Entrance to Sībawayh's tomb
|Born||c. 760, Shiraz, Persia|
|Died||c. 796, Shiraz, Persia or Basra, Iraq|
|Arabic and Persian|
Sibawayh (Arabic: سِيبَوَيْه; c. 760–796), whose full name is Abu Bishr Amr ibn Uthman ibn Qanbar al-Basri (أَبُو بِشْر عَمْروْ ٱبْن عُثْمَان ٱبْن قَنْبَر ٱلْبَصْرِيّ, ʿAbū Bishr ʿAmr ibn ʿUthmān ibn Qanbar al-Baṣrīy), was a Persian leading grammarian of Basra and author of the earliest Arabic linguistics books. His famous unnamed work, referred to as Al-Kitab, or "The Book", is a five volume seminal encyclopedic grammar of the Arabic language.
Ibn Qutaybah, the earliest extant source, in his biographical entry under Sibawayh wrote simply:
He is Amr ibn Uthman, and he was mainly a grammarian. He arrived in Baghdad, fell in with the local grammarians, was humiliated and went back to some town in Persia, and died there while still a young man.
10th-century biographers, Ibn al-Nadim and Abu Bakr al-Zubaydi, and 13th-century Ibn Khallikan, attribute Sībawayh with contributions to the science of the Arabic language and linguistics was unsurpassed by those of former and latter times. He has been called the greatest of all Arabic linguists and one of the greatest linguists of all time in any language.
Born ca. 143/760, Sībawayh was from Shiraz, in Fars Province Iran.[n 1] Reports vary, some say he went first to Basra, then to Baghdad, and finally back to the village of al-Baida near Shiraz where he died between 177/793 and 180/796, while another says he died in Basra in 161/777. His Persian nickname Sibuyah (Arabized as Sībawayh) - "odour of apples" - reportedly refers to his "sweet breath." A protégé of the Banu Harith b. Ka'b b. 'Amr b. 'Ulah b. Khalid b. Malik b. Udad, he learned the dialects (languages) from Abu al-Khattab al-Akhfash al-Akbar (the Elder) and others. He came to Iraq in the days of Harun al-Rashid when he was thirty-two years old and died in Persia when he was over forty. He was a student of the two eminent grammarians Yunus ibn Habib and Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, to whom, the latter, he was most indebted..
Despite Sībawayh's renowned scholarship, his status as a non-native speaker of the language is a central feature in the many anecdotes related in the biographies. The accounts throw useful light on early contemporary debates which influenced the formulation of the principle fundamental Arabic grammar.
Rival schools of Basra and Kufa
This is a story about the debate held by the Abbasid vizier Yahya ibn Khalid of Baghdad on the standard Arabic usage, between Sībawayh, representing the Basra school, and al-Kisa'i, one of the canonical Quran readers and the leading figure in the rival school of Kufa. It became known as al-Mas'ala al-Zunburīyah ("The Question of the Hornet").
Involved was the translation of the sentence: "I have always thought that the scorpion was more painful in stinging than the hornet, and sure enough it is." At issue was the form of the last word in the Arabic sentence.
Sībawayh proposed fa-'idhā huwa hiya (فإذا هو هي), literally "sure-enough he she", meaning "sure-enough he (the scorpion, masc.) is she (the most painful one, fem.)"; Arabic does not need or use any verb-form like is in such situations.
Al-Kisa'i argued instead for fa-'idhā huwa 'iyyaha (فإذا هو إياها), literally "sure-enough he her", meaning "he is her".[n 2]
Sībawayh justified his position on theoretical grammatical grounds, arguing that the accusative form could never be predicate. To his dismay, however, al-Kisa'i ushered in four Bedouins who had 'happened' to be waiting by the door. In fact al-Kisa'i had bribed them earlier. Each testified that huwa 'iyyaha was the proper usage and Sībawayh's was judged incorrect. At this he left the court and was said to have returned in indignation to Shīrāz and died there, apparently either from upset or illness.
