Persian loanwords in Arabic
Much has been said about the influence of Arabic, as the language through which Islam was spread, on the speech of majority Muslim peoples. However, not nearly as much attention has been paid to how other languages have shaped and changed Arabic. Persian, mostly through word borrowings, has been one of the most important — if not the most important — of these languages, and what follows is a brief description of the nature of Persian’s lexical influence and how Arabic adapted its sound and word structure.
The first thing to note is not all Persian words entered into Arabic directly. Many of them were borrowed through Aramaic, which was the major lingua franca and trade language of the region (as well as serving as the official language of the Achaemenid dynasty of ancient Persia). As such, many of the Arabic words for spices, plants, precious stones, and other common goods are Persian in origin. Examples include the following:
Many if not most of the loanwords discussed above were clearly borrowed in pre-Islamic or early Islamic times. This makes sense, given that Arabic was not an established language of prestige in that era unlike Persian, which was the language of one of the two most powerful empires in the region at the time. As Arabic ascended in influence through association with Islam, Persian borrowings into Arabic decreased.
However, they did not stop, and many spoken Arabic varieties continued to borrow Persian words. Obviously, those varieties spoken near or in Iran, such as Iraqi Arabic, contain more Persian loanwords than those that are not. Two examples from my own dialect (urban Palestinian) are ‹babuj› ‘slipper’ from ‹papuc› and ‹šakuš› ‘hammer’ from ‹cakoš›. Neither of these words exists in standard Arabic, but they are both widely used in many spoken varieties of Arabic. The existence of two words for ‘fresh’ borrowed from two different eras of Persian discussed above also demonstrates the continued influence of the language on Arabic.