Arabic Language Blog

Sibawayh Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 in Arabic Language, Culture

In this post, we get to know a very famous grammarian of the Arabic language. He is the author of the first grammar of Arabic.

Abū Bishr ʿAmr ibn ʿUthmān ibn Qanbar Al-Baṣrī (أبو بشر عمرو بن عثمان بن قنبر البصري‎), commonly known as Sībawayh (سيبويه), was an influential grammarian of the Arabic language. His seminal work Al-Kitab was the first written grammar of the language. Despite his significance to the development of the Arabic language and linguistic tradition, Sibawayh was an ethnic Persian and wasn’t a native speaker of Arabic, having learned the language later in life. He has been referred to as the greatest of all Arabic linguists and one of the greatest linguists of all time in any language

Sibawayh was born ca. 760 in Hamadan in modern day Iran. He was a student of Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi and Yunus ibn Habib, two eminent grammarians. He died in Shiraz, in Fars, around (796/797).

Sibawayh, a non-Arab, was the first to write on Arabic grammar and to explain Arabic grammar from a non-Arab perspective. Both Sibawayh and his teacher al-Farahidi are historically the earliest and most significant figures in respect to the formal recording of the Arabic language. Much of the impetus for this work came from the desire for non-Arab Muslims to understand the Qur’an properly and thoroughly.

Sibawayh’s al-Kitab was the first book on Arabic grammar ever written, and it set the standard of explaining rather than merely describing grammar that all subsequent grammarians of Arabic have followed. Each chapter started with the definitions of the new concepts which were to be introduced. Sibawayh would most often support his claims and points with verses from Arabic poetry.

While predominantly a book of grammar, Sibawayh did touch on the topic of Arabic phonology, prohibiting deviations from the standard pronunciation of the Arabic alphabet. He even disagrees with al-Farahidi, one of his teachers and the author of the first Arabic dictionary (Kitab al-‘Ayn), contradicting the latter’s classification of Arabic letters into groups. He also touched on the topic of ethics. In Sibawayh’s view, speech was like all other human behaviors and was thus governed by right and wrong; correct and incorrect grammatical forms were described by him with the same terms of “right” and “wrong” used in morality.

The Kitab is held in high esteem by linguists as the earliest written source on Arabic grammar, as well as a very long, detailed one.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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