Re-thinking the world

JRR Tolkien once said that he constructed the world of his books (most importantly the Lord of the Rings trilogy) in order to give his own languages a background. The fact is that many conlangers (specially those who make artistic languages) consider that conworlding (this is, the creation of ‘constructed worlds’) is intrinsically related to conlangs. “No world will ever feel real if it doesn’t have a language spoken by its inhabitants” some say, while others claim that “a conlang arises almost naturally from every fictional world“.

To say the truth, I don’t fully agree with them. When I make a conlang, chances are that I will never create such a thing as a conworld. Does that make them less authentic? Maybe, but I don’t really mind those things. And, definitely, there’s neither a good reason to force all world creators (a colorful group which ranges from highly imaginative kids to top fantasy and science-fiction writers) to get involved in such a arduous task (for somebody not really into linguistics) as composing a whole language.

I’m a conlanger, not a conworlder. However, this kind of things may change 🙂 This week, I had an idea for an alternative world which was so interesting that I simply couldn’t let it go.

Just as some of my conlangs, this idea came to me as a question: “What would the world and it’s language’s have been if Spanish Reconquista hadn’t been successful?”. This led me to do a  little research about this historical epoch (I’ll give you a short explanation about what it was) and write some historical fiction. Many of the events in this conworld were based in actual events, while others are completely imaginary. I hope nobody is offended in any way.

Historical map of (actual) Spain during Reconquista. [image from Wikipedia]


By the late 8th century, most of the Iberian peninsula was ruled by the Muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus, much to the surrounding Catholic kingdoms dislike, which regarded that as unacceptable. Kingdoms in North Spain decided to go on war with the ‘Moorish’ people in what the called reconquista which means ‘re-conquest’ as they were supposedly reclaiming former Christian lands.

This military campaign was finally successful. By the late 15th century, a more or less unified Catholic Spanish Kingdom had taken over all current Spanish territories, having completely defeated the Muslim kingdoms which once composed Al-Andalus. On 1492, Colombus led the Spanish to discover America. Soon the started expanding to the ‘New World’, which turned Spain into a powerful empire.

On the linguistic side, the influence of Castilian Spanish (this is, regular Spanish) climbed a lot during this historical period whereas the language of Muslim Andalusians (the Mozarabic-language, also known as Latino by the mozarabs (those Spanish Muslims) themselves) was lost.


The Ascent of Al-Andalus

Of course, the name Reconquista was the term used by the winning side, the Spanish. There corresponding Arabic term <سقوط الأندلس> literally means the fall of Al-Andalus. The big difference between our world and this fictional world is that Al-Andalus didn’t fall, they weren’t conquered by the (Catholic) Spanish. Actually, it happened the other way round, the ‘Moors’ weren’t conquered by the Spanish but actually they further expanded their lands.

The point of divergence lies soon after the Catholic kingdoms began to expand southwards, effectively threatening Al-Andalus. Then, a great figure appeared in the Moorish side: Yusif Almajid, a master-strategist military leader which would later become legendarily famous. Upon realizing that the northern armies were too powerful for his to handle, he didn’t hesitate to ask other Muslim Kingdoms for help, specially Morocco. Andalusian troops aided by Moroccans and under Almajid’s command, proved to be immensely successful. Not only did they stop the Catholic kingdoms from further advancing into Muslim territory but also they expanded Al-Andalus northwards.

The Crusade

Other Catholics states in Europe (such as the British Islands, France and Italy) weren’t very pleased with this situation, to say the least. A ‘crusade’ was planned, but it was delayed because of a pest and a realization of how strong Al-Andalus (which now occupied all the Iberian peninsula and was known simply as Spain) was.

The Iberian crusade was a two-fronts war. On one side, there was the Occitan Campaign fought in near the boarder of the French Kingdom and the Spanish Caliphate. On the other, there was also a naval campaign, the so-called ‘North Spain Campaign‘, which is much more interesting.

A whole navy was assembled so as to put into practice a plan which many regarded as daring. Proudly named The Invincible Navy (the similarity with our world’s Spanish army is purely coincidental), it was mainly assembled of French and British men and departed from Wales to finally disembark in the coast of the former Kingdom of Leon in Northern Spain. The strike was similar to our world’s Normandy invasion in World War II… of course, there weren’t machine guns then! There were also some short-lived attempts of invading the South of Spain.

