Culture, Guest Post

Moro Canyon’s Unhidden Secrets

A discussion of the large presence of the Spanish language and a little bit of its interesting history. 

It’s difficult to live in a place like Southern California without at least contemplating the extent that the Spanish language has come to permeate the community. Well, I suppose “come to” is not the right phrase, as this place started with the missionary work of the Franciscans and has been under the influence of Mexicans so close by for a long time. However, all this comes to mind when I go to a place like Crystal Cove’s Moro Canyon; further, this name recalls the richness of the history of this language as well as those of many others.

Cordoba_Mezquita
Muslim architecture in The Great Mosque of Córdoba in Spain

The moro of Moro Canyon in Spanish actually means “Moor,” as in the Muslims of North Africa that invaded and ruled Spain from 711 until the fall of Granada in 1492– an almost eight century long reign that had incredible political impacts as well as linguistic ones. Yes, the Arabic spoken by these rulers inevitably found its way into Spanish in a huge way. Whereas other more interlingual exchanges produce changes in simple vocabulary (in English, for example, we have nouns like “pants” and “boulevard” which, while having their origins in communications with the French, are more aptly called borrowings), the changes induced in Spanish by Arabic are far more fundamental and impressive. A massive number of essential nouns encountered in the daily lives of millions of hispanohablantes (“Spanish speakers”) owe their existence to Arabic, such as aceite (“oil”) and ajedrez (“chess”). Even the vital preposition hasta (“until”) and a now archaic adverb he (“here is”) were taken directly from the language and the former is so necessary to the language. Without Arabic influence on Spanish you could say hasta” la vista to the Spanish known around the world today and  buen día to a far more Latinate Spanish in its place.

Still, Spanish and Arabic are definitely not as similar as this amount of time together would suggest. Firstly, many overestimate the impact of the Moors through the assumption that all words that are similar between the two languages come from the Moorish rule. Even I have run into a common example upon speaking to two children who spoke Egyptian Arabic, Spanish camisa and Arabic ‘qamis for “shirt.” Though these words do share the same origin, that origin is Latin camisia which can also be seen most immediately in other Romance languages like French chemise and Italian camicia. Arabic took the word as a borrowing exactly as English took “pants.” Secondly, the two languages are from completely different lingual groups: Arabic is a Semitic language whereas Spanish is from the Western Romance group. Comparing the grammar of the two, for example, would be practically futile in comparison to comparing two from the same group such as Arabic and Hebrew or Spanish and French.

So does this explain exactly what gives Spanish its unique flavor and why it sounds so different from the likes of Catalan and Italian? Not really. Spanish has had such a rich history in so many different places that its exceptionalities cannot all be explained from a single source: Basque, the strange isolate language now found in northern Spain, has done its fair share and the Spanish of the Americas has been greatly influenced by the native languages of each respective region. All in all, the language is incredibly diverse and is finding itself in more and more households across the world. What should be recognized, however, is that all languages throughout the world have comparably rich histories that are hidden beneath centuries upon centuries of linguistic change. The manner in which we all speak carries on the tradition of those thousands of years before us.

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