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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 vernacular variety of Arabic once spoken in the islands of Sicily and neighbouring Malta between the end of the ninth century and the end of the twelfth century. The language became extinct in Sicily, but on the islands of Malta it eventually evolved into what is now the Maltese language.

Arab conquest of Sicily[edit]

During the seventh and eight centuries, Sicily was raided from Tunis. The eventual Muslim Arab 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.[citation needed] Its mixed population of Muslims and Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians continued to use Arabic even after the Norman conquest of the island (1061–90).[citation needed]

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 in 1117.[clarification needed] It was revived in 1132 and subsequently used in the king's fiscal administration, which managed royal lands and men in Sicily and Calabria.[citation needed] This chancery office operated in Arabic, Greek and Latin.[citation needed] 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. Most of these terms relate to agriculture and related activities.

Maltese language[edit]

Main article: 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. The Sicilian language absorbed many Siculo-Arabic words, with those shown in the table a small sample.

These include:

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


  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. ISBN 0-7103-0497-8. 
  • Metcalfe, Alex (2003). Muslims and Christian in Norman Sicily. Arabic-speakers and the end of Islam. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1685-8. 
  • Johns, Jeremy (2002). Arabic Administration in Norman Sicily. The Royal Diwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81692-0. 

External links[edit]