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On the emergence of Arabic

dictionary making in the 2
nd
and
3
rd
cent. H:
al-Ḫalīl, Ibn Durayd, al-Jawharī and
Ibn Fâris
(working slide show)
Joseph Dichy,
Université Lumière-Lyon 2
and ICAR-CNRS/Lyon 2, ENS-Lyon Rersearch Lab
<joseph.dichy@univ-lyon2.fr>
Foundations of Arabic Linguistics III – Paris – 23,24/10/2014

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Arabic Lexicography
 Too little number of studies:
 Haywood, 1960 – and later papers
• John A. Haywood, Arabic Lexicography. Its History and its Place in the general
History of Lexicography, Leiden, Brill, 1960

 Aḥmad „Abd al-Ġafūr „Aṭṭār, 1956

• Introductory volume to al-Jawharī, al-Ṣiḥāḥ (or al- Ṣaḥāḥ), Cairo, 1956, reprint:
Beirut, Dār al-„ilm li-l-malāyīn, 1979, 6 vol. plus one.
 Daniel Reig – a few remarkable papers
 Very recently (special thanks to Manuella Giolfo):
• Dichy J., “Al-Ḫalīl‟s Conjecture: how the First Comprehensive Dictionary in
History was invented”, in Giolfo, Manuella (ed.), Arab and Arabic Linguistics:
Traditional and New Theoretical Approaches, (Journal of Semitic Studies
Supplement Series). Oxford University Press, Oxford 2014, p. 39-64
 Etc.  unfair to many works!
• Ma„tūk and Naṣṣār very criticisable

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Joseph Dichy - 23-10-14
Who “invented” the dictionary?
 According to Alain Rey (Dictionnaire amoureux
des dictionnaires), 2 answers could be given:
• China: Xu Shen‟s (58-147) Shuôwén Jiězi
 = « explained pictograms (wen) and ideo-
phonograms (zi), the 2 categories of
Chinese characters. Number of entries:
only 9353 characters and 1163 variants,
under 540 keys.
• Medieval Arabic scholars with the Kitāb al-
‘ayn, due to Al-Khalīl bn ‟Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī,
d. v. 175 H/792.

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The two do not actually compare
 Neither in aim:
• pictograms vs sound related to meaning

 Nor in scope:
• Al-Khalîl‟s work aimed at lexical
comprehensiveness
• The Shuôwén Jiězi did not aim at
comprehensive coverage
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Lexical comprehensiveness, a
hardly imaginable project
 A comprehensive dictionary aims at covering
the entire vocabulary of a language, and
presenting it in a manuscript/volume.

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Lexical comprehensiveness, a
hardly imaginable project
 A comprehensive dictionary aims at covering
the entire vocabulary of a language, and
presenting it in a manuscript/volume.
 In the 2
nd
/8
th
cent., lexical comprehensiveness
could hardly be imagined in any culture, and
could even be deemed delusive...

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Lexical comprehensiveness, a
hardly imaginable project
 A comprehensive dictionary aims at covering
the entire vocabulary of a language, and
presenting it in a manuscript/volume.
 In the 2
nd
/8
th
cent., lexical comprehensiveness
could hardly be imagined in any culture, and
could even be deemed delusive...
 Moreover, in the Arabic culture, no treaty had
encompassed an entire area of knowledge (al-
Kitāb, „the Book‟ of Sībawayhi was the first – G.
Schœler, 2002).

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 This where the first alphabetic – or
sound-to-meaning – comprehensive
dictionary in history appeared.

 The question is: how?

  a set of dictionaries / lexicographic
tradition, as we shall see.
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Oral vs written transmission
 The context was that of the public reading
of manuscripts
• Dictionary order was less important than the
elaboration of knowledge.

