Kitab al-'Ayn

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Kitab al-Ayn
AuthorAl-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi
Original titleكتاب العين
Publication date
8th century

Kitab al-'Ayn or Kitāb al-'Ayn (Arabic: كتاب العين) is the first Arabic language dictionary and one of the earliest known dictionaries of any language.[1][2][3][4] It was compiled in the eighth century by Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi. The letter ayn (ع) of the dictionary's title is regarded as phonetically the deepest letter in the Arabic alphabet. In addition the word ayn carries the sense of 'a water source in the desert'. Its title "the source" alludes also to the author's interest in etymology and tracing the meanings of words to their Arabic origins.

Al-Farahidi, who was from the Basra School, chose an unusual arrangement that does not follow the alphabetical order familiar today as the standard dictionary format. Al-Farahidi devised a phonetic system that followed the pattern of pronunciation of the Arabic alphabet. According to this system the order begins with the deepest letter in the throat, the letter (ayin), and ends with the last letter pronounced by the lips, that being م (mim).[5][6] Due to ayin's position as the innermost letter to emerge from the throat, he viewed its origins deep down in the throat as a sign that it was the first sound, the essential sound, the voice and a representation of the self.[7]

The original manuscript copy by al-Farahidi is believed to have survived up until the fourteenth century when it seems to have disappeared. However summarized copies by the Spanish lexicologist Abu Bakr al-Zubaydi (d. 989), were circulating in the Spanish province of al-Andalus by the tenth century.[8]


Al-Farahidi introduces the dictionary with an outline of the phonetics of Arabic.[9] The format he adopted for the dictionary consisted of twenty-six books, a book for every letter, with weak letters combined as a single book; the number of chapters of each book accords with the number of radicals,[9] with the weak radicals being listed last. According to this system roots are treated anagrammatically, and all possible anagrams of radical arrangements given.[6][10] The introduction to volume I contains the phonotactic rules of the Arabic root system, where consonants are classified according to properties of vocalisation, point of articulation, and common distributional characteristics.[7] The intention is not the production of a complete lexicon of the Arabic language, but rather a lexicon of the root system from which expands the vast, almost limitless, vocabulary of the Arabic language.[11][12][13]

Al-Farahidi groups consonants according to their vocalisation characteristics:[14]


Al-Farahidi's manuscript, originally held in a library of the Tahirid dynasty, was returned to Basra in 862, or 863CE, seventy years after his death, when a northeast Persian bookseller sold it for fifty dinars. Some few copies were made available for commercial sale,[15] although the work remained rare through much of the Middle Ages and despite being in circulation in Al-Andalus in 914/915CE,[16] it was not until its discovery by Lebanese-Iraqi monk Anastas Al-Karmali in 1914 that it was reintroduced into the West.[17] In the modern era, the book has been printed by Maktabah Al Hilal, having been reviewed by Dr. Mahdi al Makhzūmi and Dr. Ibrāhim Al Samirā'ì in eight volumes.[18] The dictionary (alphabetically arranged) is available in Arabic in a four volume edition published in 2003 by Dar al-Kitab al-'Alamiyya (دار الكتب العلمية) and available online.[19][20]

All subsequent lexicographic works in Arabic are based on al-Farahidi's dictionary,[21] and it is said that al-Farahidi's Kitab al-Ayn did for lexicography what his student Sibawayh's al-Kitab (الكتاب) did for grammar.[17] Historically, a handful of rival Arab lexicographers questioned the attribution of the book to al-Farahidi,[22] though modern scholarship has attributed this to jealousy in the part of later linguists who have found themselves in al-Farahidi's shadow.[23] The work caused later controversy as well. Ibn Duraid, who wrote the second comprehensive Arabic dictionary ever,[24] was accused by his contemporary Niftawayh of simply plagiarizing al-Farahidi's work.[25][26]


Al-Farahidi tried to rationalize the empirical practice of lexicography in al-Ayn, explicitly referring to the calculation of arrangements and combinations in order to exhaustively enumerate all words in Arabic.[27] According to al-Farahidi's theory, what is known as the Arabic language is merely the phonetically realized part of the entire possible language. The various combinations of roots are reckoned by al-Farahidi by the arrangement r to r with 1 < r ≤ 5, which is the possible language; the possible language, however, is limited by the rules of phonological compatibility among the phonemes of the roots. By applying this limit to the possible language, al-Farahidi theorized that the actual language could be extracted and thus the lexis of Arabic could be recorded.[27]

