The Distinctive Terminology in Šarh al-Kafiya by Radi l-Din al-'Astarabadi

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This book studies the distinctive terminology in Šar? al-Kafiya by Ra?i l-Din al-?Astaraba?i (RDA) and the tangible influences which Islamic sciences other than grammar excercised on it, especially logic. In scholarship the 4/10th century is usually represented as a period when logic greatly influenced Arabic grammatical theory.1 But RDA seems to represent another stage in the integration of logic into the grammatical literature—a stage in which grammatical texts are difficult to understand by anyone not familiar with logic. This differs from the situation in the 4/10th century, when grammarians aspired to set themselves apart from logicians (although they did in fact use the latters’ methods), as exemplified in the famous debate between Matta ibn Yunus (d. 328/940) and Sirafi, in which the latter took pains to demonstrate the difference between grammar and logic and the grammar’s supremacy.2 Another example of grammarians’ tendency to establish their autonomy can be found at the beginning of Zajjaji’s Kitab al-?I?a?, where the author states that a certain definition of a noun fits logic, but does not fit grammar. 3 It may be assumed that in the 4/10th century grammarians still felt the need to establish their discipline’s autonomy,4 whereas in the later period there was no reason to worry about its position. The integration of logic into later grammatical literature can be possibly related to the influence of Gazzali, who justified the use of logic in Islamic sciences.5 The following general tendencies can be discerned in RDA’s terminology: – A tendency towards accurate formulations, which can be linked to logic, a discipline that stresses the methodology of scientific writing. – A tendency towards abstract terminology, frequently created by the addition of the suffix -iyya to less abstract grammatical terms or to non-technical words. The intensive use of abstract terms can be viewed as evidence of an interest in studying topics that exceed the formal aspects of the language. Interestingly, studies have also shown a gradually expanding use of terms with the suffix -iyya in the philosophical literature in Arabic. – The use of terms that are usually viewed as Kufan, testimony to RDA’s wide erudition that allows him to freely use less well-known terms and ideas. This tendency can also be viewed as an evidence of his non-conformism and eagerness to challenge the reader. – Using terms from other disciplines. Logical and philosophical terms: – mansub ?ilayhi-mansub-nisba ‘[something to which something else] is ascribed’-‘something which is ascribed [to something else]’-‘ascription’. These terms, which originated in logic, refer to the basic idea of ascribing two terms to each other, which can be realized in an independent sentence or otherwise; – maw?u? ‘(logical) subject’ is sometimes used, instead of the regular syntactic terms for ‘subject’, in discussions imported directly from logic; – muqaddima ‘premise’, each one of the two propositions from which a conclusion is derived in a syllogism; – jawhar ‘substance/essence’, that can refer to (a) a word (that is substantial, as opposed to an accidental syntactic function), (b) the consonants of a word’s root (that are substantial, as opposed to an accidental morphological pattern), (c) the essence of some sound; – qasim ‘partner’, a category placed on an equal level with another in the categorical division. Juristic terms: – ma?kum ?alayhi-?ukm ‘[something upon which] a judgment is given’- ‘judgment’. These are sometimes used instead of the regular syntactic terms for ‘subject’ and ‘predicate’ to present a sentence as providing the addressee with new information about something; – isti?san ‘preference’, referring to linguistic phenomena which are not dictated by the basic principles of the theory but by speakers’ preferences; – mansu? ‘abrogated’, referring to an element from an underlying structure which is not relevant to some derived structure. In addition to general tendencies in RDA’s use of terminology, there are specific terms worthy of discussion. One of them is wa (which I translate as ‘coinage’) and its derivatives. This refers to the hypothetical act of creating a linguistic expression for a certain meaning/function. It plays an important role in Muslim philosophy, theology and jurisprudence, and although some instances of its usage can be found in early grammarians’ writings, RDA seems to have been the first to develop what can be called a “wa theory”, in which the concept is defined, applied to different kinds of linguistic elements, and arguments are based on it. He defines wa as “the first assignment of a linguistic expression to a meaning, with the intention that it become conventional between people”, and distinguishes between lexical coinage (creation of a word for a certain meaning/ function), morphological coinage (creation of a prefix/suffix/pattern for a function and/or with a certain behavior), and syntactic coinage (creation of an element for a certain syntactic position, or creation of a