Thursday, June 9, 2011

The influence of Arabic

*I love Moorish-Andalucian culture so much! That's why I decided to repost this on my blog :)
While Spanish sentences and grammar resemble Latin more than any other living tongue, thousands of words have their origins in the language of the Muslims whose stay in some parts of the peninsula lasted eight centuries. And many of these “Spanish” words later found their way into other European languages.
Phonetically, too, Spanish may be the most similar language to Latin, but some sounds, like the guttural j, or jota, come straight from Arabic. Most household words beginning with al- (or with a-, since the article was often slurred and left without its letter l) are Spanish versions of Arabic words.

Examples which can be easily appreciated without much knowledge of Spanish are sugar,azúcar, originally assukar; and cotton, in Spanish algodón, fromal-qutun. Olive in Spanish isaceituna, and olive oil aceite, from the Arabic for olive, al-zeitun, while olive tree is from Latin,olivo.
Many place names are composed of Arabic words. Alhambra is said to mean “the red palace” while others believe it means “the palace of Alhamar”, the sultan who founded it. Almería means “the mirror of the sea”, while Algeciras is a shortened version of the full name al-jazeera khadraa, literally “the green island”. When the first Moors entered Spain through Gibraltar, they were so impressed by the relative fertility of the place, after the aridity of Morocco, that they likened it to an isle of verdure.
When the Spaniards shout olé at the bullfighter or the flamenco dancer, they echo the Muslim invocation of God, Allah! Some still say ala as a conversational interjection, as we would say “really” or “is that so”.
The cold soup, gazpacho, which was originally made of bits and pieces of stale bread and vegetable scraps crushed in cool water, oil and vinegar, has its name from an Arabic word meaning “almsbox”, because everything from coins to chunks of bread and cheese were deposited in to feed the poor. The Spanish word mezquino, and the French word mesquin, both of which mean “petty”, come from the Arabic word mskeen meaning “wretched”.

The English word magazine, and the French word magasin come from the Spanish almacénand the Arabic al-makhzan, for “storehouse”. Our sofa, and the Spanish sofá, come from suffa, Turkish and Arabic for rug or divan.
In Spanish, duck is pato, from the Arabic bata. The English and French “alcove” comes from the Spanish alcoba, meaning bedroom, which has its origin in the Arabic al-kubba, the central room in a Moorish house. Since this room is usually covered by a domed ceiling, kubba is also used to signify “dome”.
The Spanish word for corner, rincón, comes from the Arabic rukán, while the word for quarter or neighbourhood, barrio, originates in the Arabic barri, outside, since quarters were external to the castle or citadel). Which means that when a Spaniard talks about a corner of his neighbourhood –un rincón de mi barrio – he is basically speaking Arabic!
The French, and English massage comes from the Arabic massa, “to stroke”, and coffee is said to be named, through Arabic, for the place in Ethiopia which first grew it, Kaffa. In Spanish, an orange is a naranja, which comes from the Arabic naranj, meaning bitter orange, while the Arabic word for a sweet orange is portukal, from the Greek portokalls.