Al-Farahidi began his extraction of the actual language from the possible language based on the phonological limit by calculating the nonrepetitive number of combinations of Arabic roots, taken as r to r with r = 2 - 5. He then took that along with the number of permutations for each r group; he finally calculated Arn = r! (nr) with n being the number of letters in the Semitic alphabet. Al-Farahidi's theory and calculation are now found in the writings of most lexicographers.[27]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Introduction to Arabesques: Selections of Biography and Poetry from Classical Arabic Literature, pg. 13. Ed. Ibrahim A. Mumayiz. Volume 2 of WATA-publications: World Arab Translators Association. Philadelphia: Garant Publishers, 2006. ISBN 9789044118889
  2. ^ Bernard K. Freamon, "Definitions and Concepts of Slave Ownership in Islamic Law." Taken from The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary, pg. 46. Ed. Jean Allain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780199660469
  3. ^ A. Cilardo, "Preliminary Notes on the Meaning of the Qur'anic Term Kalala." Taken from Law, Christianity and Modernism in Islamic Society: Proceedings of the Eighteenth Congress of the Union Européenne Des Arabisants Et Islamisants Held at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, pg. 3. Peeters Publishers, 1998. ISBN 9789068319798
  4. ^ Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 4. Part of the Landmarks in Linguistic Thought series, vol. 3. London: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415157575
  5. ^ Muhammad Hasan Bakalla, "Ancient Arab and Muslim Phoneticians: An Appraisal of Their Contrubition to Phonetics." Taken from Current Issues in the Phonetic Sciences: Proceedings of the IPS-77 Congress, Miami Beach, Florida, 17–19 December 1977, Part 1, pg. 4. Eds. Harry Francis Hollien and Patricia Hollien. Volume 9 of Current Issues in Linguistic Theory Series. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 1979. ISBN 9789027209108
  6. ^ a b Abit Yaşar Koçak, Handbook of Arabic Dictionaries, pg. 20. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2002. ISBN 9783899300215
  7. ^ a b Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, The Mute Immortals Speak: Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual, pg. 178. Cornell Studies in Political Economy. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. ISBN 9780801427640
  8. ^ E. J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 4, p. 888.
  9. ^ a b Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 62. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001. Paperback edition. ISBN 9780748614363
  10. ^ John a. Haywood, Arabic, pg. 38.
  11. ^ Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, vol. 2, pg. 435. Trns. Franz Rosenthal. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. ISBN 9780691017549
  12. ^ John A. Haywood, Arabic, pg. 37.
  13. ^ Kees Versteegh, Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 21.
  14. ^ Kitab al-'Ayn, vol. 1, pg. 58. Eds. Dr. Mahdi al Makhzūmi and Dr. Ibrāhim Al Samirā'ì. Beirut: Maktabah Al Hilal, 1988.
  15. ^ John A. Haywood, Arabic Lexicography: Its History, and Its Place in the General History of, pg. 21. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1960. OCLC 5693192
  16. ^ Monique Bernards, "Pioneers of Arabic linguistic studies." Taken from In the Shadow of Arabic: The Centrality of Language to Arabic Culture, pg. 198. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9789004215375
  17. ^ a b John A. Haywood, Arabic, pg. 22.
  18. ^ "العين - المكتبة الوقفية للكتب المصورة PDF".
  19. ^ "كتاب العين مرتبا على حروف المعجم - المكتبة الوقفية للكتب المصورة PDF".
  20. ^ "Fp77332".
  21. ^ Kees Versteegh, Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 7.
  22. ^ Ibn Khallikan, Deaths, pg. 496.
  23. ^ John A. Haywood, Arabic, pg. 25.
  24. ^ John A. Haywood, "Arabic Lexicography." Taken from Dictionaries: An International Encyclopedia of Lexicography, pg. 2,441. Ed. Franz Josef Hausmann. Volume 5 of Handbooks of Linguistics & Communication Science, #5/3. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1991. ISBN 9783110124217
  25. ^ Ramzi Baalbaki, "Kitab al-ayn and Jamharat al-lugha". Taken from Early Medieval Arabic: Studies on Al-Khalīl Ibn Ahmad, pg. 44. Ed. Karin C. Ryding. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780878406630
  26. ^ M.G. Carter, "Arabic Lexicography." Taken from Religion, Learning and Science in the 'Abbasid Period, pg. 112. Eds. M. J. L. Young, J. D. Latham and R. B. Serjeant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 9780521028875
  27. ^ a b c "Combinational analysis, numerical analysis, Diophantine analysis and number theory." Taken from Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Volume 2: Mathematics and the Physical Sciences, pg. 378. Ed. Roshdi Rasheed. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0415124115