Mozarabic language – Wikipedia

Medieval Romance dialects of Al-Andalus

Linguistic map of southwestern Europe

Mozarabic, also called Andalusi Romance, refers to the medieval Romance varieties spoken in the Iberian Peninsula in territories controlled by the Islamic Emirate of Córdoba and its successors. It was the common tongue for the majority of the population in Muslim Iberia. Over time, it was gradually influenced by Arabic and, as the Reconquista progressed, by Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese. It’s final disappearance dates to around the thirteenth century.[1][page needed]

Although Mozarabic is today used as an umbrella term for any Romance variety spoken in medieval Al-Andalus—whether in modern day Portugal[2] or Spain[3]—its speakers would not have referred to it that way.[4] They instead called it Latinus (and derivatives thereof), that is to say Latin, the name also used by Romance speakers in northern Iberia and elsewhere to describe their vernaculars. Arab writers as well referred to Mozarabic as al-Lathinī, as there was not a clear distinction between Latin and Romance at that time.[5] (They would also call it al-ajamiya, meaning ‘strange, foreign’.) Latinus survives in the name Ladino, which in early medieval Spain was used to refer to Romance in general; it later developed the specialized sense of Judeo-Spanish.[6]Latinus also survives in the name of the distant Ladin language, spoken in the Alps of northeastern Italy.

It was also referred to as cristiano or loga cristiana (literally “the Christian language”), as it was the mother tongue of the Christian population.[citation needed]

Mozarabic came to be called mozárabe by nineteenth-century Spanish scholars who studied medieval Al-Andalus. The term was borrowed from Andalusi Arabic مُستَعرَب musta’rab (Classical Arabic musta’rib), which means ‘arabizing’ or ‘adopting the ways of the Arabs’, referring to the assimilation of the native population into Arabic culture.


Other than the obvious Arabic influence, and remnants of a pre-Roman substratum, early Mozarabic may also have been affected by African Romance, carried over to the Iberian Peninsula by the Berbers who made up most of the Islamic army that conquered it and remained prominent in the Andalusi administration and army for centuries to come. The possible interaction between these two Romance varieties has yet to be investigated.[7][page needed]

Language use[edit]

Mozarabic was spoken by Mozarabs (Christians living as dhimmis), Muladis (natives converted to Islam), Jews, and possibly some of the ruling Arabs and Berbers. The cultural and literary language of the Mozarabs was at first Latin, but as time passed, it came to rather be Arabic, even among Christians.[citation needed]

Due to the continual emigration of Mozarabs to the Christian kingdoms of the north, Arabic toponyms are found even in places where Arab rule was ephemeral.[citation needed]

Mozarabic had a significant impact on the formation of Spanish, especially Andalusian Spanish, and served as a vehicle for the transmission of numerous Andalusi Arabic terms into both.[citation needed]

It was the dominant language of the common population till the reconquistas was finally finished in 1492, in which Spanish and other iberian languages displaced the Andalusi-Romance varieties.


Because Mozarabic was not a language of higher culture, such as Latin or Arabic, it had no standard writing-system. Numerous Latin documents written by early Mozarabs are, however, extant.[8]

The bulk of surviving material in Mozarabic, as opposed to Latin, is found in the choruses (or kharjas) of Andalusi lyrical compositions known as muwashshahs, which were otherwise written in Arabic.[9] The script used to write the Mozarabic kharjas was invariably Arabic or Hebrew, less often the latter. This poses numerous problems for modern scholars attempting to interpret the underlying Mozarabic. Namely:[10]

  • Arabic script:
    • did not reliably indicate vowels
    • relied on diacritical points, quite often lost or distorted when copying manuscripts, to distinguish the following series of consonants: b-t-ṯ-n-y;[a] ğ-ḥ-ḫ; d-ḏ; r-z; s-s̆; ṣ-ḍ; ṭ-ẓ; ‘-ġ; f-q; and h-a (word-finally)
    • rendered the following consonants in similar ways: r-w-d, ḏ; ‘-l-k (word-initially); ‘, ġ-f, q-m (word-initially and medially); n-y (word-finally)
    • had no specific means to indicate the following Romance sounds: /p, v (β), ts, dz, s̺, z̺, tʃ, ʎ, ɲ, e, o/
  • Hebrew script:
    • also did not reliably indicate vowels
    • rendered the following consonants in similar ways: r-d; g-n; y-w; k-f; s-m (word-finally)

The overall effect of this, combined with the rampant textual corruption, is that modern scholars can freely substitute consonants and insert vowels to make sense of the kharjas, leading to considerable leeway, and hence inaccuracy, in interpretation.[11]

Phonological features[edit]

It is widely agreed that Mozarabic had the following features:[12]

  • The diphthongs /au̯, ai̯/, the latter possibly changed to /ei̯/
  • Diphthongization of stressed Latin /ŏ, ĕ/
  • Palatalization and affrication of Latin /k/ before front vowels to /tʃ/
  • Retention of Latin /j/ before front vowels
  • Shift of the feminine plural /-as/ to /-es/

