Part 44b

The science of lexicography

January 1, 2022

This science is concerned with explaining the (conventional) meanings of the words of the language. This comes about as follows. The habit of the Arabic language, as far as the vowels called i’rab by the grammarians are concerned, became corrupted. 1254 Rules for protecting the (vowel endings) were developed, as we have stated. However, the (process of) corruption continued on account of the close contact (of the Muslims) with non-Arabs.

Eventually, it affected the (conventional) meanings of words. Many Arabic words were no (longer) used in their proper meaning. This was the result of indulgence shown to the incorrect language used by non-Arab speakers of Arabic in their terminologies, in contradiction to the pure Arabic language. It was, therefore, necessary to protect the (conventional) meanings of the (words of the) language with the help of writing and systematic works, because it was to be feared that (otherwise) they might be wiped out and that ignorance of the Qur’an and the traditions would result. 1255 Many leading philologists set out eagerly on this task and dictated systematic works on the subject. The champion in this respect was al-Khalil b. Ahmad al-Farahidi. 1256 He wrote the Kitab al-‘Ayn on lexicography. In it, he dealt with all (possible) combinations of the letters of the alphabet, that is, with words of two, three, four, and five consonants. (Fiveconsonant words) are the longest letter combinations found in Arabic.

It was possible for al-Khalil to calculate arithmetically the total number of such combinations. This goes as follows. The total number of two-consonant words is the sum of the arithmetical progression from one to twenty-seven. Twentyseven is one letter less than the number of letters in the alphabet. For the first consonant (of the alphabet) is combined with the remaining twenty-seven letters. This results in twenty-seven two-consonant words. Then, the second letter is combined with the remaining twenty-six consonants, then the third and the fourth, and so on, to the twentyseventh consonant, which is combined (only) with the twentyeighth consonant. This results in one two-consonant word. Thus, the number of two- consonant words is the arithmetical progression from one to twenty-seven. The total can be figured out with the help of a well-known arithmetical operation - that is,1257 one adds up the first and last (numbers of the progression) and multiplies the total by one-half of the number (of numbers in the progression). The resulting number is then doubled, because the position of the consonants can be inverted. The position of consonants must be taken into consideration in combining them. The result is the total number of two-consonant words. 1258

The number of three-consonant words is the result of multiplying the number of two-consonant words by the sum of the arithmetical progression from one to twenty-six. For every two-consonant word becomes a three-consonant word through the addition of one consonant. Thus, the twoconsonant words may take the place of one consonant to be combined with each of the remaining consonants of the alphabet, which number twenty-six. Thus, the sum of the arithmetical progression from one to twenty-six is calculated and multiplied by the number of two-consonant words. The result, then, is multiplied by six, which is the possible number of combinations of three consonants. The result is the total number (of words of three consonants that can be made) from the consonants of the alphabet. 1259 The same is done with four-consonant and five-consonant words. In this way, the total number of (possible) letter combinations was calculated (by al-Khalil). 1260

Al-Khalil did <not?> arrange the chapters of the book according to the customary sequence of the letters of the alphabet. (Instead,) he used the sequence of the positions (in throat and mouth) in which the various sounds are produced. Thus, he started with the laryngeals. They were followed, successively, by velars, dentals, and labials. Al-Khalil put the weak consonants, which are the (so-called) airy consonants (alif, w, y), in the last place. Among the laryngeals, he started with ‘ayn, because it is the (sound produced) farthest (back in the throat). Therefore, his book was called Kitab al-‘Ayn. The ancient (scholars) did such things when they selected titles for their works. They called them after the first words or phrases that occurred in them. (Al-Khalil) then made a distinction between (letter combinations) that are not used and those that are. The largest number of (letter combinations) that are not used are among words of four or five consonants. The Arabs rarely use them because of their heaviness. Next come the two-consonant words. They have little circulation. The three-consonant words are the ones used most. Thus, they possess the greatest number of (conventional) meanings, because they are (so much) in circulation.

All this was included by (al-Khalil) in the Kitab al-‘Ayn and treated very well and exhaustively.Abu Bakr az-Zubaydi, 1261 the writing teacher of Hisham al-Mu’ayyad in Spain in the fourth [tenth] century, abridged the (Kitab al-‘Ayn) but preserved its complete character. He omitted all the words that are not used. He also omitted many of the examples clarifying words in use. Thus, he produced a very good abridgment for memorizing. Among eastern scholars, al-Jawhari 1262 composed the Kitab as-Sihah, which follows the ordinary alphabetical sequence. He started with hamzah (alif). He arranged the words according to their last letter, since people have mostly to do with the last consonants of words. He made a special chapter (of each last letter), and within each chapter he also proceeded alphabetically by the first (letters) of the words and listed all of them as separate entries to the end. 1263 He gave a comprehensive presentation of the (lexicographical facts of the Arabic) language in imitation of the work of alKhalil.