Not all the words peculiar to Spanish culture have Arabic roots, though. Siesta comes from the Latin for sixth hour of the day, sexta, which would have been several hours earlier than the Andalucian after-lunch nap.
The formal second person pronoun, usted, has an even more curious origin. It was originally Vuestra Merced, “Your Mercy”, similar to “Your Grace”. In writing, this was abbreviated to Vd. (a form still used) but because it was impossible to utter a word composed of two consonants, those who refused to say it aloud in its full form devised the oddity usted, which later took its place.
And paella is really the word for the flat pan and not the rice cooked in it, in Catalonian, patella, which Castilians adopted without the t and vocalizing the double l.
Likewise, the suffix –ez at the end of Spanish names has older-than-Arabic roots. For the Visigoths, Sanchez was the son of Sancho, Rodriguez the son of Rodrigo, Vasquez the son of Vasco.
More than a source culture, the Arabs acted as a bridgehead between Asia and Europe, carrying with their caravans, from as far away as Indonesia, plants, inventions and words. The numbers we use and call Arabic because the Arabs imported them – although no longer use them themselves - are in fact Indian. The eggplant comes from the Persian batinjan, which the Arabs transformed to badinjanah and passed into Spanish as berenjena, and into French, with the article still in place but transformed from al- to au-, as aubergine.
The Arabs took many words from Latin and Greek before surreptitiously returning them to Europe, via Spain, in an exotic form. Tuna fish in Spanish is atún, from al-tun in Arabic, which in turn comes from the Latin thunnus. As in azúcar, only the a of the article survived the hispanizing process. But the Spanish word for “admiral”, almirante, comes from the Arabic emir, leader, and it was hispanized with the article intact.
When the Arabs invaded Spain, they found a highly organized Roman colony with cities whose Latin names they pronounced in their manner, and which, many centuries later, returned to the Spanish language in the Arabic form.
The most striking example is that of the military camp of Caesar Augusta, which was arabized as Sarakusta and, long after the Latin original had been forgotten, hispanized as Zaragoza.
Another is Mérida, on the western border. The Emperor Augustus founded a new colony near Portugal where land was given out to his most deserving veterans – meritii. It was called Augusta Emerita, or simply Emerita, which after the Arabs invaded Spain was pronounced Mérida.
The port of Seville was called by its Roman founders Hispalis, said to mean “palisade” for the stilts which kept its houses above water when the river flooded. Under the Arabs this Latin name was pronounced Ishbiliya, before taking its definitive form of Sevilla, pronounced in Spanish se-BEE-ya..
The word almuerzo, lunch, comes from a word used in Islamic Spain composed of the Arabic article al and the Latin for “bite”, morsus (as in morsel, a bite, and mordant, biting). So when a Spaniard invites you to a four-course midday meal with tapas, he is in fact offering you a bite to eat!
The river which passes through Seville is purely Arabic in name, wadi-al-kbeer, “the great river” (wadi=river, kbeer=great) hispanized as Guadalquivir. But the name of the city’s ancient poor quarter on the far side of the river, Triana, is the arabization of the name of the great Roman emperor Trajan, himself born in Seville.
Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, La Rambla, which plunges down through the city to the harbour, and Granada’s square, Plaza Bibarrambla, have the same Arabic origin in the word rambla which in Arabic means strand or riverside. The avenue was once a stream, and the plaza once had a gate - “bib” or “bab” – which faced Granada’s river. Its name would be in English “Strand Gate Square”.
Granada’s old casbah, El Albaicín, was once thought to have a purely Arabic name, but it is now believed that its origins are Roman, and Latin. In the Reconquest, when the Christian knights took the Muslim city of Baeza, the inhabitants fled south to Granada and settled on the hill, in a place which became known as al-Bayazin - "the place of the people of Baeza". But the name Baeza was only the arabization of the earlier, Roman Beatia.
In our times, Andalucia is the region which stretches across southern Spain, but the Moors called al-Andalus the entire peninsula including Portugal, even before they invaded it. As the Roman empire collapsed, barbarian tribes swept through the old colony of Hispania, one of which, the Vandals, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and reached Carthage. They were so ferocious that the terrified North Africans called the land from whence they had come “land of the vandals”. But instead of saying “al-Vandalus”, they dropped the v. The Spaniards later hispanized the name al-Andalus to Andalucía, by which they meant the southern part of Spain which was still in Moorish hands in the 12th century.
The name of Granada does not mean pomegranate, even though it is homonymous with the Spanish word for that oriental fruit. It is thought to come from an ancient, but unknown word for fortress, which the Romans Latinized as Garnatum. The Arabs pronounced it Garnata and it entered Castilian as Granada.
And the name of Córdoba is neither Latin nor Arabic in origin, but Phoenician. The Carthaginians founded the port on the highest navigable reach of the Guadalquivir and named it for one of their generals, Doubs. The prefix for “city” in their Phoenician tongue was Kart-, as in the name Carthage itself – “new city”. The Spanish port became Kart-Doubs, which after being Latinized and then Arabized came down to us as Córdoba, with the accent still on the first syllable – the part of the name that meant “city”.
Algebra is Arabic for “the reduction” and came into European languages as part of the title of an Arab mathematical treatise. Alcohol comes from the Arabic al-kuhul, although the Arabs did not invent the still, as is often said. Avería, which in Spanish means “breakdown” or “defect”, with relation to machines, comes from the Arabic awarriyah, “defective merchandise”, the root of which, áwar, when applied to humans, means “one-eyed”. Baño, Spanish for bath, comes originally from the Latin balneum, but after transiting through Arabic as banyo, pronounced in exactly the same way but with a slightly more specific meaning, “bathtub”.
A pig, in colloquial Spanish, as opposed to the Latin-derived puerco, is called a marrano, which is also an adjective for dirty “piggish” person. Marrano is an Arabic-origin word coming from haram, best known to us in its English form “harem”. A harem, in Arabic haram, with the accent on the second syllable, is a place forbidden to intruders, which suggests that it is much less permissive than is often assumed. It is the direct opposite of halal, which means sacred, pure. Indeed, anything that is wrong, unjust or unlawful can be described as haram.
The Jews of medieval Spain commonly spoke Arabic, and they used a form of this word to label those brethren who to escape persecution converted to Christianity, contemptuously calling them marranos. This new word came to mean, in Spanish, anything foul or disgusting, and so made its way to the common pig.
When Spaniards bid one another farewell and say “Hasta mañana” they are, quite unconsciously as with most of these words, using the Arabic hattá which still means what it did in the Middle Ages when it entered Spanish – “until”. Even so, hattá was not an Arabic original, but a compression of the Latin words ad ista – “to this”, which, according to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, expressed the same idea of “up to”.

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