Spanish Arabic Cognates

Spanish Arabic Cognates – Common Spanish Words Derived From Arabic

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These 25 Spanish Words Actually Come from Arabic… Here’s Why.

Who doesn’t wonder how languages came to exist as they are today? Well, it usually happens through the interaction of diverse communities, making languages as intricate and ever-changing as the human race. Let’s explore how Arabic contributed to the evolution of the Spanish language as we know it. After reading this post, you’ll be able to spot Arabic influence on the Spanish language and culture faster than you can say zanahoria.

Some Questions This Post Will Answer for the Curious Culture Guru:

  • How and why did the Arabic and Spanish languages interact?
  • What are some Spanish words that have Arabic origin?
  • How are Arabic and Spanish cultures related?

Arabic Influence on Spanish Culture: Moorish History

Long before the Catholic King and Queen took the throne of the country we know today as Spain, Muslims from the Moorish Empire ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula, including most of modern-day Spain and southern Portugal.

Inhabitants were already speaking older versions of Spanish derived from vulgar Latin. However, the powerful political and cultural presence of the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula between 711 to 1492  led to the inevitable intermingling of Arabic and Spanish (hard not to after 780 years).

After the Reconquista (the war in which the Christian kingdoms overtook Iberian Muslim territories), Castilian Spanish from the north merged with the Arabic-influenced Spanish of the south, resulting in the standard form of Spanish we learn today. The adopted (borrowed) words from Arabic are still widely used all across Spain and Latin America.

For the history buffs, read more about the history of Muslim control of Spain and the Reconquista.

For the language nerds, let’s learn how to identify those adopted Arabic words in Spanish!

Spanish Arabic Cognates: Spanish Words, Arabic Origin

How close is Arabic to Spanish? Here are some Spanish words you might recognize that were influenced by Arabic and have related meanings:

*Notice many words begin with “A” or “Al,” which is typical of Arabic.

Spanish Word                             

Arabic Word

Barrio (neighborhood) Barri (city outskirts)
Taza  (cup) Tassah
Algodón (cotton) Al-qutn
Tabaco (tobacco) ṭub[b]āq
Alhambra (palace) Al Hamra (the red one, stones of the palace in Granada)
Almohada (pillow) Miẖaddah
Aldea (small village) Day‘ah
Asesino (murderer) Haššāšīn
Alcohol (alcohol) Kuḥl
Arrecife (reef) Raṣīf

Many Spanish words with Arabic origin are also English cognates and have to do with the great contributions the Moors made to math and science (now you know who to blame for your algebra homework).

Spanish Words              

Arabic Words

Algebra (math subject) Al-jabr (reunion, resettling of broken parts)
Alquimia (alchemy) Al-kimiya
Cifra (digit) Sifr (zero)

An inevitable mixing of vocabulary came with food! Much of Spanish food and agriculture vocabulary has Arabic origin due to the important influence the Moors had in these areas of everyday life during their reign:

Spanish Words                

Arabic Words

Zanahoria (carrot) Isfanariyya
Albóndiga (meatball) Albunduqa (hazelnut)
Arroz (rice)  Aruzz
Aceituna (olive) Az-zaytuna
Aceite (oil) Az-zayt
Albaricoque (apricot) Al-barquq (plum)
Naranja (orange) Naranj (bitter orange), naranga (orange tree)
Berenjena (eggplant) Bāḏinǧānah
Lima (lime) Līmah
Sandía (watermelon) Sindiyyah
Tabaco (tobacco) Tub[b]āq
Jarabe (syrup) Šarāb

Watch this Video for the Pronunciation of Spanish Words with Arabic Origin!

Arabic Influence on Spanish Food & Culture

Not only did the Arabic and Spanish languages merge, but so did their cultures.

For example, foods typical to Spain have Arabic roots, like the famous cold soup gazpacho and creamy salmoreja.

The Arabs brought many spices, too, like cumin, saffron, and cilantro.

The arts were no exception.

The sounds and rhythms of Arabic and Spanish music merged to form the irresistible Andalusian dance Flamenco. Here’s a taste of Flamenco’s Arabic roots – it might be even more delicious than the couscous.

Dive Deeper into Arabic and Spanish Languages with Pimsleur

At Pimsleur, we are huge believers in learning language through culture, immersion, and repetition.

Ready to dive deeper? Check out our research-backed language learning programs for Castilian Spanish; Latin American Spanish; Modern Standard Arabic; Egyptian Arabic; and Eastern Arabic to take your language skills to the next level.

¡Gracias! Shukraan شكرا جزيلا

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