Influence of Arabic on other languages

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Arabic has had a great influence on other languages, especially in vocabulary. The influence of Arabic has been most profound in those countries dominated by Islam or Islamic power. Arabic is a major source of vocabulary for languages as diverse as Amharic, Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Kazakh, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Malay, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Sindhi, Somali, Swahili, Tigrinya, Turkish, Turkmen, Urdu, Uyghur, Uzbek as well as other languages in countries where these languages are spoken. For example, the Arabic word for book /kita:b/ is used in most of the languages listed, (exceptions are Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese, which use the Latin-derived words "libro," "llibre" and "livro"). Other languages such as Maltese[1] and Nubi derive from Arabic, rather than merely borrowing vocabulary. Spanish has the largest Arabic influenced vocabulary outside the Islamic world due to the Arab presence in Spain from 711 until 1614,[2] known as Al-Andalus.

The terms borrowed range from religious terminology (like Berber taẓallit "prayer" < salat), academic terms (like Uyghur mentiq "logic"), to everyday conjunctions (like Urdu/Hindi/Punjabi lekin "but".) Most Berber varieties (such as Kabyle), along with Swahili, borrow some numbers from Arabic. Most religious terms used by Muslims around the world are direct borrowings from Arabic, such as ṣalāt 'prayer' and imām 'prayer leader'. In languages not directly in contact with the Arab world, Arabic loanwords are often mediated by other languages rather than being transferred directly from Arabic; for example many older Arabic loanwords in Hausa were borrowed from Kanuri.

Outside the Islamic world, for example in Spanish there are more limited borrowings from Arabic, usually to denote vegetables and other articles in commerce, such as "aubergine", "alcohol" and also some other terms like "admiral" and these mostly came into those languages through Spanish. Also, the word "pants" in Arabic is bantalon, and in Spanish it is pantalones. "Shirt" in Arabic is amis and in Spanish it is camisa. "Shoes" in Arabic is sabat and in Spanish it is zapatos. Even "olives" in Spanish, aceituna, is a direct derivation from the Arabic "ceitun". Arabic influence is more pervasive in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula, and to a lesser degree due to the presence of Islamic rule in the peninsula for centuries in the Middle Ages. This influence can be seen in many place names as well as the placeholder term fulano ("so and so"). In the Middle Ages, some Arabic philosophical, scientific and medical terms were borrowed by European languages, such as markaz (centre) and astronomical terms like zenith and azimuth.


Like other European languages, English contains many words derived from Arabic, often through other European languages, especially Spanish Among them is every-day vocabulary like "sugar" (sukkar), "cotton" (quṭn) or "magazine" (maḫāzin). More recognizable are words like "algebra" (al-jabr), "alcohol" (al-kuhūl), "alchemy" ("al-kimiya"), "alkali", "cypher" and "zenith" (see list of English words of Arabic origin).

A more indirect form of influence is the use of certain Latinate words in an unclassical sense, derived from their use in Latin translations of medieval Arabic philosophical works (e.g. those of Averroes), which entered the scholastic vocabulary and later came into normal use in modern languages. Examples are "information" to mean the imparting or acquisition of knowledge (Arabic taṣawwur, mental impression or representation, from a root meaning "form") and "intention" (Arabic mac, meaning). These words may almost be regarded as calques.


French is widely spoken as a second language in France's former colonies in the Maghreb. Therefore, the list of words that are used or incorporated into the French spoken in this region (as a result of code-switching, convenience or lack of an equivalent term in standard French) is endless. Such arabisms, are accepted within the local context but would not normally be known by non-maghrebi French speakers.

Arabic-derived words have entered standard or metropolitan French from two main sources. As is the case for many other European languages, one principal source was Spanish. The other was directly from Maghrebi Arabic as a result of the occupation and colonisation of the Maghreb, particularly Algeria, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Examples of the latter include 'bled', a slang term for place of origin, following this word's usage in the Maghreb, as opposed to the Standard Arabic balad, 'country', along with the Maghrebi term 'kif kif' and 'tabeeb', a slang term for 'doctor'. A small number of Arabic terms have entered mainstream French as a result of immigration from North Africa which began after the independence of Algeria.


Dozens of Arabic words occur in Interlingua, frequently because their co-occurrence in such languages as English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese can be used to verify their internationality. Many of these words entered Interlingua's vocabulary through Spanish. Arabic words in Interlingua include "algebra", "alcohol", "cifra" (cypher), "magazin", "sucro" (sugar), "zenit", and "zero".


