Roots of the Spanish Language

Roots of the Spanish Language

“No man is an island”- John Dunne, British Cleric and Poet

This famous quote is applicable to many situations, especially languages. For example, most languages are related to each other in some way or another and fall into language families. Some language families are romance languages and Turkic languages. Spanish is a romance language that is the 2nd most commonly spoken language in the world and has many diverse roots. Some languages that have influenced Spanish include Vulgar Latin, Arabic, Native American languages and English.

Vulgar Latin

Like its other romance language cousins, Spanish is influenced by Vulgar Latin, the language of the Ancient Romans. The Romans spread their language throughout their empire and called the Iberian peninsula, Hispania. This term has influenced the Spanish name of Spain, España, and the island of Hispaniola, which is comprised of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  Another example of Vulgar Latin’s influence is one of the words for sad (tristis) which influenced the Spanish word for sad (triste). Other Latin based languages like Portuguese, French, and Italian share this same word for sadness.


Arab name for Spain

The Iberian peninsula was invaded by the Arabs in 711 AD and the area that would become present day Spain was under Arab sovereignty until 1492. These Arabs moved from Morocco and influenced the architecture (think the Alhambra in Granada) and most importantly, language of the area. For example, 8% of the Spanish or 4,000 words have Arabic influence. The Spanish Region, Andalusia was once called Al-Andaluz during the Arab occupation. Arabic has had a significant impact and most Spanish words that begin with -al, are influenced from Arab. For example, alcalde (mayor) comes from the Arab word for judge (al-qadi) and the Spanish phrase, I hope (ojalá) literally means “Allah willing”. In fact the famous Spanish phrase “Olé” is theorized to have transformed from the Arabic phrase w-állah, by Allah!

Indigenous Languages

Colombian Exchange

As most of you know, Spain was a major world power and colonized most of the western hemisphere along with other regions. This resulted in the Colombian exchange, or period of cultural and biological exchanges between the New and Old Worlds. Some new world products that influenced Europe and the Spanish Language were chocolate and tomatoes. The word, chocolate comes from Nahuatl, an indigenous language which is currently spoken in Mexico and Guatemala. Spaniards also conquered other indigenous tribes such as the Arawak tribes which inhabited Northeastern South America and the Caribbean. Several Arawak words can be found in Spanish like huracán ( hurricane) and tabaco (tobacco).


Not too far off

Since many technological advances like modern computers were invented in the United States, this has impacted Spanish along with other languages. For example, computadora means computer in Spanish and “hacer clic” is to click. Many Hispanic countries such as Mexico are greatly influenced by English language sources. For instance, border areas between Mexico and the USA speak “Spanglish” a mix of Spanish and English. The proper term “for rent” in Spanish is “se aquila” while in Mexico, “se renta” is commonly used.

Like other languages, Spanish is not an isolate and has diverse roots. Spanish has been influenced by Vulgar Latin, Arabic, Native American languages, and English. Do you know other examples of other languages’ impact in Spanish? Don’t be shy and post below!

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