Mozarabic language

General Overview

Area of Distribution and Number of Speakers

Mozarabic (or Ajami) was a Southern Ibero-Romance language, that developed in those parts of Spain under Arab occupation from the early 8th century until about 1300. It was the spoken language of the city-dwellers, who remained Christians while the peasants generally converted to Islam. It appears that many Arabs also came to use it, even though Arabic remained the only written language.

By AD 1000 there were some two millions of Mozarabi speakers.

The Name

The term Mozarabic was derived from the Arabic word musta'rib arabicized, and the term Ajami -- from ajam ugly, barbarous.
See a historical note on the Mozarabs, the Christians under muslim domination in medieval Spain.

Origin and History

Mozarabic was the Romance language spoken by the Christians in the muslim possessions on the Iberian peninsula. For much of the Muslim period (711-1492), Christians were treated tolerantly and became culturally Arabized. Even after persecution by fanatic Muslim newcomers in the 12th century, the Mozarabs were often in conflict with Westernized "liberators" from the north. Their language died out soon after the Arabs were driven out of Spain at the end of the 15th century, though it is sometimes claimed that Mozarabic has left its mark on the dialects of southern Spain and Portugal.

Mozarabic is still used as a liturgical language in a few places in Spain and Morocco.

Phonology and Writing

Because most of the evidence, apart from a 15th-century glossary from Granada, is written in Arabic script (which uses no vowel signs), it is difficult to reconstruct the phonology of the language, but it appears to be a very conservative Hispanic language, which retained many archaic Latin forms and preserved a completely Romance sound system.

The vocalism is marked by the diphthongation of the short stressed e and o, even before [j]. The diphthongs {aj] and [aw] were retained.

The initial F- and the groups CL-, FL-, PL- remained unchanged. The intervocal -P-, -T-, -C- were also preserved without change, cf.:

C before E and I was palatalized az [t], like in Italian.


Much of modern information about Mozarabic comes from medical and botanical works that give Mozarabic terms alongside the Arabic. To this was added the discovery of Mozarabic refrains (kharjahsor markaz) added to Arabic and Hebrew love ballads (muwashshahs) of the 11th and 12th centuries; study of these began only in 1946. These refrains are written in Arabic characters that lack most vowel markings and are often rather difficult to decipher. The study of place-names in Southern Spain is also a valuable source of information on Mozarabic.

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© Zdravko Batzarov