Among Spanish scholars, Ibn Sidah, of Denia, 1264 wrote the Kitab al- Muhkam, a similarly comprehensive work following the arrangement of the Kitab al-‘Ayn. He wrote during the reign of ‘Ali b. Mujahid. Ibn Sidah’s own contribution was an attempt to give the etymologies and grammatical forms of the words. Thus, his work turned out to be one of the best systematic works (on lexicography). An abridgment of it was written by Muhammad b. Abil-Husayn, 1265 a companion of the Hafsid ruler al-Mustansir in Tunis. He changed the (alphabetical) sequence to that of the Kitab as-Sihah, in that he considered the last consonants of the words and arranged the entries according to them. The two (works) 1266 are thus like real twins. Kura’,1267 a leading philologist, wrote the Kitab al-Munajjad, Ibn Durayd 1268 the Kitab al-Jamharah, and Ibn al-Anbari 1269 the Kitab az-Zahir. These are the principal works on lexicography, as far as we know. There are other brief works restricted to particular kinds of words. They contain some chapters, or they may contain all of them, but, still, they are obviously not comprehensive, while comprehensiveness is an obvious feature in the works (mentioned), dealing with all (the possible letter) combinations, as one has seen. Another work on lexicography is the one by az-Zamakhshari on metaphoric usage, entitled Asas al-balaghah.1270 Az-Zamakhshari explains in it all the words used metaphorically by the Arabs, (and he explains) what meanings are used metaphorically by them. It is a highly useful work.

Furthermore, the Arabs may use a general term for one (particular) meaning, but (for the expression of the same idea) in connection with particular objects, they may employ other words that can be used (in this particular meaning) only with those particular objects. Thus, we have a distinction between (conventional) meaning and usage. This (situation) requires a lexicographical “jurisprudence.” It is something difficult to develop. For instance, “white” 1271 is used for anything that contains whiteness. However, the whiteness of horses is indicated by the special word ashhab, that of men by the word azhar, and that of sheep by the word amlah. Eventually, the use of the ordinary word for “white” in all these cases came to be (considered) a solecism and deviation from the Arabic language. Ath-Tha’alibi, 1272 in particular, wrote in this sense. He composed a monograph on the subject entitled Fiqh al-lughah “Jurisprudence of Lexicography.” It is the best control a philologist has, in order to keep himself from deviating from (proper) Arabic usage.

A knowledge of the primary (conventional) meaning is not enough for (the use of proper) word combinations. It must be attested by (actual) Arabic usage. This (knowledge) is needed most by poets and prose writers, in order to avoid committing frequent solecisms in connection with the (conventional) meanings of words,whether they are used in individual words or in combinations. (Improper use in this respect) is worse than solecisms in (use of the) vowel endings. Likewise, a recent scholar wrote on homonyms and undertook to give a comprehensive presentation of them. However, he did not fully succeed, though his work contains most of the (material).

There are many brief works on the subject. They are particularly concerned with widespread and much used lexicographical materials. Their purpose is to make it easy for the student to memorize them. For instance, there are the Alfaz of Ibn as- Sikkit, 1273 the Fasih of Tha’lab, 1 274 and others. Some contain less lexicographical material than others, depending on the different views of their authors as to what is most important for the student to know. God is “the Creator, the Knowing One.” 1275

It 1276 should be known that the tradition through which (any particular) lexicographical (usage) is confirmed is a tradition indicating that the Arabs used certain words in certain meanings. It does not indicate that they invented their (conventional meanings). This is impossible and improbable. It is not known (for certain) that any one of them ever did that.

Likewise, the meanings of words cannot be established by analogy,1277 if their usage is not known, although,1277a for jurists, their usage may be. known by virtue of (the existence of) an inclusive (concept) that attests to the applicability of (a wider meaning) to the first (word). 1278

The use of the word khamr “grape wine” for nabidh “date wine” is established by its use for “juice of grapes” and by application of the inclusive (concept) of “causing intoxication.” (This is so) only because the use of analogy (in this case) is attested by the religious law, which deduces the soundness of (the application of) analogy (in this case) from the (general norms) on which it is based. We do not have anything like it in lexicography. There, only the intellect can be used, which means (relying on) judgment. This is the opinion of most authorities, even though the Judge (al-Baqillani)1279 and Ibn Surayj 1280 and others are inclined to (use) analogy in connection with (the meaning of words).

However, it is preferable to deny its (applicability). It should not be thought that the establishment of word meanings falls under the category of word definitions. A definition indicates (the meaning of) a given idea by showing that the meaning of an unknown and obscure word is identical with the meaning of a clear and well-known word. Lexicography, on the other hand, affirms that suchand-such a word is used to express such-and-such an idea. The difference here is very clear.


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