The Vocabulist – First Printed Book with Arabic Characters

Arauian language

In February 1505, “El Vocabulista” or Pedro de Alcalá’s Arabic-Castilian Dictionary was published in Granada, being the first book printed with Arabic characters, which has allowed us to accurately know the Andalusian dialect, spoken by the Spanish Arabs, before be expelled in 1492.
The philological work written by Fray Pedro de Alcalá has been universally recognized and consists of two books:
-Art to slightly know the Arauiga language
-Arauiga vocabulist in Spanish lyrics
Two different works in their content, but complementary for this reason, Fray Pedro de Alcalá recommends to his superior that they be published together. Consequently, the two works are found together in a single volume in copy R 2158 of the National Library of Spain, with the coat of arms of Archbishop Hernando de Talavera on the cover.


The purpose of this work was to facilitate reciprocal understanding with the Moors, beginning with the mutual knowledge of the Arabic and Spanish languages, necessary both for the people of Granada, and for the shepherds who began the task of their conversion or, as the author says “ bring these newly converted people out of darkness and many errors.”
It is a unique work to learn about the Andalusian Arabic language and culture, at the time of the conquest of Granada.
It was not until 1514 that the Book of Hours (Kitāb ṢalāŤ al-sawā‘ī) was published in Italy, the first book printed entirely in Arabic, although its edition was officially rejected and unknown by the Ottoman Empire.
Fray Pedro de Alcalá
Due to his knowledge of the Arabic language, it has been thought that Fray Pedro de Alcalá was a Moorish born in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, before the conquest and later converted to Christianity, but Fray Alcalá always denied this version, maintaining that he knew little about said language, which he learned with much effort and study.
However, the command of Arabic that he demonstrates in his work indicates that he could be of ancestral family education and that, therefore, he was entrusted with the task, since the Spanish-Arabic language is not easy at all, if one does not have a deep knowledge of that matter
In fact, this deep knowledge of Arabic supports the hypothesis that Alcalá was a convert, a new Christian, whose first language was Arabic.

Muslim conversion

The printing of the work in Granada a few years after the expulsion of the Moors from Spain reveals the goal of the Archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera, to achieve the “voluntary” conversion of the Granada Muslims who still resided in the place.
For this, he promoted the study of Arabic among the priests of his diocese, to explain to them the benefits of the Christian religion in their own language. Of course, conversions were very few and the bishopric resumed the use of “harder methods” to achieve transformation. of new Christians.
In 1805, Fray Patricio de la Torre, a monk from San Lorenzo de El Escorial, made a revision of the “Vocabulist”, the work is preserved in the codex H.II.23. In the 21st century, Elena Pezzi has carried out a new revision, creating a new structure, which she titled “Vocabulario de Pedro de Alcalá”.


  • Cesar Leo Marcus

    Cesar Leo Marcus was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Doctor (PhD) in International Logistics and Foreign Trade, and Master (MBA) in Economic Sociology, he was professor of both chairs at the Universities of Madrid (Spain) and Cordoba (Argentina). A journalist, he publishes in newspapers in California, Miami, and New York. He is a writer, he published twelve books, and a literary editor, director of Windmills Editions. He currently resides in California.

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