Mozarabic language

Mozarabic language
لتن לטן Latinus/Latino
Spoken in Iberia
Extinct by the Late Middle Ages
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mxi
Ethnic-Linguistic map of southwestern Europe

Mozarabic was a continuum of closely related Romance dialects spoken in Muslim-dominated areas of the Iberian Peninsula during the early stages of the Romance languages' development in Iberia. Mozarabic descends from Late Latin and early Romance dialects spoken in the Iberian Peninsula from the 5th to the 8th centuries, and was spoken until the 14th century.[1] This set of dialects came to be called the Mozarabic language by 19th century Spanish scholars, though there was never a common standard. The word, Mozarab is a loanword from Arabic meaning مستعرب - must`arab, i.e. "Arabized".


Native name

Although the name Mozarabic is today used for many Romance languages, the native name (autonym or endonym) of the language was not "muzarab" or "mozarab" but latinus or Latino. Mozarabs themselves never called their own language "mozarabic" but by the name that meant "Latin" (i.e. Romance language). They did not call themselves by the name "mozarabs".

At times Christian communities prospered in Muslim Spain; these Christians are now usually referred to as Mozárabes, although the term was not in use at the time (Hitchcock 1978)

It was only in the 19th century that Spanish historians started to use the words "mozarabs" and "mozarabic" to refer to those Christians people, and their language, who lived under Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages. Another very common Arab exonym for this language was al-ajamiya ("stranger/foreign") that had the meaning of Romance language in Al-Andalus. So the words "mozarabic" or "ajamiya" are exonyms and not an autonym of the language.

Roger Wright, in his book about the evolution of early Romance languages in France and in the Iberian Peninsula Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, page 156, states that:

The Early Romance of Moslem Spain was known to its users as latinus. This word can lead to confusion; the Visigothic scholars used it to contrast with Greek or Hebrew, and Simonet (1888: XXIII-IV, XXXV-VII) established that in Moslem Spain it was used to refer to the non-Arabic vernacular (as was Arabic Al-Lathinī)

Also in the same book, page 158, the author states that:

The use of latinus to mean Latin-Romance, as opposed to Arabic, is also found north of the religious border

This means that the word latinus or Latino had the meaning of spoken romance language and it was only contrasted with classical Latin (lingua Latina) a few centuries later. To contemporary romance speakers of the Iberian Peninsula of that time their vernacular spoken language was seen as "Latin". This happens because classical Latin was seen as an educated speech not as a different language.

Another important issue referring to this old Romance language is the name that Sephardic Jews gave to their spoken Romance language in Iberia - ladino and also the name that an Alpine romance speaking people, the Ladins, give to their language - ladin.

In the Iberian Peninsula:

The word Ladino (<LATINUM) survived with the specific linguistic meaning of "Spanish written by Jews" (Roger Wright 1982, p. 158)

This is one of the main reasons why Iberian Jews (Sephardim) from central and southern regions called their everyday language ladino, because this word had the sense of spoken Romance language (Ladino is today a Romance language more closely related to Spanish, mainly to Old Spanish, spoken by some Jews of Sephardic ancestry).

In the Alps: For the same reason, speakers of ladin, another Romance language (spoken in eastern Switzerland in two valleys in Graubünden and northern Italy in the Trentino Alto-Ádige/Südtirol and Veneto regions), call their own language ladin i.e. "Latin".

This word had the sense of spoken Romance language not only in Iberian Peninsula but also in other Romance language regions in early Middle Ages.


Because Mozarabic was not a language of high culture, it had no official script. Unlike most Romance languages, Mozarabic was primarily written in the Arabic alphabet rather than the Latin alphabet, though it was also written in the Latin alphabet and less so in the Hebrew alphabet. Most documents were in the Arabic alphabet. Mozarab scholars wrote words of the Romance vernacular in alternative scripts in the margins or in the subtitles of Latin language texts (glosses).

The two languages of culture in Medieval Iberia were Latin in the north (although it was also used in the south by Mozarab scholars) and Arabic in the south (which was the principal literary language of Mozarab scholars). These are the languages that constitute the great majority of written documents of the Peninsula at that time.

Mozarabic is first documented in writing in the Peninsula as choruses (kharjas) (9th century) in Arabic lyrics called muwashshahs. As these were written in the Arabic alphabet, the vowels had to be reconstructed when transliterating it into Latin script.