syntactic structure for a certain meaning/function). An element’s coinage determines its form, meaning, categorical identity, syntactic functions, etc. Unlike other Muslim scholars, RDA does not show much interest in the coiner’s identity (although it can be inferred that he views language as a convention between speakers). Instead he concentrates on various linguistic elements’ features that are determined by their coinage. RDA mostly presents coinage-related statements as axioms (although in some cases he feels the need to prove them). Most linguistic phenomena are explainable by the coiner’s intention, but in certain cases RDA points out a mismatch between the coiner’s intention and actual usage. Some constituents are originally coined in a way that gives some freedom of action to their user (for instance, in the case of personal pronouns the coiner could not foresee their specific referents in the course of usage); in other cases the constituent’s usage deviates from the coiner’s original intention (for instance, although nouns were coined in order to function in a syntactic context, they are sometimes used outside any context). It also happens that an existing constituent is linked by additional act of coinage to a different meaning/ referent; the oucome of such cases is homonymy.6 RDA views language as a dynamic entity: he not only speaks of multiple acts of coinage, but also recognizes deviations from characteristics dictated by the element’s coinage (although with certain limitations). In addition to signification by coinage (which is how most linguistic elements are created and given meaning), RDA mentions signification “by nature” (bi-l-?ab?i/?ab?an), in which a natural connection exists between the signifier and the signified (that is the case with onomatopoeic words), and signification “by means of reason” (?aqlan), in which meaning is inferred independently of coinage. An element can signify a meaning by means of reason, as well as require other elements on the grounds of reason (and not by coinage)—i.e., even if the coiner did not intend that some element be necessarily accompanied by others, that element can nonetheless require other elements that are logically entailed by its meaning. Two other terms essential for understanding Šar? al-Kafiya are ?ara?an ‘pouncing’ (that was used in the juridical literature as early as in the 4/10th century) and ?uru? ‘accidentality’ (a logical term). Both terms refer to factors/elements which are secondary and/or transient in comparison to others. However, they differ from each other in that the first is usually reserved for the factor that suppresses the others and determines the rule for the element/structure, whereas the second mostly refers to a factor that is suppressed by others and does not influence the rule. Although an ‘accidental’ factor is sometimes presented as influencing the rule, it seems that the term ‘accidental’ is then chosen to stress the weakness of the rule that ends up being influenced by a factor that is not supposed to be taken into account. The main disscussions in which the idea of ‘pouncing’ appears in Šar? al-Kafiya are on bina?/?i?rab endings, definiteness, grammatical agreement, and also semantic discussions. I arrange the material on the notion of ‘accidentality’ according to the levels where the ‘accidental’ factor may appear, i.e., morphological, syntactic and semantic. The discussion on the endings of the numerals 3–10 is presented as an example of a complex discussion that combines terms from both groups. Šar? al-Kafiya is abundant with semantic discussions, and consequently contains many terms referring to the form-meaning relation. None of these terms is unique to RDA, but their frequency and diversity in his book allow studying the differences between them. The conclusions are as follows: Ma?na ‘meaning’ refers in the vast majority of cases to a meaning which is relatively abstract. RDA uses the term to refer to a meaning which may or may not exist in a linguistic element (when it is not the nature of an element’s meaning that is under discussion, but the question of whether it has a meaning beside its formal function). Sometimes the term ma?na refers to a component of a word’s meaning. There are contexts in which ma?na refers to an element’s function in a sentence (in which case it is appropriate to translate it as ‘functional meaning’). Although RDA mostly uses the term to refer to the meaning of a single word, it sometimes refers to the meaning of units which are larger or smaller than a word. Another important group of terms in the context of the form-meaning relation is dalala/madlul ‘signification/ signified [meaning]’ and their derivatives. These terms are similar to ma?na in that they may also refer to something signified by a single word or by larger/smaller units, and to components of a word’s meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-277
Number of pages277
JournalStudies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics
StatePublished - 2018


FundersFunder number
Tel Aviv University
Council for Higher Education


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