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Oral vs written transmission
 The context was that of the public reading
of manuscripts
• The order of the dictionary was less important
than the transmission of knowledge

 Heuristic presentation, rather than
“easy consultation”
 Memory access…

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Oral vs written transmission
 The context was that of the public reading
of manuscripts
• The order of the dictionary was less important
than the transmission of knowledge
 Heuristic presentation, rather than
“easy consultation”
 Memory access…

„looking up‟ concerns only appeared by the
end of the 4
th
/10
th
cent., probably with al-
Jawhari‟s al-Ṣiḥāḥ.
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4 main scholars / conjectures
 Making the story a bit shorter than it really is:
 2
nd
cent. H/8
th
G:
• I- al-Ḫalīl (d. ar. 175/791) and the Kitâb al-‘Ayn
• Abû „Amr al-Šaybānī, Kitāb al-Jīm [not analysed here]
 3
rd
cent. H/9
th
G:
• Arrival of al-Ḫalīl‟s Kitāb al-‘Ayn in Iraq – crucial role
of Ibn Durustuwayh in its diffusion
 4
th
cent. H/10
th
G:
• II- Ibn Durayd, d. 321/933, Jamharat al-luġa
• III - Ismā’īl bn Ḥammād al-Jawharī, d. 398/1007
al-Ṣiḥāḥ (or al- Ṣaḥāḥ)
• IV- Ibn Fâris, d. 385/1005, Maqâyîs al-luġa


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1
st
of 4 main scholars
 I- al-Ḫalīl‟s (d. around 175/792) conjecture:
 the mathematics of letter-sounds (ḥarf) and
their combination into „constructs‟ (binā’).
 The mathematical mind of al- Ḫalīl allowed
him to imagine a way of covering all the
virtual combinations of the language, which
were then to be confronted to extant words.
• (Dichy, 2014 – the next slides appeared there. In the
written paper, they will be made much shorter.)

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Al-Khalîl‟s formal and
mathematical conjecture 1
 Al-Ḫalīl had phrased his conjecture in nearly explicit
words,
• in the first lines of the introduction of the K. al-‘Ayn, and
• in a crucial tradition, related by Ibn Durustuwayh (d. 370
AH/981 CE) and quoted in Ibn Nadīm‟s library catalog, al-Fihrist
(fourth century AH/tenth CE).

 The narrative occurs in Ḫūrāsān, where al-Layṯ
(deemed to have completed K. al-‘Ayn) dwelt, and
where Al-Ḫalīl has spent some time towards the end of
his life:
• (...) Qāla l-Layṯ... Kuntu asīru ’ilā l-Ḫalīl bn Aḥmad, fa-qāla lī
yawman:
• (...) Al-Layṯ ... said: I used to go and see al-Ḫalīl Ibn Aḥmad.
He told me one day:
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Joseph Dichy - 23-10-14
Al-Khalîl‟s formal and
mathematical conjecture 2
 Law anna insānan qa ada wa-’allafa ḥurūfa alif
wa-bā’ wa-tā’ wa-ṯā’ ‘alā mā amṯaluhu
 la-staw‘aba fī ḏālika jamī‘a kalāmi l-‘arab fa-
yatahayya’u lahu aṣlun lā yaḫruju ‘anhu šay’un
minhu battatan.

 “If someone contemplated the [letter-]segments
alif, bā’, tā’, ṯā’, etc., and combined them, he
would, by so doing, enclose the whole speech of
the Arabs, and find himself looking upon a
principle that would fail to embrace no element
whatsoever of [their speech].”



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Al-Khalîl‟s formal and
mathematical conjecture 3
 Qāla [al-Layṯ]: fa-qultu lahu: Wa-kayfa yakūnu
ḏālika?
 Qāla [al-Ḫalīl]: Yu’allifuhu ‘alā l-ṯunā’ī wa-l-ṯulāṯī wa-
l-rubā‘ī wa-l-ḫumāsī, wa-’annahu laysa yu‘rafu li-l-
‘arabi kalāmun akṯara minhu.

 Al-Layṯ said: I asked him: How could that be?
 He said: “He would combine them
• according to two, three, four or five constructs (binā‟),
• and [according] to [the fact] that no [construct with]
more [segments than that] is known in the speech of
the Arabs.

