There’s no doubt that English is a world language. It’s the second most widely-spoken language in the world (Mandarin has managed to nab the top spot) and has been hugely influential to the development of many other languages.
In fact English is so much the ‘language of business’ that some people think if you don’t speak it, even as your second or third language, you’re going to have a tough time when it comes to communicating with others from around the world. And it’s true that English-speakers can become lazy travelers when visiting other countries; they don’t have to learn another language because they can almost guarantee, wherever they are, that someone will be able to understand them. Woe betide the lazy traveler who gets caught out…
Like most languages, English has changed over time. It’s been open to influence from all corners of the globe.
Ask anyone on the street and they’ll probably be aware that English is made up of lots of different languages. French is an obvious one – enjoy the ballet? Want to rendezvous? (We’re not actually sure that anyone says that…) Sitting at a table? There are loads! But we were pretty surprised to learn how many Arabic words have influenced the English we speak every day.
Yep. Every single person who speaks English is speaking some words that have their origins in Arabic.
One of the most ironic ones, given that most Muslims do not drink alcohol, is that the very word ‘alcohol’ derived from the Arabic ‘al-kohl’. Sugar? From the Arabic, ‘sukkar’. Lemon? ‘Līmūn’. And the dreaded algebra? ‘Al-jabr’, which literally means ‘reunion of broken parts’.
And there are many, many more.
English was and still is a language that is open to other cultures and civilizations. Over time, our exploration of the planet opened us up to the wonders and delights of the world around us and England (not only its language but many aspects of its everyday life) would be a very different place without these influences.
It’s a part of English history that not a lot of people know. So now you can impress your friends with your knowledge of Arabic – and Muslim – influence on not only Britain, but also the English language itself.
For more on Britain’s forgotten history, stay tuned!