In Indonesian, the loanwords from Arabic are mainly concerned with religion, in particular with Islam, but to a lesser extent Christianity. Words of Arabic origin include dunia (from Arabic: دنيا dunya = the present world), Sabtu (from Arabic: السبت as-sabt = Saturday), kabar (خبر ḵabar = news), selamat/salam (سلام salām = a greeting), Jum'at (الجمعة al-jumʿa = Friday), ijazah (إجازة ijāza = vacation), kitab (كتاب kitāb = book), tertib (ترتيب tartīb = orderly) and kamus (قاموس qāmūs = dictionary).

Christian usage

Allah (Arabic: الله), as it is mostly the case for Arabic speakers, is the word for God even in Christian Bible translations.

Many early Bible translators, when they came across some unusual Hebrew words or proper names, used the Arabic cognates. In the newer translations this practice is discontinued. They now turn to Greek names or use the original Hebrew Word. For example, the name Jesus was initially translated as 'Isa (Arabic: عيسى), but is now spelt as Yesus. Several ecclesiastical terms derived from Arabic still exist in Indonesian language.

The Indonesian word for bishop is uskup (from Arabic: اسقف usquf = bishop). This in turn makes the Indonesian term for archbishop uskup agung (literally great bishop), which is combining the Arabic word with an Old Javanese word. The term imam (from Arabic: امام imām = leader, prayer leader) is used to translate a Catholic priest, beside its more common association with an Islamic prayer leader. Some Protestant denominations refer to their congregation as jemaat (from Arabic: جماعة jamā'a = group, community). Even the name of the Bible in Indonesian translation is Alkitab (from Arabic: كتاب kitāb = book), which literally means "the Book".


There are far fewer Arabic loanwords in Javanese than Sanskrit loanwords, and they are usually concerned with Islamic religion. Nevertheless, some words have entered the basic vocabulary, such as pikir ("to think", from the Arabic fikr), badan ("body"), mripat ("eye", thought to be derived from the Arabic ma'rifah, meaning "knowledge" or "vision"). However, these Arabic words typically have native Austronesian or Sanskrit alternatives: pikir = galih, idhĕp (Austronesian) and manah, cipta, or cita (from Sanskrit); badan = awak (Austronesian) and slira, sarira, or angga (from Sanskrit); and mripat = mata (Austronesian) and soca or netra (from Sanskrit).


Between the 9th and the 15th centuries Portuguese acquired about 800 words from Arabic by influence of Moorish Iberia. However, following the expulsion of the Arabs from Portugal during the Reconquista, the native population who spoke the Lusitanian-Mozarabic, kept Arabic words from Mozarabic. Words of Arabic origin are often recognizable by the initial Arabic article a(l)-, and include common words such as aldeia "village" from الضيعة aḍ-ḍīcah, alface "lettuce" from الخس al-khass, armazém "warehouse" from المخزن al-makhzan, and azeite "olive oil" from الزيت az-zayt. From Arabic came also the grammatically peculiar word oxalá "God willing". The Algarve is al-gharb, the west. The frequency of Arabic toponyms increases as one travels south in the country.


In AD 535, Emperor Justinian I made Sicily a Byzantine province, and for the second time in Sicilian history, the Greek language became a familiar sound across the island (Hull, 1989). As the power of the Byzantine Empire waned, Sicily was progressively conquered by Saracens from North Africa, from the mid 9th to mid 10th centuries. The Arabic language influence is noticeable in around 500 Sicilian words, most of which relate to agriculture and related activities (Hull and Ruffino). This is understandable since the Saracens introduced to Sicily the most then-modern irrigation and farming techniques and a new range of crops – nearly all of which remain endemic to the island to this day.

Some words of Arabic origin:

  • azzizzari - to embellish (from cazīz; precious, beautiful), (Giarrizzo)
  • babbaluciu - snail (from babus; but Greek boubalàkion), (Giarrizzo)
  • burnia - jar (from burniya; but Latin hirnea), (Giarrizzo)
  • cafisu - measure for liquids (from qafiz), (Giarrizzo)
  • cassata - Sicilian cake (from qashatah; but Latin caseata - something made from cheese), (Giarrizzo)
  • gèbbia - artificial pond to store water for irrigation (from gabiya), (Giarrizzo)
  • giuggiulena - sesame seed (from giulgiulan), (Giarrizzo)
  • mafia - swagger or boldness/bravado (from mahyas "aggressive boasting, bragging", or from marfud "rejected")[3]
  • ràisi - leader (from ra'īs), (Giarrizzo)
  • saia - canal (from saqiya), (Giarrizzo)
  • zaffarana - saffron, type of plant whose flowers are used for medicinal purposes and in Sicilian cooking (from safara)
  • zagara - blossom (from zahar)
  • zibbibbu - type of grape (from zabib), (Giarrizzo)
  • zuccu - tree trunk (from suq; but Aragonese soccu and Spanish zoque), (Giarrizzo).