The Iberian Crusade didn’t fulfill the Christian states’ expectations as Spain was able to endure them. The most successful one was, by far, the North Spain Campaign which resulted into the creation of the independent Christian state of Leon in Northern Spain, roughly the same size of Switzerland. One of the main reasons behind the failure of this crusade were discoveries made during this epoch.

The New World

East Asia was a mysterious and mythical places for medieval Europeans. Each year, many risked their lives to reach it. Naturally, this was not only driven by an adventurous spirit but something more mundane: the fact that there one could find Indian spices, highly valued in Europe. However, due to a number of circumstances, the route (crossing half Eurasia) was becoming increasingly dangerous.

Then, a Moroccan sailor made a great discovery: that it was possible to reach Asia by sailing to the West, crossing the Atlantic. However, this discovery was not made in the most fortunate time. Morocco was in the middle of a severe economical crisis and political turmoil, so it was impossible to organize expeditions. The discovery soon became barely a rumor which would eventually come to Spanish ears.

The fact that Spain was on war didn’t prevent them from sending sailors to explore. It was a very good move.

Not before long, the sailors discovered that the place was not Asia as they had thought but a new world. Naturally, they had just re-discovered the American continent (they never gave it that name, however). Spice was not so abundant there, but they found gold. Lots of gold.

The Iberian economy flourished, and a dinasty which was said to descend from Almajid consolidated the Hispanya sultanate (which I will simply call Spain as that would still be the name given to it by the English).

European Colonialism

Very much like our own world’s history, Europeans decided to conquer and settle in those new lands.

Yellow and yellowish green: Spanish Sultanate territories; Orange: Netherlands, Red: British colonies, Blue and purple: French, Dark green: Ireland, Lime green (Haiti): Italy. Yellowish green: Spanish territories where 'Portuguese' is spoken, Purple: French territories which would be sold to Britain. White: Not occupied by Europeans yet.

The Spanish created an empire which was even larger than the one they established in our world. Portugal (which conquered Brazil in our world) didn’t exist (it was part of the Spanish Sultanate), so Spain didn’t have one of their most serious contenders.

The other European countries also decided to establish colonies in the New World.  England and France conquered most of North America whereas the Dutch established a colony in the Guayanas region (where the Italians had settled earlier, leading to some conflict between these European states). Morocco also conquered some islands in the Caribbean and the Spanish Sultanate gave them the Canary islands as a present for having helped them during the crusade.

A time of change in Europe

The discovery of the New World indirectly resulted in the end of the Iberian Crusade. As Great Britain and France sailed westwards, they retired their troops from Northern Spain (León, however, remained as separate Catholic state). As ships loaded with American gold and riches arrived to Spain, it became more and more powerful and the Occitan Campaign was canceled by France.

However, this wasn’t the only factor of change in Europe. The rise of the bourgeois and the spread of literacy (with the invention of the printing press in Hungary) gave power to the so-called New Ideas and an early Renaissance.

Discontent with an increasingly corrupt yet conservative papacy led rise to new religious views. Soon Europe (other than Muslim Spain) was divided into Catholic states and the ones that followed the recently created Protestant Church. Internal conflict amongst Christian countries prevented Spain from being further attacked.

However, this doesn’t mean either that they were more tolerant towards it. Both Protestant and Catholic were still hostile to the Muslim world, including the Iberian Peninsula and its American territories. They worried even more about them when another Muslim nation invaded (and effectively conquered) another Christian country: the Ottoman Empire which fell to Turks.

Sultan Ībrahim’s scheme

Even when the war was over, this hostility was problematic for the Sultanate. Spain was probably the wealthiest country in the world, but it couldn’t enjoy its position because it was boycotted by the rest of Europe.

The views of Spanish Sultans towards the Christians were often hostile as well, but some were quite tolerant. Sultan Ībrahim (which would later be called Ībrahim the Great by his supporters and Ībrahim the Infidel by his detractors) belonged to this last group.

Seeing that the State’s religion was the main thing that prevented the Sultanate from being accepted by its Christian neighbors, he took a measure which was deemed to be very risky: to open his state to all religions. While the majority of Spain’s population remained Muslim, a lot of immigrant arrived, often as refugees. They were Protestant Italians who fled from the Catholic authorities which considered them to be heretics, Catholics which were expelled from prevalently Protestant territories, Jews from a number of European countries hostile to them, etc.

