Part 44c

The science of syntax and style and literary criticism

December 31, 2021

This is a ‘science which originated in Islam after Arabic philology and lexicography. It belongs among the philological sciences, because it is concerned with words and the ideas they convey and are intended to indicate.

This is as follows:

  • The thing that the speaker intends to convey to the listener through speech may be a perception (tasawwur) regarding individual words which are dependent and on which (something else) depends 1282 and of which one leads to the other. These (concepts) are indicated by individual nouns, verbs, and particles. Or, (what the speaker intends to convey) may be the distinction between the things that are dependent and those that depend on them and (the distinction between) tenses. These(concepts) are indicated by the change of vowel endings and the forms of the words. All this belongs to grammar.

Among the things that are part of the facts and need to be indicated, there still remain the conditions of speakers and agents and the requirements of the situation under which the action takes place. 1283 This needs to be indicated, because it completes (the information) to be conveyed.

If the speaker is able to bring out these (facts), his speech conveys everything that it can possibly convey. If his speech does not have anything of that, it is not real Arabic speech. The Arabic language is vast. The Arabs have a particular expression for each situation, in addition to a perfect use of vowel endings and clarity.

“Zayd came to me” does not mean the same as “There came to me Zayd.” Something mentioned in the first place (such as “Zayd” in the first example) has greater importance in the mind of the speaker. The person who says: “There came to me Zayd,” indicates that 1284 he is more concerned with the coming than with the person who comes. (On the other hand,) the person who says= “Zayd came to me,” indicates that he is more concerned with the person than with his coming, which (grammatically) depends on (the person who comes). The same applies to the indication of the parts of a sentence by relative pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, or determinations appropriate to the situation. It also applies to “emphatic” 1285 connection in general. For instance, (the three sentences)= “Zayd is standing,” “Behold, Zayd is standing,” and “Behold, Zayd is indeed standing,” all mean something different, even if they are alike as far as vowel endings are concerned. The first (sentence), without the emphatic particle, informs a person who has no previous knowledge as to (whether Zayd is standing or not). The second (sentence), with the emphatic particle “behold,” informs a person who hesitates (whether he should acknowledge the fact of Zayd’s standing or not). And the third (sentence) informs a person who (persists in) denying (the fact of Zayd’s standing). Thus, they are all different. 1286

The same applies to a statement such as= “There came to me the man,” which is then replaced by the statement= “There came to me a man.” The use of the form without the article may be intended as an honor (for the man in question) and as an indication that he is a man who has no equal. Furthermore, a sentence may have the structure of a statement and thus be a sentence that conforms, originally (at least), to something in the outside world. Or, it may have the structure of a command 1287 and thus be a sentence that has no correspondence in the outside world, as, for example, requests and the different ways they (can be expressed).

Furthermore, the copula between two (parts of a) sentence must be omitted, if the second (part) has an integral place in the sentence structure.1288 In this way, the (second part) takes the place of an individual apposition and is either attribute, or emphasis,1289 or substitute 1290 (attached to the part of the sentence to which it belongs), without copula. Or, if the second (part of the) sentence has no such integral place in the sentence structure, the copula must be used. Also, the given situation may require either lengthiness or brevity. (The speaker) will express himself accordingly. Then, an expression may be used other than in its literal meaning. It may be intended to indicate some implication of it. This may apply to an individual word. For instance, in the statement= “Zayd is a lion,” no actual lion, but the bravery implicit in lions, is meant and referred to Zayd. This is called metaphorical usage. Italso may be a combination of words intended to express some implication that results from it. The statement= “Zayd has a great deal of ash on his pots,” 1291 is intended to indicate the implied (qualities) of generosity and hospitality, because a great deal of ash is the result (of generosity and hospitality). Thus, it indicates those (qualities). All these things are meanings in addition to the (original) meaning of the individual word or combination of words. They are forms and conditions that the facts may take and that can be expressed by conditions and forms of speech that have been invented for that purpose, as required by the particular situation in each case. The discipline called syntax and style (bayan) expresses the meaning that the forms and conditions of speech have in various situations. It has been divided into three subdivisions.

