Sibawayh bigraphy, stories - Iranian linguist

Sibawayh : biography


Abū Bishr ʿAmr ibn ʿUthmān ibn Qanbar Al-Biṣrī (c. 760-796) (), commonly known as Sībawayh () (his original Persian name was Sēbōē), was an influential linguist and grammarian of the Arabic language. He was of Persian origin, born ca. 760 in the town of Bayza (ancient Nesayak) in the Fars province of Iran.

He died in Shiraz, in Fars, around .


In Baghdad, the Abbasid vizier Yahya ibn Khalid held a debate on standard Arabic usage between Sibawayh, representing the Basra school, and al-Kisa'i al-Kufi, the leading figure in the rival school of Kufa.

The incident became known as Mas'alat al-zunbur, The Question of the Hornet, because one of the sentences involved translates as "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. Sibawayh proposed: ... fa-'ida huwa hiya, literally ... sure-enough he shemeaning "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.

On the other side al-Kisa'i argued for:... fa-'ida huwa 'iyyaha, literally ... sure-enough he her

meaning "he is her".

Sibawayh justified his position on theoretical grammatical grounds, "but to his dismay al-Kisa'i ushered in four Bedouin who just happened to be waiting at the door, and all of them testified that huwa 'iyyaha was the way they always said it and therefore Sibawayh was wrong. He left the court ..." (Carter 2004 p. 13).

According to some accounts he then returned to Shīrāz and died of humiliation at being so publicly caught out in a grammatical error; others blame simple illness. In any case the incident became famous. Ibn Qutaybah, the earliest extant source, in his biographical entry under Sibawayhi has 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 Fars, and died there while still a young man.


Sibawayh, a non-Arab, was the first to write on Arabic grammar and in passing the first one to explain Arabic grammar from a non-Arab perspective. Much of the impetus for this work came from the desire for non-Arab Muslims to understand the Qur'an properly and thoroughly; the Qur'an, which is composed in a poetic language that even native Arabic speakers must study with great care in order to comprehend thoroughly, is even more difficult for those who, like Sibawayh, did not grow up speaking Arabic. Additionally, because Arabic does not necessarily mark all pronounced vowel sounds, as the erroneous Arab misreading Sibawayh of what obviously should be interpreted as Sibuyeh illustrates, it is possible to misread a text aloud (See Short vowels in Arabic); such difficulty was particularly troublesome for Muslims, who regard the Qur'an as the literal word of God to man and as such should never be mispronounced or misread.

Since Sibawayh's death, subsequent scholars of Arabic grammar are often compared to him. Niftawayh received his name as a combination of "nift", or asphalt due to his dark complexion, and "wayh" because of his love for Sibawayh's works.Bencheikh, Omar. . Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Accessed 01 January 2013. Abu Turab al-Zahiri was referred to as the Sibawayh of the modern era due to the fact that, although he was of Arab descent, the Arabic language was not his mother tongue.Abu Turab al-Zahiri...Sibawayh of the Era. Al Jazirah, Monday, 27th October, 2003.


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