The Spanish language has been influenced by Arabic as a result of the long Islamic presence within the Iberian Peninsula, beginning with the Islamic conquest in 711-718 AD until the final defeat of Islamic rule in 1492 AD and the expulsion of the "Moriscos" culminating in 1614 AD. Modern day Spanish, also called Castilian, had gradually evolved from Latin in northern Spain after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late fifth century. When the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula occurred in the early eighth century, Arabic words began to be absorbed into Castilian, at first slowly because the number of Arabic speakers in Iberia was initially small, especially in the north, but later at an increasing rate when the expanding Kingdom of Castile spread southward, conquering territory from Muslim kingdoms during the Christian Reconquista. As a result, it absorbed many words from Andalusi Arabic. It also absorbed many Arabic and Arabic derived words from the Christians, the Mozarabs, that had lived under Muslim rulers and had spoken their own varieties of Arabic-influenced known today by scholars as the Mozarabic languages. The presence of Mozarabic refugees can explain the presence of Arabic toponyms in areas of Northern Spain where Islamic rule was shorter. The only Iberian Muslim kingdom in which Arabic was the sole language at all levels of society was the Kingdom of Granada in the time of the Nasrid dynasty.

In many cases, both Arabic and Latin derived words are used interchangeably by Spanish speakers. For example, aceituna and oliva (olive), alacrán and escorpión (scorpion), jaqueca and migraña (headache) or alcancía and hucha (piggy bank). The influence of Arabic, whether directly or through Mozarabic, is more noticeable in the Spanish dialects of southern Spain, where the Arabic influence was heavier and of a much longer duration. The same difference also exists between the northern and southern dialects of the Catalan.

The Arabic influence can be seen in hundreds of toponyms but with a few minor exceptions, its influence on Spanish is primarily lexical. It is estimated that there are over two thousand Arabic loanwords and three thousand derivatives in the Spanish dictionary. In the Middle Ages, Spanish was the main route by which Arabic words entered other West European languages. Although the majority of these words have fallen from normal use since the late medieval period, several hundreds are still in common use. The vast majority of these words are nouns, with a more limited number of verbs, adjectives, adverbs and a preposition. The grammatical structure of Spanish is entirely Latin derived. A few everyday Arabic loanwards include berenjena (aubergine, from badinjān), aceite (oil, from az-zayt), and alcalde (mayor, from al-qādī) and almirante (admiral).


Following the adoption of Islam c. 950 by the Kara-Khanid Khanate and the Seljuq Turks, regarded as the cultural ancestors of the Ottomans, the administrative and literary languages of these states acquired a large collection of loanwords from Arabic (usually by way of Persian), as well as non-Arabic Persian words: a leading example of a Perso-Arabic influenced Turkic language was Chagatai, which remained the literary language of Central Asia until Soviet times. During the course of over six hundred years of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1299–1922), the literary and official language of the empire was a mixture of Turkish, Persian and Arabic, which differed considerably from the everyday spoken Turkish of the time, and is termed Ottoman Turkish.

After the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, and following the script reform, the Turkish Language Association (TDK) was established under the patronage of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1932, with the aim of conducting research on Turkish. One of the tasks of the newly established association was to initiate a language reform to replace loanwords of Arabic and Persian origin with Turkish equivalents.[4] By banning the usage of replaced loanwords in the press, the association succeeded in removing several hundred foreign words from the language, thus diminishing but by no means erasing the Arabic influence on Turkish.


Arabic has notably influenced Valencian variety of the Catalan language spoken in Spain south of Catalonia proper. Due to more than 8 centuries of Arabic dominion in the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus), hundreds of words from many fields (including Arabic inventions) have been adapted into Catalan; among many are séquia ("irrigation ditch"), nòria ("whaterwheel, noria"), algorfa ("loft"), magatzem ("warehouse"), alfàbia ("earthenware jar"), barnús ("bathrobe"), aladroc ("anchovy"), dacsa ("corn"), safanòria ("carrot"), carxofa ("artichoke"), albergínia ("aubergine"), xirivia ("parsnip"), alfals ("alfalfa"), albercoc ("apricot"), tramús ("lupin"), corfa ("bark, peel"), xara ("thicket"), matalaf/matalàs ("mattress"), alacrà ("scorpion"), fardatxo ("lizard") alfàb(r)ega ("basil"), etc. and expressions such as a la babalà ("randomly, to God's will") and a betzef ("abundance, plenty").


Most places of the Land of Valencia have retained their name in Arabic, such as Alicante/Alacant, Alzira, Almassora, etc. Also, a great number of places have the Arabic roots Beni, Bena and Bene, which mean "son of":

See also


  1. Maltese language - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  3. This etymology is based on the books Mafioso by Gaia Servadio; The Sicilian Mafia by Diego Gambetta; and Cosa Nostra by John Dickie
  4. See Lewis (2002) for a thorough treatment of the Turkish language reform.