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Arab Influences in Spain

Arab Influences in Spain

Arab Influences on Spanish Language and Culture The Arab influence in Spain dates back to a period before it was one country under the name of Spain.

One aspect of Spanish that makes it different from the rest of the Romance languages is that it contains a rich presence of linguistic elements derived from Arabic.

The Arab influence in Spain dates back to a period before it was one country under the name of Spain. In the year 711, when the first Arab groups began crossing the strait of Gibraltar and arriving to the Iberian Peninsula, the territory was formed by independent kingdoms. The Muslim advance was blocked in Poitiers in the year 723, which explains why the influence of Arabic is least notable in the northeastern part of the peninsula. The Catalan language also has few lexical elements derived from Arabic, while Spanish has numerous words of Arabic origin (some 4,000) which are heard with increasing frequency in regional varieties of Spanish as one moves south down the peninsula.

It is important to remember that the Muslims in Spain at the time (the name Spain will be used for the sake of convenience) introduced momentous cultural innovations such as alchemy (the origin of chemistry), algebra, the game of chess (called ajedrez in Spanish), the use of Arabic numbers instead of Roman numerals, the number zero, and Aristotelian philosophy which had been lost in the rest of Europe.

Spanish music is also influenced by the historic Muslim presence in the peninsula. The instruments and melodies they brought to the region would later give way to the guitar and flamenco, a musical genre that shares many structural elements with traditional music from northern Africa.

Spanish cooking also makes use of herbs and spices originally from northern Africa. The garbanzo bean is also from there. While rarely used on the continent of Europe, the bean is however a characteristic feature of Spanish cuisine.

From a linguistic point of view, Arabic words in Spanish share certain traits: most are nouns and place names, very few are adjectives or verbs, and only one is a preposition (hasta).

One interesting phenomenon in Spanish is the presence of word pairs, one of Arabic origin and the other Latin, two different words that describe the same thing: aceituna and oliva, alacrán and escorpión, aceite and óleo, jaqueca and migraña…

The Arab influence in Spain becomes very clear when looking at the names of places. If you leave Algeciras, next to Gibraltar, and you head north, you cross the Guadalquivir River, go through La Mancha and up towards Guadalajara. All of these names of geographical features and cities come from Arabic.

It is no surprise that Spaniards are so attracted to Arab culture, and not just because the Mosque of Cordoba, Granada’s Alhambra, and Seville’s Giralda are all wonderful examples of its architecture. Southern Spain’s large community of people with Maghrebian heritage (Maghreb describes the northwestern area of Africa) - mostly Moroccan - brings its culture closer to Spain’s and it invites Spaniards to visit a region that is so close but which at the same time seems so far away. At just 14 kilometers to the south, Morocco attracts numerous Spanish tourists every year who are eager to get to know their neighbors better.