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Title: Siculo-Arabic  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Maltese language, Varieties of Arabic, Malta, Maltese people, Sicilian language
Collection: Arabic Languages, Extinct Languages of Italy, Maghrebi Arabic, Medieval Sicily
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Native to Emirate of Sicily
Era 900–1100
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sqr
Glottolog None

Siculo-Arabic (or Sicilian Arabic) was a variety of Arabic spoken in Sicily and Malta between the end of the ninth century and the end of the twelfth century. It is extinct in Sicily, but it has developed into what is now the Maltese language on the islands of Malta.


  • Arab conquest of Sicily 1
  • Maltese language 2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Arab conquest of Sicily

During the seventh and eight centuries, Sicily was raided from Tunis. The eventual Arab-Muslim conquest of Byzantine Sicily was piecemeal and slow. The region was a frontier zone even after the fall of Taormina in 902 which completed the invasion. By that time, Arabic had become the main language of the island. Its mixed population of Muslims and Greek-speaking (Orthodox) Christians continued to use Arabic even after the Norman conquest of the island (1061–90).

In the post-conquest period, both Arabic and Greek were sometimes used by the new rulers. However, Arabic was dropped as a language of government between 1117 and 1132. Thereafter, it was revived as and used in the king's fiscal administration which managed royal lands and men in Sicily and Calabria. This chancery office operated in Arabic, Greek and Latin. The many documents that it issued are one of the main and most important sources for Arabic in Sicily.

Although the Norman rulers employed Arabic and some were attested as Arabic speakers themselves, the dynasty died out after only a century and their successors expelled the remaining Muslims in the 13th century.

Arabic influence is present in a small number of Sicilian words, unlike the extensive influence on, for example, Spanish. Most of these terms relate to agriculture and related activities.

Maltese language

Although Siculo-Arabic died out in Sicily, it survived on Malta, with additional influences from Sicilian, Italian, French, and more recently English.[1] Some items of Siculo-Arabic vocabulary are comparable with later items found in Maltese language. The Sicilian language absorbed many Siculo-Arabic words, with those shown in the table a small sample.

These include:

Maltese Siculo-Arabic
(in Sicilian)
English Arabic
Ġiebja Gebbia Cistern جب (Jabb)
Ġunġlien Giuggiulena Sesame seed جنجلان (Junjulān)
Saqqajja Saia Canal ساقية (Sāqiyyah)
Kenur Tanura Oven تنور (Tannūr)
Żaffran Zaffarana Saffron زعفران (Za`farān)
Żahra Zagara Blossom زهرة (Zahrah)
Żbib Zibbibbu Raisins زبيب (Zabīb)
Zokk Zuccu Tree trunk ساق (Sāq)

One characteristic of the modern Maltese language is that a phrase can be said in two ways: with mainly Latin words or with mainly Arabic (Siculo-Arabic) words. As an example, the lexicon to say "The temple is located on the other side of the village square" can be expressed It-tempju sitwat oppost il-pjazza tal-villaġġ (Latin) or Il-maqdes jinsab biswit il-misraħ tar-raħal (Siculo-Arabic).


  1. ^ Brincat, Joseph M. (February 2005). "Maltese – an unusual formula". MED Magazine. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 


  • Agius, D. A. (1996). Siculo Arabic. London: Kegan Paul International.  
  • Metcalfe, Alex (2003). Muslims and Christian in Norman Sicily. Arabic-speakers and the end of Islam. London and New York: Routledge.  
  • Johns, Jeremy (2002). Arabic Administration in Norman Sicily. The Royal Diwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

External links

  • Agius, Dionisius A. D.A. Agius, "Who Spoke Siculo Arabic?" XII Incontro Italiano di Linguistica Camitio-semitica (Afroasiatica) - ATTI a cura di Marco Moriggi - Rubbettino 2007
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