The first subdivision has as its subject the investigation of forms and conditions of speech, in order to achieve conformity with all the requirements of a given situation. This is called “the science of rhetoric” (balaghah). 1292 The second subdivision has as its subject the investigation of what a word implies or is implied by it-that is, metaphor and metonymy, 1293 as we have just stated. This is called “the science of style” (bayan). (Scholars) have added a (third) subdivision, the study of the artistic embellishment of speech. 1294 Such embellishment may be achieved through the ornamental use of rhymed prose (saj’), which divides (speech) into sections; or through the use of paronomasia (tajnis), 1295 which establishes a similarity among the words used; or through the use of internal rhyme (tarsi’), which cuts down the units of rhythmic speech (into smaller units); or through the use of allusion (tawriyah) to the intended meaning by suggesting an even more cryptic idea which is expressed by the same words; 1296 or through the use of antithesis (tibaq);1297 and similar things. They called this “the science of rhetorical figures” (‘ilm al-badi’). Recent scholars have used the name of the second subdivision, bayan (syntax and style), for all three subdivisions 1298 because the ancient scholars had discussed it first.

The problems of the discipline, then, made their appearance one after the other. Insufficient works on the subject were dictated by Ja’far b. Yahya, 1299 al- Jahiz,1300 Qudamah, 1301 and others. The problems continued to be perfected one by one. Eventually, as-Sakkaki 1302 sifted out the best part of the discipline, refined its problems, and arranged its chapters in the manner mentioned by us at the start. He composed the book entitled al-Miftah fi n-nahw wa-t-tasrif wa-l-bayan “On Grammar, Inflection, and Syntax and Style.” He made the discipline of bayan one of the parts (of the book). Later scholars took the subject over from (as-Sakkaki’s) work. They abridged it in authoritative works which are in circulation at this time. That was done, for instance, by as-Sakkaki (himself) in the Kitab at-Tibyan, by Ibn Malik 1303 in the Kitab al-Misbah, and by Jalal-ad-din al-Qazwini 1304 in the Kitab al-Idah and the Kitab at-Talkhis, which is shorter than the Idah. Contemporary Easterners are more concerned with commenting on and teaching (the Miftah) than any other (work).

In general, the people of the East cultivate this discipline more than the Maghribis. The reason is perhaps that it is a luxury,1305 as far as the linguistic sciences are concerned, and luxury crafts exist (only) where civilization is abundant, and civilization is (today) more abundant in the East than in the West, as we havementioned.1306 Or, we might say (the reason is that) the non-Arabs (Persians) who constitute the majority of the population of the East occupy themselves with the Qur’an commentary of az-Zamakhshari, which is wholly based upon this discipline. 1307

The people of the West chose as their own field the (third) subdivision of this discipline, the science of rhetorical figures (‘ilm al-badi’). They made it a part of poetical literature. They invented a detailed (nomenclature of rhetorical) figures 1308 for it and divided it into many chapters and subdivisions. They thought that they could consider all that part of the Arabic language. However, the reason (why they cultivated the subject) was that they liked to express themselves artistically. (Furthermore,) the science of rhetorical figures is easy to learn, while it was difficult for them to learn rhetoric and style, 1309 because the theories and ideas of (rhetoric and style) are subtle and intricate.

Therefore, they kept away from those two subjects. One of the authors in Ifrigiyah who wrote on rhetorical figures was Ibn Rashiq. 1310 His Kitab al-‘Umdah is famous. Many of the people of Ifriqiyah and Spain wrote along the lines of (the ‘Umdah).

The fruit of this discipline is understanding of the inimitability of the Qur’an. 1311 The inimitability of (the Qur’an) consists in the fact that the (language of the Qur’an) indicates all the requirements of the situations (referred to), whether they are stated or understood.

This is the highest stage of speech. In addition, (the Qur’an) is perfect 1312 in choice of words and excellence of arrangement and combination. This is (its) inimitability, (a quality) that surpasses comprehension. Something of it may be understood by those who have a taste 1313 for it as the result of their contact with the (Arabic) language and their possession of the habit of it. They may thus understand as much of the inimitability of the Qur’an as their taste permits. Therefore, the Arabs who heard the Qur’an directly from (the Prophet) who brought it (to them) had a better understanding of its (inimitability than later Muslims). They were the champions and arbiters of speech, and they possessed the greatest and best taste (for the language) that anyone could possibly have.