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Al-Layth‟s narrative (recall)
 (...) Qāla l-Layṯ... Kuntu asīru ’ilā l-Ḫalīl bn Aḥmad, fa-qāla lī yawman:
 Law anna insānan qa ada wa-’allafa ḥurūfa alif wa-bā’ wa-tā’ wa-ṯā’ ‘alā
mā amṯaluhu la-staw‘aba fī ḏālika jamī‘a kalāmi l-‘arab fa-yatahayya’u
lahu aṣlun lā yaḫruju ‘anhu šay’un minhu battatan.
 Qāla [al-Layṯ]: fa-qultu lahu: Wa-kayfa yakūnu ḏālika?
 Qāla [al-Ḫalīl]: Yu’allifuhu ‘alā l-ṯunā’ī wa-l-ṯulāṯī wa-l-rubā‘ī wa-l-ḫumāsī,
wa-’annahu laysa yu‘rafu li-l-‘arabi kalāmun akṯara minhu.
 (...) Al-Layṯ ... said: I used to go and see al-Ḫalīl Ibn Aḥmad. He told me
one day:
 “If someone contemplated the [letter-]segments alif, bā’, tā’, ṯā’, etc., and
combined them, he would, by so doing, enclose the whole speech of the
Arabs, and find himself looking upon a principle that fails to embrace no
element whatsoever of [their speech].”
 Al-Layṯ said: I asked him: How could that be?
 He said: “He would combine them according to two, three, four or five
segment [constructs], and to [the fact] that no [construct with] more
[segments] is known in the speech of the Arabs.

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Why did al-Ḫalīl take to a phonetic
inventory of letter-segments
(ḥurūf)?
 He knew of course the alif, bâ’, tâ’
alphabet order (“the alphabet of
teachers” – Ibn Jinnî).
 The trouble is, alif is not a standard
letter-segment.
 He needed to base his inventory on
solid grounds.
Joseph Dichy - 23-10-14 18
A quick visual recall of Al-
Khalîl‟s conjecture-1
 1) Two-segments combine in two ways, which
correspond to the only two possible relations,
e.g. d-š and š-d, as below:



 Fig. 1: Two-segment virtual combinations

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 2) Three segments combine, virtually, in six ways (awjuh),
resulting from the multiplication of three segments by two
relations.
 Considering segments n, ‘ and m, one obtains the following
six virtual constructs : n-‘-m, ‘-m-n, m-n-‘, n-m-‘, m-‘-n
and ‘-n-m, four of which are in use (musta‘mal): ‘-nm, n-‘-
m, m-‘-n and m-n-‘. The two un-actualized ones (muhmal)
are: *n-m-‘ and *‘-m-n. The result is obtained by circling
around the triangle, starting from each summit in turn,
from right to left, and vice-versa.

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 3) Four segments virtually combine in 24 ways,
i.e. in the six ways above multiplied by four. The
introduction presents the example of segments q,
‘, b and r, 23 combinations of which are in use,
and only one remains un-actualized: *q-‘-b-r. In
the following drawing, a quadrangle includes its
two diagonals; the six „ways‟ above (combining
three segments) can then be multiplied by the
four angles. In other words, six combinations are
related to each of the four angles.

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4) Five segments combine virtually in 120 ways,
„because the five segments multiply by the ways
(awjuh) [associated with] the four-segment
combinations‟ (i.e. 24 x 5), of which only „a little
number is in use‟ (loc. cit.). Just for the pleasure of
readers with a geometrical mind, I have designed the
following representation, in which 24 combinations
can be obtained, starting from each of the five
summits.

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II- Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933)
 The Jamharat al-luġa takes up the
fundamentals of al-Ḫalīl‟s method in
covering the entire set of virtual „constructs‟
, with a few differences  same heuristic
approach



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II- Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933)
 The Jamharat al-luġa takes up the
fundamentals of al-Ḫalīl‟s method in
covering the entire set of virtual „constructs‟
, with a few differences  same heuristic
approach
 Ibn Durayd‟s main original contribution lays
in the way he accesses effective data
 from Iraq (linguistic/historic context)
• He explicitly mentions, for instance, among
others, Syrian usage (luġa šāmiyya).



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II- Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933)
 The Jamharat al-luġa takes up the
fundamentals of al-Ḫalīl‟s method in
covering the entire set of virtual „constructs‟
, with a few differences  same heuristic
approach
 Ibn Durayd‟s main original contribution lays
in the way he accesses effective data
 from Iraq (linguistic/historic context)
• He explicitly mentions, for instance, among
others, Syrian usage (luġa šāmiyya).
 He tries to further define words through
intuitive glosses, after al-Ḫalīl,
 Also: he quoted/collected verse (šawāhid)



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III- Al-Jawhari (d. 398/1007)-1
 Al-Ṣiḥāḥ (or al-Ṣaḥāḥ), due to Ismā‟īl bn
Ḥammād al-Jawharī

 Elaborated during the years when the author
had to flee to Arabia – for political reasons –,
and live among the tribes he originated from.

