Happy Arabic Language Day! Although it definitely doesn’t rank with the likes of Christmas, Thanksgiving, or even National Ninja Day (Yes, it actually is a thing), it still brings a lot to celebrate. Arabic is the 5th most spoken language worldwide with over 420 million speakers in 26 countries. It is distinguished by its unique script which is read right to left and is ornately displayed on the walls and ceilings of mosques worldwide.
While Europe was in the Middle Ages, the Arabic language and culture experienced a golden age of power and influence. As international traders, diplomats, scholars and explorers, they spread their language far beyond the sands of Saudi Arabia. They travelled from the Arabian Peninsula north to Syria, south to sub-Saharan Africa, west to Morocco and even into Spain. Consequently, many countries that encountered Arabic speakers like Spain, France and England still carry the remnants of those encounters today.
Common Spanish Words of Arabic Origin
Spain is a country that was heavily influenced by the Arabic speaking North African Muslims for over 700 years. From 711-1492 they ruled nearly all or parts of Spain until they were finally ousted from Granada in 1492, which coincidentally was the same year that Columbus set out for unknown shores. But seven centuries of Arabic influence could not be taken out of the Spanish language. Today, more than 4,000 words of Arabic origin are still spoken in Spanish, according to Rafael Lapesa, a noted Spanish historian of language. Words from alchemy to almonds originate from the Arabic language. Even the capital of Spain, Madrid, and the region of Andalusia owe their names to this still widely-spoken language. Here are a few other words in Spanish that come from Arabic:
Top French Words of Arabic Origin
Many students of history may not realize that the North African Arabs moved not only to conquer Spain, but also modern-day France. They made it as far as Tours where they were defeated by Charles “The Hammer” at the Battle of Tours. This crucial battle stopped the advance of the Arabs into Europe, but it did not stop the influence on the French language. From interacting with the heavily Arabic-influenced Spanish language, many words with Arabic origins came into French. However, this is only part of the story. From the 17th to the 20th century, France maintained colonies in many Arabic-speaking countries. This resulted in a marked influence on the French language, especially in those nations where French was spoken as a second language. Now French has more than 500 words of Arabic origin. Here are a few:
Well-Known English Words of Arabic Origin
The English language has a unique ability to incorporate borrowed words into its vernacular, but it has a special relationship with Arabic through the French language. Because of the Battle of Hastings, when the Norman French conquered England, not only did French speaking soldiers pour into England, but so did the French language. French remained the language of literature and government for over 300 years, and today, more than 10,000 French words have become part of the English language. Since French incorporated Arabic, the English language has many words of Arabic origin as well. Here are some of the tastier examples:
Whether you enjoy sugar or alcohol, syrup or candy, Spinach or apricots, there’s a reason to celebrate the Arabic language. Not only does it have an interesting past, but a current influence that many of us are not even aware of. So, if you’re sitting and reading this on your mattress or sofa while enjoying an orange or lemonade, ‘Happy Arabic Language Day!’ all these words have Arabic origins.