A student of Sībawayh's, al-Akhfash al-Asghar (Akhfash The Younger), accosted al-Kisa'i after his teacher's death and asked him 100 grammatical questions, proving al-Kisa'i's answers wrong each time. When the student revealed who he was and what had happened, al-Kisa'i approached the Caliph Harun al-Rashid and requested that he be punished for having a share in "killing Sībawayh."
Sībawayh's Al-Kitab was the first formal and analytical Arabic grammar written by a non-native speaker of Arabic, i.e. as a foreign language. His application of logic to the structural mechanics of language was wholly innovative for its time. Both Sībawayh 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 of non-Arab Muslims for correct interpretation of the Quran and the development of tafsir (Quranic exegesis); The poetic language of the Qur'an presents interpretative challenges even to the native Arabic speaker.  In Arabic the final voiced vowel may occasionally be omitted, as in the Arabic pronunciation of the name Sībawayh where the name terminates as Sibuyeh. Discrepancies in pronunciation may occur where a text is read aloud (See harakat); these pronunciation variants pose particular issues for religious readings of Qur'anic scripture where correct pronunciation, or reading, of God's Word is sacrosanct.
Later scholars of Arabic grammar came to be compared to Sībawayh. The name Niftawayh, a combination of "nift", or asphalt - due to his dark complexion - and "wayh", was given to him out of his love of Sībawayh's works. Abu Turab al-Zahiri was referred to as the Sībawayh of the modern era due to the fact that, although he was of Arab descent, Arabic was not his mother tongue.
Al-Kitāb[n 3] or Al-Kitāb al-Sībawayh ('Book of Sibawayh'), is the foundational grammar of the Arabic language, and perhaps the first Arabic prose text. Al-Nadim describes the voluminous encyclopedic work, reputedly the collaboration of forty-two grammarians, as "unequaled before his time and unrivaled afterwards". Sībawayh was the first to produce a comprehensive encyclopedia of Arabic grammar, in which he sets down the principles rules of grammar, the grammatical categories with countless examples taken from Arabic sayings, verse and poetry, as transmitted by Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, his master and the famous author of the first Arabic dictionary, "Kitab al-'Ayn", and of many philological works on lexicography, diacritics, poetic meter (ʻarūḍ), cryptology, etc. Sibawayh's book came from flourishing literary, philological and tafsir (Quranic exegetical) tradition that centred in the schools of Basra, Kufa and later at the Abbasid caliphal seat of Baghdad. Al-Farahidi is referenced throughout Al-Kitāb always in the third person, in phrases such as "I asked him", or "he said". Sibawayh transmits quotes, mainly via Ibn Habib and al-Farahidi, of Abu ʻAmr ibn al-ʻAlāʼ 57 times, whom he never met. Sibawayh quotes his teacher Harun ibn Musa just five times.
Grammarians of Basra
Probably due to Sībawayh's early death,"no one", al-Nadim records "was known to have studied Al-Kitāb with Sībawayh," and nor did he expound it as was the tradition. Sibawayh's associate and pupil, Al-Akhfash al-Akbar, or al-Akhfash al-Mujashi'i, a learned grammarian of Basra of the Banu Mujashi ibn Darim, transcribed Sibawayh's Al-Kitāb into manuscript form.  Al-Akhfash studied Al-Kitāb with a group of student and grammarian associates including Abu 'Umar al-Jarmi and Abu 'Uthman al-Mazini, who circulated Sibawayh's work, and developed the science of grammar, writing many books of their own and commentaries, such as al-Jarmi's "(Commentary on) The Strange in Sibawayh". Of the next generation of grammarians, Al-Mubarrad developed the work of his masters and wrote an "Introduction to Sibawayh", "Thorough Searching (or Meaning) of the Book of Sibawayh" and "Refutation of Sibawayh". Al-Mubarrad is quoted as posing the question to anyone preparing to read the Book,
- "Have you ridden through grammar, appreciating its vastness and meeting with the difficulties of its contents?"