 Al-Jawharī based his information on in situ
observation in Arabia

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III- Al-Jawhari (d. 398/1007)-2
 A first “later” dictionary
 (A) Dictionary order: the order of the dictionary
became based on the last letter of what we call a root.
 Al-Jawharī is one of the first Arabic lexicographers, if
not the first, who has introduced an easier „look up‟
order (known among western Arabists as a „rime
order‟), as opposed to the heuristic order of al-Ḫalīl,
Ibn Durayd or Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1005).
 (B) Also: the dictionary introduces a normative
conception. The complete title is Tāj al-luġa wa Ṣiḥāḥ
al-‘arabiyya (Ṣiḥāḥ = plural, Ṣaḥāḥ = infinitive form,
maṣdar).

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IV-Ibn Fâris (d. 385/1005)
 A second “later” dictionary

 Ibn Fāris‟s conjecture: the analogies
(maqāyīs) of meaning are associated
by him with what we call a formal
root (Dichy, 2003) , and
comprehensively analysed.
 There is no term for „root‟, though.

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Ibn Fâris‟s preface

 اهنم عّ رفتت لوصأو ً ةحيحص
َ
سيياقم برعلا ةغلل نإ عور
ُ
ـف .
يق اوبرعُ ي ملو ،اوف
ّ
ـلا ام ةغللا عماوج يف سانلا ف
ّ
ـلأ دقو
نم لصأ لو ،سيياقملا كلت نم سيياقم نع كلذ نم ءيش
كلت لوصلا .
 (Attempted transl.) There are, in the language of the
[ancient] Arabs, true analogies and principles of
which branches can be derived. Authors of
language compilations have have written their
works without mentioning any of those analogies
nor a single one of those principles.
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Ibn Fâris‟s method
 The “entry” is analyzed into
“semantic principles” (لصأ): Ibn Faris
mentions 1, 2, 3 of them, rarely
more.
 Some “entries” cannot be considered
as a semantic principle:
• Onomatopea, such as babba, « to
bubble »; bakh bakh, خب خب said in
appreciation of sth; „uf, „uf ّ فأ, etc.
• Single words: عثب (p. 199)
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The case of 4-consonant entries
Some are – as we would say –
motivated (I, 328-336):
• Port-manteau entries (naḥt), combining two words, such
as ḥay„ala, “to come to”, a combination of ḥayya, “come!” and
the prep. „alā. (Ibn Fāris quotes, for this example, al-Ḫalîl).
• Entries combining 3-consonant words + one letter-segment
(ḥarf), the addition of which is hyperbolic (mubālaġa)
• such as: barzaḫ (he does not recall Sûrat al-Raḥmān, probably
too well-known) combining barāz, a wide surface of land, wich
becomes a land that cannot crossed (ḥā„il) with the addition of
ḫ.
• Entries which cannot be brought to any other word, such as:
bal„at, “who has a bad complexion” (sayyi‟ al-ḫuluq), bahnaka,
“speed”…

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The power of the idea
 Ibn Faris‟s conjecture is explored by him
to the point when he admits it is not
comprehensive
• like al-Ḫalîl‟s formal work, which covered the
entire « speech of the Arabs » برعلا ملك
• to the point of stating «not part of the
speech of the Arabs» برعلا ملك نم سيل
 The conjecture goes as far as to express
its own limitations.
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The inheritage of Ibn Fāris
 His conjecture was not understood –
although some results were
integrated by later authors (al-
Zamaḫšarī, Asās al-Balāġa)
 The inheritage is still to come!
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 Arabic lexicography, on the basis of al-
Ḫalīl‟s power comprehensive method,
complemented by a very wide collection of
data, developed a huge number of large
dictionaries.

• Haywood, 1960, who remains a fundamental reference for
Arabic lexicography, wrote that, were a Bagdad or Basra
scholar from Abbassid times be carried through space and
time to the British Museum, and shown, say, the twelve in-
quarto volumes of the 1933 edition of the Oxford English
Dictionary, he would not have been surprised, because
similarly comprehensive lexicons already existed in
manuscript in his own times.

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Thank you for your attention


مكءاغصإ مكل ركشأ

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