Morphology and phonetics

The phonology of Mozarabic is more archaic than the other Romance languages in Spain, fitting with the general idea that language varieties in more isolated or peripheral areas act as "islands of conservatism". Based on the written documents that are identified as Mozarabic, some examples of these more archaic features are:

  • The preservation of the Latin consonant clusters cl, fl, pl.
  • The lack of lenition of intervocalic p, t, c (k), as in the Mozarabic words lopa (she-wolf), toto (all) and formica (ant).
  • The representation of Latin /kt/ as /ht/ (as in /nohte/ "night" < noctem), thought to have been an intermediate stage in the transition /kt/ > /jt/, but represented nowhere else.
  • The preservation of palatalized /k(e)/, /k(i)/ as /tʃ/ (as in Italian), rather than /ts/ as elsewhere in Western Romance (except Picard and Norman north of the Joret line).
  • The preservation (at least in some areas) of original /au/, /ai/.

The morphology of some words is closer to Latin than other Iberian Romance or Romance languages in general. This Romance variety had a significant impact in the formation of Portuguese, Spanish and especially Andalusian Spanish, which explains why these languages have several words of Andalusi Arabic origin (Mozarabic was, understandably, quite influenced by Arabic and vice versa).

It was spoken by Mozarabs (Christians living as dhimmis), Muladis (the native Iberian population converted to Islam) and some layers of the ruling Arabs and Berbers. The cultural language of Mozarabs continued to be Latin, but as time passed, young Mozarabs studied and even excelled at Arabic. Due to the northwards migration of Mozarabs, we can find Arabic placenames in areas where Islamic rule did not last long. With the deepening of Islamization and the advance of the Reconquista, Mozarabic was substituted either by Arabic or by Northern Romance varieties, depending on the area and century.

Documents in Mozarabic (Old Southern Iberian Romance)

Some texts found in manuscripts of poetry in Muslim Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus), although mainly written in Arabic, have however some stanzas in mozarabic (Latino) or in what seems to be Mozarabic. These are important texts because there are few examples of written Mozarabic language.

In Late Latin and Early romance Roger Wright also makes an analysis of these poetry texts known as kharjas:

Muslim Spain has acquired philological interest for a further reason: the kharjas. These are apparently bilingual (Arabic-Romance) or macaronic final stanzas of some verses in the Hispano-Arabic muwashshaha form discovered in some Arabic and Hebrew manuscripts (...). Analyses of these have been hampered in the past by the belief that we know too little about mozárabe Romance to discuss the "Romance" element on a sound basis; but this is not entirely true. (...) The detailed investigations by Galmés de Fuentes (e.g. 1977, 1980) on later documents and toponyms have established the main features of mozárabe phonology, and many features of its morphology (...). The conclusion seems to be that mozárabe Romance is not particularly different from that of other parts of Iberia.

Sample text (11th century)

Mozarabic: Spanish: Catalan: Portuguese: Latin: Standard Arabic Arabic transliteration English Old Spanish: Old Portuguese:

Mio sîdî ïbrâhîm
yâ tú, uemme dolge!
Fente mib
de nohte.
In non, si non keris,
irey-me tib,
gari-me a ob

Mi señor Ibrahim,
¡o tú, hombre dulce!
Ven a mí
de noche.
Si no, si no quieres,
yo me iré contigo,
dime dónde

El meu senyor Ibrahim,
oh tu, home dolç!
Vine't a mi
de nit.
Si no, si no vols,
aniré'm a tu,
digues-me a on

Meu senhor Ibrahim,
ó tu, homem doce!
Vem a mim
de noite.
Se não, se não quiseres,
ir-me-ei a ti,
diz-me onde

O domine mi Ibrahim,
o tu, homo dulcis!
Veni mihi
Si non, si non vis,
ibo tibi,
dic mihi ubi
te inveniam.

سيدي إبراهيم،
يا رجلاً حلواً.
تعال اليَّ
وإن كنت لا تريد،
سأذهب أنا إليك.
قل لي أين

Sīdi ʾibrāhīm
yā rajulan ħulwan!
taʿāla ʾilay-ya
wa-ʾin kunta lā turīdu
sa-ʾaðhabu ʾanā ilay-ka
qul l-ī ʾayna

My lord Ibrahim,
O you, sweet man!
Come to me
at night.
If not, if you do not want to come,
I shall go to you,
tell me where
to find you.

Mi Sennor Ibrahim,

o te, dolçe omber!
fente a mi
de nogtie.
Se nonn, se nonn gieres,
[something is missing here]
dezeme obe

Meu snor Ibrahim
Oh, tu, home dulse!
Vem a mi
de noute
Ssi non, ssi non queres
Hirme hey a ti
Dizme u

See also

  • Aljamiado, the practice of writing a Romance language with the Arabic script.
  • Mozarab, the Christian population under Islamic rule.
  • Mozarabic art
  • Mozarabic Rite, the Christian liturgy preserved by the Mozarabs.
  • Muwashshah, an Arabic poetic form.
  • Kharja, a part of the muwashshah.
  • Ladino language, the Spanish language spoken by Sephardic Jews.


  • 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: University of Liverpool (Francis Cairns, Robin Seager). ISBN 0-905205-12-X

External links

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