The sultan even changed his own title in order to  give it a ‘more international look’. He became the Emperor of Spain and, similarly, the Sultanate officially became an Empire (a name which was also more suitable given the size of the American territories).

In spite of the criticism (and some attempts to kill the ‘betrayer of faith sultan‘), the plan was successful, as Europe became less and less hostile until they accepted Spain as yet another state. African Muslim countries, however, were offended and ceased to be Spain allies.

The Golden Age

The wider acceptance of Spain in Europe led its economy to be incredibly flourishing. It was the Golden Age… but not only regarding Economy.

Arts and science flourished as well. The mix of Italian, German, Arabic, and native Spanish arts resulted in some of the greatest artistic works. Some Spanish painters were at the same height as Leonardo and Michaelangelo, and Spanish literature came to be far more successful than our Don Quixote.

The so-called Spanish Ideals of tolerance and equality were adopted by the European intellectual elite (to a much larger extent than it was even adopted by Spain itself), being part of the basis for the Enlightenment. As a result, a pro-democratic revolution (akin to our  world’s French Revolution) was succesfully carried on… France! You thought I was about to say Spain, didn’t you? 🙂

The Empire falls

During the Golden Age, Spain was the star of Europe, the most prosper, large and mighty empire on the world. But when stars get too big, they implode, and the Spanish Empire was just about to reach that point.

French intellectuals expected the Spanish Emperor to give his power to people and transform his state either into a constitutional monarchy or, preferably, a republic. However, it wasn’t the case…

Those intellectuals were far from being the only disappointed people. Alshami, the absolutist ruling Emperor, was disliked by all his subjects but a rich an powerful aristocratic elite. Due to loose administration, the once wealthy Spain was on the verge of entering a crisis and the American territories were increasingly reluctant to be ruled by authorities far away which didn’t cared about them.

France underwent the revolution, their American territories (corresponding to our world’s Canada, and Central USA) were given the option of either being completely independent or being in a tight economic union with France (all but the westernmost states decided on the latter option). This inspired the Spanish territories to ask for independence to the empire, a claim which was replied with thousands of soldiers being sent so as to defend the ‘Empire’s unity‘ in case of a ‘subversive revolution‘. Naturally, actual independence wars started soon.

The Republican French government resolved to request the Spanish government to peacefully give they independence. “As long as your highness’ territories remain associated with Spain, the empire wouldn’t be harmed“, they advised. The Empire didn’t followed those measures.

As diplomatic means failed, the French government began to aid rebel groups in Spain. Simultaneously, England aided Spain, as the English king feared that a similar revolution could take place in Great Britain.

After (fortunately) less bloody conflicts that those of France, the Emperor Alshami disappeared. Nobody knew what happened to him, some said he was killed, others say he ran away. Whatever happened to him, his nephew  Yusuf III ascended to the throne and established a constitutional monarchy: the Kingdom of Spain. By the time, all formerly Spanish American countries had gained their independence except for Cuba which would gain it a few years after that. Yet another years later, the westernmost portion of the Iberian peninsula, which had always held a distinct cultural identity, seceded creating the Republic of Portugal.

The British colonies had also fought successfully for their independence and English King Giorge was killed by the British Aristocracy which placed the blame on him. A so-called democracy was established, even though it was evidently ruled by the aristocrats. Some time after that, coinciding with the Industrial Revolution, the system transitioned into a modern republic.

On the other hand, the Netherlands King decided to give most of his power to the parliament (he kept some, however) and asked his American possesions (most importantly Nij Zeeland in (our world’s) North Brazil) whether they preferred to remain united to Netherlands or be independent. Luckily for him, they chose to carry on being under the Netherlands crown.


As I said at the top of the post, I’m more a conlanger than a world-maker. Languages were one of the main things which led me to make this story which was a sort of mental exercise (the other being just curiosity).

Up to now, I have thought of many different languages which could have arisen in such a world but don’t know which ones I will actually implement (it will be take a lot of work and research to construct them).


What’s the language of this alternative Spain? The answer may be a little disappointing: Spanish. However it isn’t.

Our world’s Spanish is derived from the language spoken in the (Catholic) medieval Kingdom of Castilla (that’s why it’s often called Castillian or Castellano, in Spain, where other languages such as Catalan are also spoken). This world’s Spanish, however, is a completely distinct language.

