The Moors introduced the concept of zero and the Arabic numeral system to Spain, which influenced mathematics and science in the region.
- Cáñamo (hemp) – From Arabic القنب (al-qanb). The cultivation and use of hemp for textiles and ropes were common in the Muslim Iberian Peninsula, which led to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Embalse (reservoir) – From Arabic المبلس (al-miblás), meaning “the place where water is stored.” The Moors constructed many reservoirs and dams to manage water resources, influencing the Spanish language.
- Escabeche (pickled dish) – From Arabic السكباج (al-sikbāj), a dish made of meat cooked in vinegar and spices. The Moors introduced this dish to Spain, where it was adapted to local ingredients and tastes.
- Fideo (noodle) – From Arabic الفيدوش (al-fīdawš), a type of pasta. The Moors brought pasta-making techniques to Spain, which led to the adoption of the Arabic term.
- Gabardina (trench coat) – From Arabic قباء الرداء (qabā’ al-rudā’), meaning “cloak of the outer garment.” The term evolved into “gabardina” in Spanish, and the clothing item’s use in rainy conditions led to its association with trench coats.
- Guitarra (guitar) – From Arabic قيثارة (qīṯāra), which originally referred to a type of lute. The instrument evolved in Spain and became the modern guitar, maintaining its Arabic name.
- Hasta (until) – From Arabic حتى (ḥattá). The Arabic term was adopted into Spanish as a preposition meaning “until” or “up to.”
- Jaén (province in southern Spain) – From Arabic جيان (Jayyān), the name of a town and province in Andalusia. The Moors named the region after its fertile lands and abundant water resources.
- Jazmín (jasmine) – From Arabic ياسمين (yāsmīn). The Moors introduced jasmine plants to Spain, and the term was adopted into Spanish.
- Lenteja (lentil) – From Arabic العدس (al-ʿadas). Lentils were a common crop in the Muslim Iberian Peninsula, and the Arabic term was adopted into Spanish.
- Limón (lemon) – From Arabic ليمون (līmūn). The Moors introduced lemon trees to Spain, which led to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Mártir (martyr) – From Arabic شهيد (šahīd), meaning “witness” or “martyr.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to someone who sacrifices their life for a cause.
- Naranja (orange) – From Arabic نارنج (nāranj). The Moors introduced the cultivation of oranges to Spain, and the Arabic term was adopted into Spanish.
- Ojalá (God willing) – From Arabic إن شاء الله (in šāʾ Allāh), meaning “if God wills.” The phrase was adopted into Spanish as an expression of hope or desire for a future event.
- Rehén (hostage) – From Arabic الرهينة (ar-rahīna), meaning “the hostage” or “the pawn.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to someone held as a security for the fulfillment of an agreement.
- Sandía (watermelon) – From Arabic سنديانة (sindiyāna). The Moors introduced watermelon cultivation to Spain, which led to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Tabaco (tobacco) – Possibly from Arabic طبق (ṭabaq), meaning “a dish” or “a layer.” The term may have been used to describe the layers of tobacco leaves used in production, which later evolved into the Spanish word for tobacco.
- Tarea (task) – From Arabic طرية (ṭarīya), meaning “a way” or “a method.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to a specific task or assignment.
- Taza (cup) – From Arabic طاسة (ṭāsa), meaning “a cup” or “a bowl.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to a drinking vessel.
- Té (tea) – From Arabic شاي (šāy). The Arabic term for tea was adopted into Spanish as the beverage gained popularity in Europe.
- Túnica (tunic) – From Arabic طنقة (ṭunqa) or طنق (ṭunq), meaning “a tunic” or “a gown.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to a type of garment worn in medieval times.
- Zanahoria (carrot) – From Arabic سفنارية (isfanāriyya) or الجزرية (al-jazariyya). Carrot cultivation was common in the Muslim Iberian Peninsula, which led to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Zoco (market) – From Arabic السوق (as-sūq), meaning “the market.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to open-air markets common in Muslim Spain.
- Zumo (fruit juice) – From Arabic الجم (al-jum) or الجمي (al-jumī), meaning “fruit juice” or “fruit syrup.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to fruit juices.
- Atún (tuna) – From Arabic التن (at-tūn) or التون (at-tūn). The Moors’ familiarity with tuna fishing in the Mediterranean led to the adoption of the Arabic term in Spanish.
- Azafata (flight attendant) – From Arabic الصفّة (aṣ-ṣaffa), meaning “the rank” or “the row.” The term originally referred to a row of servants or attendants in a royal court and later evolved to refer to flight attendants.
- Cazuela (casserole dish) – From Arabic القضاء (al-qaḍā’), meaning “the pot” or “the pan.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to a type of cooking dish used for casseroles and stews.
- Guadarrama (mountain range in Spain) – From Arabic وادي الرمة (wādī ar-rummah), meaning “river of sand.” The term was used to describe the sandy river that runs through the Guadarrama mountain range.
- Guadalquivir (river in Spain) – From Arabic الوادي الكبير (al-wādī al-kabīr), meaning “the great river.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to the important river that flows through southern Spain.
- Maravedí (historical Spanish coin) – From Arabic مروي (marwī) and the plural مرويات (marawīyāt), meaning “a gold coin” or “gold coins.” The term was adopted into Spanish to refer to a historical coin used in medieval Spain.
- Mozárabe (Christian living under Muslim rule) – From Arabic مستعرب (musta’rab), meaning “Arabized” or “one who adopts Arab customs.” The term was used to describe Christians living under Muslim rule in Spain who adopted some aspects of Arab culture.
- Taifa (independent Muslim principality) – From Arabic الطائفة (aṭ-ṭā’ifa), meaning “the faction” or “the group.” The term was used to describe independent Muslim principalities that emerged in Spain during the period of political fragmentation after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba.
- Tarifa (town in southern Spain) – From Arabic طريفة (ṭarīfa), meaning “tribute” or “fee.” The town was named for its strategic location and the collection of customs duties from ships passing through the Strait of Gibraltar.
These fascinating Arabic-influenced words in Spanish demonstrate the lasting impact of the historical Muslim presence in Spain. The fusion of Arabic and Latin elements in the Spanish language has given it a rich and unique character that sets it apart from other Romance languages. This linguistic diversity is not only a testament to the incredible cultural exchange that took place during the Moorish occupation but also highlights the enduring connections between Spain and the Arabic world.
As Spanish speakers continue to use these words in their everyday conversations, they are preserving a vital part of their linguistic and cultural heritage, although some of the words in the list may not be familiar to Spanish speakers as they are no longer in regular use.
The influence of Arabic on the Spanish language extends beyond just vocabulary; it can also be seen in aspects of Spanish culture such as arabic architecture, music, and cuisine. From the stunning Alhambra palace in Granada to the flavorful dishes of Andalusian Arabic cuisine, the Arabic legacy in Spain is both captivating and significant.
As you explore the Spanish language and its rich history, let these Arabic-influenced words serve as a reminder of the diverse and fascinating journey that has shaped this beautiful language. Whether you’re a language enthusiast, a history buff, or simply a curious learner, appreciating the Arabic influence on Spanish will undoubtedly deepen your understanding and appreciation of the Spanish language and the cultures it represents.