The following two features remain a matter of debate:[12]

  • Lenition of intervocalic Latin /p t k s/ to /b d ɡ z/
  • Palatalization of Latin /nn, ll/ to /ɲ, ʎ/

Sample text[edit]

Presented below is one of the few kharjas whose interpretation is secure from beginning to end. It has been transcribed from a late thirteen-century copy in Hebrew script, but it is also attested (in rather poor condition) in an Arabic manuscript from the early twelfth century.[13]

Transcription Interpretation Translation
ky fr’yw ‘w ky s̆yr’d dmyby
nwn tyṭwlgs̆ dmyby

ke farayo aw ke s̆erad de mibe,
non te twelgas̆ de mibe.

What shall I do, or what shall become of me,
my friend?
Don’t take yourself from me.

Another kharja is presented below, transcribed from Arabic script by García Gómez:[14]

Transcription Interpretation Translation
mw sīdī ‘ibrāhīm
y’ nw’mn dlŷ
f’nt myb
d̠y njt
in nwn s̆ nwn k’rs̆
yrym tyb
grmy ‘wb
Mew sīdī ‘Ibrāhīm,
yā nuēmne dolz̊e,
fēn-te mīb
dē nojte.
In nōn, si nōn kērís̆,
yirē-me tīb
—gar-me ‘a ‘ob!—
a fer-te.

My lord Ibrahim,
oh [what a] sweet name,
come to me
at night.
If not, if you do not want to,
I will go to you
—tell me where!—
to see you.

However the above kharja, like most others, presents numerous textual difficulties. Below is Jones’ transcription of it, with vowels inserted and uncertain readings italicized.[15] Note the discrepancies.

Transcription Possible Emendations
fən sīdi ibrāhīm
nwāmni dalji
fānta mīb
d̠ī nuxti
in nūn s̆i-nūn kāris̆
f/bīrīmə tīb
gar mī ūb
sīdi ibrāhīm

f-īrīmə tīb
gari mi ūb
  1. ^ N and y were, however, distinct word-finally.


  1. ^ [Gómez-Ruiz, R. (2014). Mozarabs, Hispanics and Cross. Orbis Books.]
  2. ^ Oliveira Marques, A. H. de (October 15, 1972). History of Portugal, Volume I: From Lusitania to Empire. Columbia University Press. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-0231031592.
  3. ^ Leguay, Oliveira Marques, Rocha Beirante. Portugal das invasões germânicas à “reconquista”. Editorial Presença, 1993. pg 209
  4. ^ Hitchcock 1978 apud Wright 1982: 151
  5. ^ Wright 1982: 156, 158
  6. ^ Wright 1982: 158
  7. ^ Francisco Marcos-Marín 2015
  8. ^ Gil 1973
  9. ^ Wright 1982: 161
  10. ^ Craddock 1980: 13–14
  11. ^ Craddock 1980: 15
  12. ^ a b Craddock 2002: 588
  13. ^ Craddock 1980: 4–6
  14. ^ García Gómez 1965: 82–85
  15. ^ Jones 1988: 33


  • Corriente Córdoba, Federico & Sáenz-Badillos, Ángel. 1994. Nueva propuesta de lectura de las xarajât de la serie árabe con texto romance. Revista de filología española 73 (3–4). 283–289.
  • Craddock, Jerry R. 1980. The language of the Mozarabic jarchas. UC Berkeley: Research Center for Romance Studies.
  • Craddock, Jerry R. 2002. Mozarabic Language. In Gerli, Michael E & Armistead, Samuel (eds.), Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, 588. London: Routledge.
  • García Gómez, Emilio. 1965. Las jarchas romances de la serie árabe en su marco. Madrid: Sociedad de Estudios y Publicaciones.
  • Gil, Juan. 1973. Corpus scriptorum muzarabicorum. 2 vols. Madrid: CSIC.
  • Jones, Alan. 1988. Romance kharjas in Andalusian Arabic muwaššaḥ poetry. London: Ithaca Press.
  • Marcos-Marín, Francisco A. 1998. Romance andalusí y mozárabe: Dos términos no sinónimos. In Andrés Suárez, Irene & López Molina, Luis (eds.), Estudios de Lingüística y Filología Españolas: Homenaje a Germán Colón. 335–341. Madrid: Gredos.
  • Marcos Marín, Francisco. 2015. Notas sobre los bereberes, el afrorrománico y el romance andalusí. Hesperia: Culturas del Mediterráneo 19. 203–222.
  • Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. 2005. Historia de la lengua española. 2 vols. Madrid: Fundación Ramón Menendez Pidal. ISBN 84-89934-11-8
  • Wright, Roger. 1982. Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France. Liverpool: Francis Cairns. ISBN 0-905205-12-X

See also[edit]