Al-Mabriman of al-'Askar Mukram and Abu Hashim debated educational approaches to the exposition of Al-Kitāb. Among Al-Mabriman's books of grammar was "An Explanation of the Book of Sibawayh" (uncompleted). Al-Mubarrad's pupil and tutor to the children of the Caliph al-Mu'tadid, Ibn as-Sarī az-Zajjāj wrote a "Commentary on the Verses of Sibawayh". Al-Zajjaj's pupil, Abu Bakr ibn al-Sarraj, also wrote a "Commentary on Sibawayh". In an anecdote about ibn al-Sarraj being reprimanded for an error, he is said to have replied "you have trained me, but I've been neglecting what I studied while reading this book (meaning the Book of Sibawayh) - because I've been diverted by logic and music, and now I'm going back to [Sibawayh and grammar]". And so he became the leading grammarian after al-Zajjaj, and wrote many books of scholarship. Ibn Durustuyah an associate and pupil of al-Mubarrad and Tha'lab wrote "The Triumph of Sibawayh over All the Grammarians" - this comprised a number of sections but was unfinished. Al-Rummani wrote a "Commentary on Sibawayh". Al-Maraghi a pupil of al-Zajjaj, wrote "Exposition and Interpretation of the Arguments of Sibawayh".
Al-Kitāb, comprising 5 volumes, is a huge highly analytic and comprehensive encyclopedia of grammar and remains largely untranslated into English. Due to its great unwieldiness and complexity the later grammarians produced concise grammars in a simple descriptive format suitable for general readership and educational purposes. Al-Kitāb categorizes grammar under subheadings, from syntax to morphology, and includes an appendix on phonetics. Each chapter introduces a concept with its definition. Arabic verbs may indicate three tenses (past, present, future) but take just two forms, defined as "past" (past tense) and "resembling" (present and future tenses).
Although a grammar book, Sibawayh extends his theme into phonology, standardised pronunciation of the alphabet and prohibited deviations. He dispenses with the letter-groups classification of al-Farahidi's dictionary. He introduces a discussion on the nature of morality of speech; that speech as a form of human behavior is governed by ethics, right and wrong, correct and incorrect. Many linguists and scholars highly esteem Al-Kitāb as the most comprehensive and oldest extant Arabic grammar. Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati, the premier grammarian of his era, memorized the entire Al-Kitāb, equated its value to grammar as the Hadith - the recorded statements of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, is to Islamic law.
- Versteegh gives Sībawayh's birth-place as Hamadan in Western Iran, however neither Ibn Nadim nor Ibn Khallikan, whose work seems based on the former's, mention his place of birth, and merely state he was Persian. Only Al-Zubaydī reports an akhbar (tradition) from Abū 'Alī al-Baghdadī that Sībawayh was born in a village near Shiraz.
- The difference has been compared to that in English between, for example, It is she and It is her, still a point of contention today.
- Al-Nadim claims to have seen notes about grammar and language in Sībawayh's handwriting in the library of a book collector, Muhammad ibn al-Husayn (Abu Ba'rah), in the city of al-Hadithah - he may have been referring to a city near Mosul or a town on the Euphrates.
- Zubaydī (al-) 1984, p. 66, §6 (#22).
- Sībawayh, ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān (1988), Hārūn, ʻAbd al-Salām Muḥammad (ed.), Al-Kitāb Kitāb Sībawayh Abī Bishr ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān ibn Qanbar, Introduction (3rd ed.), Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī, pp. 7–12
- Danner, V. (1986). "Arabic Language iv. Arabic literature in Iran". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. II, Fasc. 3. Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation. pp. 237–243.
Persians have been prominent as well in the fields of Arabic grammar, philology, and lexicography. The greatest name in Arabic grammar belongs to the Persian Sībawayh (Sībūya) Bayżāwī (fl. 180/796), whose work, al-Ketāb (The book), remains to the present day the most authoritative exposition of Arabic grammar.