This discipline is needed most by Qur’an commentators. Most ancient commentators disregarded it, until Jar-Allah az-Zamakhshari appeared. 1314 When he wrote his Qur’an commentary, he investigated each verse of the Qur’an according to the rules of this discipline. This brings out, in part, its inimitability. It gives his commentary greater distinction than is possessed by any other commentary. However, he tried to confirm the articles of faith of the (Mu’tazilah) innovators by deriving them from the Qur’an by means of different aspects of rhetoric (balaghah). Therefore, many orthodox Muslims have been on their guard against his (commentary), despite his abundant knowledge of rhetoric (balaghah). However, there are people who have a good knowledge of the orthodox articles of faith and who have some experience in this discipline. They are able to refute him with his own weapons, or (at least) they know that (his work) contains innovations. They can avoid them, so that no harm is done to their religious beliefs. Such persons do not risk being affected by the innovations and sectarian beliefs. They should study (as- Zamakhshari’s commentary), in order to find out about certain (aspects of) the inimitability of the Qur’an. God guides whomever He wants to guide to “an even road.” 1315 The science of literatureThis science has no object the accidents of which may be studied and thus be affirmed or denied. Philologists consider its purpose identical with its fruit, which is (the acquisition of) a good ability to handle prose and poetry according to the methods and ways of the Arabs. Therefore, they collect and memorize (documents) of Arabic speech that are likely to aid in acquiring the (proper linguistic) habit. (Such documents include) high-class poetry, rhymed prose of an even quality, and (certain) problems of lexicography and grammar, found scattered among (documents of Arabic poetry and prose) and from which the student is, as a rule, able to derive inductively most of the rules of Arabic. In addition, they mention certain of the battle-day narratives of the Arabs, which serve to explain the references to (battle days) occurring in the poems. Likewise, they mention famous pedigrees and general historical information of importance. The purpose of all this is not to leave the students investigating such things in the dark about any (of the documents of) Arabic speech, about any of the (literary) methods used, or about any of the methods of Arab eloquence. Merely memorizing them does not give (a student the proper linguistic) habit, unless he first understands them. Therefore, he must give preference to everything upon which understanding of (Arabic literature) depends.

Philologists who wanted to define this discipline said= “Literature is expert knowledge of the poetry and history of the Arabs as well as the possession of some knowledge regarding every science.” They meant (knowledge) of the linguistic sciences and the religious sciences, but only the contents (of the latter) that is, the Qur’an and the traditions. No other science has anything to do with Arab speech, save in as much as recent scholars who have occupied themselves with the craft of rhetorical figures (‘ilm al-badi’) have come to use allusion (tawriyah) 1316 by means of (references to terms of) scientific terminologies, in their poetry and their straight prose (tarsil). 1317 Therefore, litterateurs need to know scientific terminologies, in order to be able to understand (such allusions). We heard our shaykhs say in class that the basic principles and pillars of this discipline are four works= the Adab al-katib by Ibn Qutaybah, 1318 the Kitab al- Kamil by al-Mubarrad, 1319 the Kitab al-Bayan wa-t-tabyin by al-Jahiz 1320 and the Kitab an-Nawadir by Abu ‘Ali al-Qali al-Baghdadi. 1321 All other books depend on these four and are derived from them. The works of recent writers on the subject are numerous.

At the beginning of (Islam) singing (music) belonged to this discipline. (Singing) depends on poetry, because it is the setting of poetry to music. 1322 Secretaries and outstanding persons in the ‘Abbasid dynasty occupied themselves with it, because they were desirous of becoming acquainted with the methods and (literary) disciplines of the Arabs. 1323 Its cultivation was no blemish on probity or manliness. The early Hijazi Muslims in Medina and elsewhere, who are models for everybody else to follow, cultivated it. 1324 Such a great (scholar) as Judge Abul- Faraj al-Isfahani 1325 wrote a book on songs, the Kitab al-Aghani. In it, he dealt with the whole of the history, poetry, genealogy, battle days, and ruling dynasties of the Arabs. The basis for the work were one hundred songs which the singers had selected for ar-Rashid. His work is the most complete and comprehensive one there is. Indeed, it constitutes an archive of the Arabs. 1326 It is a collection of the disjecta membra of all the good things in Arab poetry, history, song, and all the other conditions (of the Arabs). There exists no book comparable to it, as far as we know. It is the ultimate goal to which a litterateur can aspire and where he must stop - asthough he could ever get so far! 1327 Let us now return to the verification of our remarks about the linguistic sciences in general (terms).


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