As Al-Andalus grew (both in size and in power), its language spread. Soon, the Mozarabic-language was spoken in most of the Iberian peninsula. Mozarabic is a Romance language which evolved from Vulgar Latin as spoken by the inhabitants of Southern Spain. However, loads of Arabic words entered it when the Mozarabs took over that region. Few examples of this ancient language remain in our own world, but it’s been calculated that up to a 40% of its words had Arabic origin.

The Mozarabic language was to that world’s Spanish the same Old Castillian was our worlds Spanish. Both languages evolved a lot since medieval times.

The most relevant change was the introduction of many loan words following the aperture of Spain to immigrants during Ībrahim the Great’s time. Languages as diverse as Italian, German, English, Yidish and Hebrew nourished the Spanish tongue. Additionally, Spain came to be the home of the largest Romani (Gypsy) community in Europe and many Romani words entered the language. Most of those loans are absent in American Spanish varieties.

Despite the fact that one of the Emperors tried to adopt the more European-ish Latin script, (Mozarabic-based) Spanish is written with a modified Arabic script.


The Christian State of León in Northern Spain, established by the English during the Iberian Crusade, has its own national language which is considerably more similar to those in real-world Spain.

The basis for this language is a mixture of old Leonese and Castilian, the languages which were traditionally spoken in those regions.

As the Leonese opposed Muslim Al-Andalus, they tried not to incorporate as few Arabic words as possible, making it quite distinct to its surrounding languages. However, there are a great number of terms derived from Early English and Old French (and a few Welsh words), languages brought by the soldiers during the crusade. Immigration to León was negligible when compared to the rest of Spain, which accounts for the lack of Italian, German and Romani words.

It employs the Latin alphabet exclusively.


During the 8th century, Portugal was not a country on its own but part of  the Spanish Kingdom of Galicia. While Portugal was already an independent kingdom by 1139 in our world, it wouldn’t be independent in this constructed world until some 30 years after the establishment of Spanish Constitutional Monarchy.

This world’s Portuguese descends from old Galician/Portuguese (much the same as the one in our world). Even though Galician speaking territories were under Mozarab world, the language was not abandoned in favor of this world’s Spanish as in the rest of Spain but rather kept, which contributed to develop sort of a distinct culture. Unlike Leonese, the influence of Mozarabic-Spanish is very recognizable, as one may find lots of Arabic words in (alternative-world’s) Portuguese texts. The languages of immigrants didn’t mark Portuguese as much as Spanish.

Both Latin and Arabic scripts were used for this language until the Portuguese Republic was established and Latin alphabet was made official.

Euskara (Basque):

In our world, Basque outlived all the other languages in his family, so it shouldn’t surprise us that this tough minority language survived in this other world. The Basque country (Euskadi) was conquered by the French during the crusade and, since then, it has struggled for its independence with little success. Now, it’s just one of France’s unrecognized minority languages, like Breton and Galló.

Euskara doesn’t differ too much from its real world counterpart. Naturally, Spanish loan worlds now are not Castilian in origin but either Mozarabic or, more recently, French. It’s written in Latin script with more or less the same orthography to the one real-world Basques use.

Provençal (Catalan+Occitan):

Catalan was much less fortunate than other Spanish languages, having almost completely disappeared. It’s influence can still be found in Balearic Spanish, a dialect of (Mozarabic-based) Spanish spoken in Balearic Islands. Occitan, it’s sister language, however, is in a far better position than its real-world counterpart, albeit under an alternative name: Provençal.

In our world France constitution claims explicitly that French is the only language of France, which prevents the French government from aiding minority languages. The situation is similar for most minority languages in the conworld’s France, except for Provençal which shares French status.

Mexican and other American languages:

I couldn’t help thinking of the language which could possible arise in America. A Mexican language which combines Mozarabic-based Spanish with native languages such as Nahuatl and Mayan would be incredibly interesting. Similarly, one with Quecha influence could have developed near our world’s Peru.

Nijzeelander is a special case: the language. Its name may mislead you into thinking it has something to do with New Zealand but, in this conworld, the Dutch gave the name Nij Zeeland to its colony in northern South America. It descends from Dutch and would be similar to Afrikaans but for the Spanish loanwords and some native American terms.

Possible flags from some countries. Spain (the text reads 'Alen', beyond, a reference to Non-Plus-Ultra), Portugal, Nij Zeeland, Mexico (text reads Libertā, 'freedom')and León


Posted on 2011/10/08, in Al-Andalus Conworld, English. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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