- Donner, F.M. (1988). "Basra". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. III, Fasc. 8. Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation. pp. 851–855.
Some of these cultural figures were of Iranian descent, including the early paragon of piety Ḥasan al-Baṣrī; Sebawayh, one of the founders of the study of Arabic grammar; the famed poets Baššār b. Bord and Abū Nowās; the Muʿtazilite theologian ʿAmr b. ʿObayd; the early Arabic prose stylist Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ; and probably some of the authors of the noted encyclopedia of the Eḵwān al-Ṣafāʾ.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 4. Part of the Landmarks in Linguistic Thought series, vol. 3. London: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415157575
- M.G. Carter, Sibawayhi, pg. 8.
- Ibn Khallikan (1868). Ibn Khallikan's Biographical. 2. Translated by MacGuckin de Slane, William. London: W.H. Allen. p. 396.
- Meri, Josef W. (January 2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization, An Encyclopedia. 1. Routledge. p. 741. ISBN 978-0-415-96691-7.
Of Persian origin, he attached himself in the middle of the second/eighth century to a number of early authorities on the Arabic language in Basra, notably al-Khalil ibn Ahmad and Yunus ibn Habib.
- Jonathan Owens, Early Arabic Grammatical Theory: Heterogeneity and Standardization, pg. 8. Volume 53 of Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1990. ISBN 9789027245380
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 58. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001. Paperback edition. ISBN 9780748614363
- Khallikan (Ibn) 1843, p. 397.
- Dodge, Bayard, ed. (1970). The Fihrist of al-Nadim A Tenth Century Survey of Muslim Culture. 1. Translated by Dodge, B. New York & London: Columbia University Press. pp. 111–114.
- Versteegh, Kees (1997). Landmarks in Linguistic Thought III: The Arabic Linguistic Tradition. London: Routledge. p. 29. ISBN 0-203-44415-9.
- Durayd (1854), Wüstenfeld, Ferdinand; Gottingen, Dieterich (eds.), Kitab al-Ishtiqaq (Ibn Doreid's genealogisch-etymologisches Handbuch), pp. 155, 237
- 'Abd al-Salam Muh. Harun, ed. (1958), Kitab al-Ishtiqaq (New edition), Cairo: Al-Khanji
- Smarandache, Florentin; Osman, Salah (2007). Neutrosophy in Arabic Philosophy. Ann Arbor, Michigan: American Research Press. p. 83. ISBN 9781931233132.
- Aryeh Levin, "Sibawayh." Taken from History of language sciences: an international handbook on the evolution of the study of language from the beginnings to the present, pg. 252. Ed. Sylvain Auroux. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000. ISBN 9783110111033
- Francis Joseph Steingass, The Assemblies of Al Harîri: The first twenty-six assemblies, pg. 498. Volume 3 of Oriental translation fund. Trns. Thomas Chenery. Williams and Norgate, 1867.
- Touati, Houari; Cochrane, Lydia G. (2010). Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages. University of Chicago Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-226-80877-7.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 64.
- Carter, M.G. (2004). Sibawayhi. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 13. ISBN 1850436711.
- Rosenthal, Franz (1952). A History of Muslim Historiography. Leiden: Brill Archive. p. 245.
- al-Qāsim Ibn-ʻAlī al- Ḥarīrī, The Assemblies of Al Ḥarîri: 1: containing the first 26 assemblies, vol. 1, pg. 499. Trns. Thomas Chenery. Williams and Norgate, 1867.
- Toufic Fahd, "Botany and agriculture." Taken from Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Volume 3: Technology, Alchemy and Life Sciences, pg. 814. Ed. Roshdi Rasheed. London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0415124123
- Bencheikh, Omar. Nifṭawayh. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Accessed 1 January 2013.
- Abu Turab al-Zahiri...Sībawayh of the Era. Al Jazirah, Monday, 27 October 2003.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 55.
- Introduction to Early Medieval Arabic: Studies on Al-Khalīl Ibn Ahmad, pg. 3. Ed. Karin C. Ryding. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780878406630
- Kees Versteegh, Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 25.
