Sometimes the sound of a word makes it beautiful; other times, its meaning makes it stand out. Whether you love the Spanish language for its flavours or you love it for its richness and depth, there are words that abound for all of us to savour. Like any language, Spanish has regional particularities and a different style wherever you go, whether its downtown Buenos Aires or in Granada. As one of the most spoken and understood languages on earth, you will find people all over the globe speaking Spanish and giving it their own style wherever you go.
In this blog series, I want to explore some of my favourite words in Spanish, their meanings and why I love them so all of you can enjoy too. The first job of a translator is to love language – all languages – and to want to share that beauty with the rest of the world. Everything follows from this passion that I hope to embody every day of my career.
Origin: Iberian Peninsula
Meaning: Hopefully, if only, I hope, I wish, God willing
Example: Ojalá que te mejores pronto – I hope you get well soon
One of the most fascinating things about language is how history is embedded in the very words we use. You may not realize it, but phrases and words you use every day carry events, movements of peoples and interactions of cultures that happened hundreds of years ago!
A beautiful word in its own right, ojalá expresses hopes, wishes and prayers. It is also one of about 4000 Spanish words that remember the influence of the medieval Arabic language and culture on the Iberian Peninsula and eventually the Spanish language. If you studied Spanish in school, you may have learned that Spanish is one of the Romance languages; a modern language that evolved out of Latin. Unique among the Romance languages, Spanish vocabulary reflects a significant contribution from Arabic that is second only to Latin.
Muslim rule in Iberia began in 711 CE with conquests by what would become the Umayyad dynasty and ended in 1492 after a series of campaigns by Christian kingdoms from the north. In that nearly 800 years, Arabic-Islamic culture mingled with Christian and Jewish cultures, leaving a profound influence on Iberian art, architecture, language, scientific and philosophical thought and even music. Even the name of Spain’s capital city, Madrid, has Arabic origins in the word majri (breeze).
Arabic vocabulary initially mingled with local dialects producing the Mozarabic languages, a continuum of Arabic influenced Romance dialects. Modern Spanish primarily evolved out of the Castilian dialect. Castilian absorbed both Arabic and Mozarabic vocabulary in the 11th – 13th centuries as the Kingdom of Castile pushed south, taking large territories from Muslim rulers. One of these territories was the Taifa of Toledo, which became the capital of the Kingdom of Castile. Toledo is the location where recognizably modern Spanish first began to appear in writing. The mingling of Old Spanish, Arabic and Mozarabic dialects is why Spanish has many pairs of synonyms in which one word has a Latin root and the other has an Arabic root. Often the Arabic-rooted synonyms are still more commonly used in south and central Spain, areas that were under Muslim rule for longer.
Spanish words with Arabic origins include hasta (until, from hata), azúcar (sugar, from as-sukkar), aceite (oil, from zayt), almohada (pillow, from mijadda) and barrio (neighbourhood, from barri, meaning the outer limits of a city.) Ojalá may be one of the most well-known of these words. Meaning “hopefully”, “I wish/hope”, “if only”, “I pray” or “God willing”, it derives from the Arabic insha Allāh, meaning “may Allah will it”. Possibly evolving into the simplified “oh Allah”, ojalá was originally used in prayers, reflecting an intimate intermingling of culture, religion and language in multicultural medieval Iberia.
I hope that this little history lesson has helped you appreciate the depth and richness of the Spanish language and may inspire you to reflect on the extraordinary histories of ordinary words!
Until next time!