Corina Chiru (2022 Congress)

Daniela Corina Chiru
(Independent Scholar)

“Arabisms in Bilingual Morisco Manuscripts:
Reflections of an Islamic hiero-Sprachbund”

Abstract of Paper
57th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Online, 2022)

Session on
“Alter(n)ative Alphabets in the Iberian Middle Ages”

Co-sponsored by
the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Ibero-Medieval Association of North America (IMANA)

Organized by Donald W. Wood

2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies Program



Akin to other Muslim minorities, the Moriscos created an Islamic lexicon by adopting Arabic loanwords into their writings, despite the existence of apparent equivalents in the Romance vernacular, and seemingly in a concerted effort to preserve their religious writings free of Christian semantic connotations. However, the use of similar vocabulary and syntax patterns among communities that are geographically separated and linguistically distanced seems motivated by the employment of a common liturgical language – in this case, Arabic. As Casassas Canals postulated in 2010, the existence of a hiero-Sprachbund could be at the core of linguistic variation in function of the religious affiliation of a given language’s speakers. The Romance vernacular spoken by the Moriscos would thus be linked to an Islamic hiero-Sprachbund.

This cryptic Iberian community articulated its linguistic reality around two levels of diglossia – on one hand, a written ‘calque language’, strongly Arabized and employed mainly for didactical and liturgical purposes, and on the other hand – the spoken vernacular. The latter one would have gradually received the influence of the former, eventually leading to the widespread use of a vast array of Arabic loanwords in the common Morisco parlance, at that point an Islamic hiero-variety of Romance (as opposed to its contemporary counterpart — the vernacular spoken by the Christian faithful).
The hypothesis of such a religious linguistic alliance seems indeed very probable, especially when placing Aljamiado-Arabic bilingual texts under scrutiny. This paper will provide a survey of surprising orthographies of Arabisms in the vicinity of the original Arabic terms and argue that, by being fully assimilated into the Moriscos’ Romance, they can be seen as reflections of the phenomenon proposed by Casassas Canals.