- M.G. Carter, Sibawayh, pg. 19. Part of the Makers of Islamic Civilization series. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004. ISBN 9781850436713
- Kees Versteegh, Arabic Grammar and Qurʼānic Exegesis in Early Islam, pg. 161. Volume 19 of Studies in Semitic languages and linguistics. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1993. ISBN 9789004098459
- Khalil I. Semaan, Linguistics in the Middle Ages: Phonetic Studies in Early Islam, pg. 39. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1968.
- Monique Bernards, "Pioneers of Arabic linguistic studies." Taken from In the Shadow of Arabic: The Centrality of Language to Arabic Culture, pg. 215. Ed. Bilal Orfali. Volume 63 in the series "Studies in Semitic languages and linguistics." Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9789004215375
- Qutaybah, Abu Muh. 'Abd Allah (1850), Wustenfeld, Ferdinand (ed.), Kitab al-Ma'arif (Ibn Coteiba's Handbuch de Geschichte), Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, pp. 36 l. 19, 37 l.17
- Qutaybah, Abu Muh. 'Abd Allah (1960), Wustenfeld, Ferdinand (ed.), Kitab al-Ma'arif (Ibn Coteiba's Handbuch de Geschichte - New edition, Cairo: 'Tharwat 'Ukashah
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 74.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 77.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 84.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 65.
- Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, pg. 88.
- Yasir Suleiman, "Ideology, grammar-making and standardization." Taken from In the Shadow or Arabic, pg. 10.
- Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. I, A-B, pg. 126. Eds. Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb, J.H. Kramers, Évariste Lévi-Provençal and Joseph Schacht. Assisted by Bernard Lewis and Charles Pellat. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1979. Print edition.
- Dodge, Bayard, ed. (1970), The Fihrist of al-Nadim A Tenth Century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2, translated by Dodge, B, New York & London: Columbia University Press
- Khallikan (Ibn) (1843), Ibn Khallikan's Biographical, 2, translated by MacGuckin de Slane, William, London: W.H. Allen, p. 396-9
- de Sacy, Silvestre. Anthologie grammaticale arabe. Paris 1829.
- Derenbourg, H. (ed.) Le livre de Sibawaihi. 2 vols. Paris 1881-1889. [reprinted: New York: Hildesheim 1970].
- Jahn, Gustav. Sībawaihis Buch über die Grammatik übersetzt und erklärt. Berlin 1895-1900. [reprinted: Hildesheim 1969].
- Schaade, A. Sībawaihi’s Lautlehre. Leiden 1911.
- ʻAbd al-Salām Hārūn, M. (ed.) Kitāb Sibawayhi. 5 vols. Cairo 1966-1977.
- Owens, J. The Foundations of Grammar: An introduction to Medieval Arabic Grammatical Theory. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company 1988. ISBN 90-272-4528-2.
- Al-Nassir, A.A. Sibawayh the Phonologist.London and New York: Keegan Paul International 1993. ISBN 0-7103-0356-4.
- Edzard, L. "Sibawayhi's Observations on Assimilatory Processes and Re-Syllabification in the Light of Optimality Theory", in: Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, vol. 3 (2000), pp. 48–65. (PDF version - No longer available; HTML version; HTML Unicode version)
- Sibawayhi Project contains all significant printed editions of Chapters 1-7, 285-302, and 565-571 of the Kitāb, together with published translations into French and German.
- Sibawayh's Kitāb online in Arabic at al-eman.com.
- Sibawayh's Kitāb online in Arabic (1988, 5 vols., index, cover.)
- Download the Kitāb in scanned format from Internet Archive or Arabic Wikisource
- Sibawaihi's Buch über die Grammatik nach der Ausgabe von H. Derenbourg und dem Commentar des (1900)
- Buch über die Grammatik (1895)
- Buch über die Grammatik (1895)
|Arabic Wikisource has original text related to this article:|