Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Say Tomate, You Say Tomato – English, Arabic, and Spanish Word Migration

Photo by Fastily Talk

It wasn’t until I started learning Spanish as an adult that I realised a lot of words used in English were, in fact, of Spanish origin. I grew up with words such as cargo, chilli, chocolate, and oregano, using them in the English sense but not having a clue about their beginnings.

English and Spanish are both part of the Romance language family (along with Italian, Portuguese, French, Romanian, and Catalan), so once I got my head around learning a new language, Spanish didn’t feel so hard (except for the grammar, don’t get me started on the grammar!). Since becoming fluent in Spanish, I’ve found I can read or hear other romance languages and get the general gist. And when words from one language are used in another in the same context (or at least sounds similar), then it makes life a lot easier.

American English (as most of you know) comprises of a lot of Spanish words passed to us from Mexican and Central and South American immigrants. This influence dates back to the days of the Gold Rush, and with more adventurous palates, Spanish words are used to describe certain dishes of which there is no English equivalent. Sometimes we adapt a foreign word even though there is a version in English coriander is often substituted with cilantro, a Spanish word of French origin.

But it’s not just Spanish that influenced the English language. A lot of Spanish words have strong ties to Arabic, harking back to the occupation of the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century and continuing on into the 8th and 9th centuries. Many people of Islamic descent occupied this region, and as time went on, many Arabic words migrated into the Spanish language. You’ll find many words in English that begin with al have Arabic origins and commonly a Spanish influence. Classic examples are alcove and alfalfa.

The Internet and increasing travel opportunities have opened up new worlds of language, so it's no surprise that words from numerous languages are adopted across borders. Perhaps one day, there will be a single common language, such as Esperanto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto), but in the meantime, English will continue to adopt new words from different cultures and put its own spin on it.

Photo by Enzik
Here some examples of Spanish to English (with a bit of Arabic, Caribbean, Nahuatl, Quechua, and Arawak thrown in):

adios
aficionado
alcove (Arabic al-qubba)
alfalfa (Arabic al-fasfasah..)
alligator (from el lagarto, "the lizard")
alpaca (Aymara allpaca)
armada
armadillo (means "the little armed one")
banana (originally an African word but was adopted in Portuguese and Spanish then English)
barbecue (Caribbean barbacoa)
barracuda
bonanza
bravo (Italian and old Spanish)
cafeteria (cafetería)
canyon (cañon)
cargo (Spanish meaning to load -- cargar)
chaps (chaparreras)
chihuahua (dog breed named after Mexican city and state)
chocolate (Nahuatl language xocolat)
cigar, cigarette (Spanish cigarro)
cilantro
cinch (Spanish word cincho)
condor (Quechua)
conquistador
corral
el Niño (means the child and this weather pattern was named this because it appeared close to Christmas)
enchilada (Spanish participle enchilar which means to season with chili)
fajita (In Spanish faja means a sash or belt which best describes the cut of meat)
fiesta
flan
flotilla
Picture by John Ryan M. Debil
galleon (Spanish galeón)
garbanzo
guacamole (Nahuatl ahuacam, "avocado," and molli, "sauce")
guerrilla
hacienda (silent H in Spanish)
incomunicado
jalapeño
llama (Quechua)
machete
machismo
maize (Spanish maíz but originally from the Arawak mahíz)
mariachi (a Mexican musician that performs a special type of music)
matador (in Spanish it means a person who kills)
mosquito
nacho
oregano (from orégano)
papaya (Arawak)
patio (often means courtyard in Spanish)
piñata
plaza
poncho (originally Araucanian, an indigenous South American language)
potato (Caribbean batata)
puma (Quechua)
rodeo
salsa (In Spanish this word refers to any sauce or gravy)
sassafras (sasafrás)
savvy (Derives from sabe which means to know)
siesta
silo
sombrero (The Spanish version of this means any hat, not just the Mexican hats most people think of. The word originates from sombra, which means shade)
stampede (estampida)
tango
tequila (named after a Mexican town that makes this drink)
tobacco (Caribbean tabaco)
tomatillo
tomato (Nahuatl tomatl)
tornado (tronada which means thunderstorm)
tortilla (in Spanish, an omelette is called a tortilla)
tuna (atún)
vanilla (vainilla)
vigilante
yucca (Caribbean yuca)

6 comments:

  1. This is so fascinating, Alli, but I gotta ask: do these Arabic-origin Spanish words travel to Australia by way of the United States? Just curious. Also, what culture do you think has the most influence on Australian English?

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    1. Thanks Supriya. I would say nearly all the words listed above are used in Australia as well. The list is exhaustive, so I just selected a handful. As for Australian English, I'd say UK English has a large influence, but as Australia has such a wide range of immigrants from other parts of the world, especially Asia, we have adopted some words from there also.

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  2. Alli, I find it interesting that you can understand (the gist at least) of other Romance languages from knowing one of them. I can't do that with the Germanic ones, except for Dutch. I can't understand the spoken language but can get the general gist of written Dutch. Are there also false friends in the Romance languages? Words that are the same but mean different things?

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    1. Ooooh, good question Heidi! Embarazada is my favourite. It sounds like embarrassed in English, but in Spanish it actually means pregnant. Dare I say many foreigners have been caught out and caused fits of laughter when attempting to speak Spanish in front of native Spanish speakers.

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  3. I exspected someone to comment on your observation that "Perhaps one day, there will be a single common language, such as Esperanto ..."

    Esperanto is not a utopian dream. It works! I’ve used it in speech and writing - and sung in it - in about fifteen countries over recent years.
    Take a look at http://www.lernu.net

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    Replies
    1. Bill, thank you so much for the link and your comments. I've developed a real interest in Esperanto and it's so nice to "meet" someone who speaks it. Fabulous!

      Also, could you please inbox me at alli_sinclair (at) yahoo (dot) com? We'd love you to be one of our guest bloggers and to tell us more about your experience with Esperanto!

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