Ilivetolearn's Blog

February 28, 2006

al-español

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:44 pm

Some of the Spanish words that are hardest for me to remember, aside from the confusing false friends, are the ones that don’t come from Latin or Greek. Elliot told me early on that most words beginning with al- are from the Arabic—algodon (cotton) everyone knows from labels on clothing…alcazar (fortress) we know from our tourist guides…alcochofa (artichoke) is pretty easy to figure out…alcohol is obvious if surprising…but almohada, alfombra, alcalde, almibar, albondiga, almuerzo? These require memorization, pure and simple. Their meanings: pillow, carpet, mayor, syrup, meatball, lunch. There’s not even a common theme to help.

Other words from Arabic don’t follow the al- pattern: azulejos (tiles), azucar (sugar), barrio (which here means neighborhood, not ghetto), marfil (marble), rincon (corner), sandia (watermelon), zanahoria (carrot), and even ¡hola!

Spanish has not borrowed from English as other European languages have, probably because of isolationist policies over the years. Franco was so consumed by the goal of making the country monolingual (enacting harsh laws against Basque, Catalan—any regional dialect–and discouraging if not forbidding the study of English), and so insistent that Spanish be predominant (all foreign films were required to be dubbed) that Spanglish and similar conglomerations that sprouted elsewhere do not exist here. Even neologisms that have sneaked into many languages (internet, web, computer) have not crossed over into Spanish.

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