A big one.
The early works on grammar as well as the first dictionaries were very much based on the spoken Arabic of Bedouins. The grammarians regarded the Bedouin as the true speaker of Arabic.
How should someone from a city know all the nuances of words that are linked to camels, tents, and the desert?
It is related that Caliphs, who wanted their sons to speak impeccable Arabic, had sent their sons into the desert to the Bedouins.
There are many anecdotes about scholars who went deep into the desert to find Bedouins who could answer their questions about Arabic grammar.
A famous legend tells the story of Abū Mansūr al-’Azharī (أَبُو مَنْصُور الْأَزْهَرِيّ), a grammarian and lexicographer, who was born at the end of the 9th century (282 AH).
He was returning from Mecca in 924 (312 AH) when the Qarāmita (الْقَرامِطة), a Shia (Ismā‘īlī) offspring, attacked the pilgrimage caravan. Many travelers were massacred; al-’Azharī was taken captive.
The attackers were led by Abū Tāhir al-Jannābī, who outraged the Muslim world around five years later (317 AH) when he raided Mecca and stole the Black Stone (الْحَجَر الْأَسْوَد). He forced the Abbasids to pay a huge sum for its return, which happened around 941 (330 AH).
As a captive, al-’Azharī spent about two years with the Bedouins of the Hawazin tribe (قَبِيلة هَوازِن) who pastured their cattle in the eastern Arabian Peninsula.
After his release, he started to compose his famous work:
(تَهْذِيب اللُّغة), The Reparation of Speech, and wrote in the introduction:
يَتَكَلَّمُونَ بِطِباعِهِم الْبَدَوِيّةِ، وَقَرائِحِهِم الَّتِي اِعْتادُوها وَلا يَكادُ يَقَعُ فِي مَنْطِقِهِم لَحْنٌ أَوْ خَطأٌٌ فاحِشٌAl Kindi
Around the year 980 (370 AH), al-’Azharī died where he was born, in Herat, Khorasan (present-day Afghanistan).
His lexicon was one of the most important sources for Ibn Manzūr’s dictionary Lisān al-‘Arab (لِسان الْعَرَب).
Other topics dealing with historical issues:
- Who are the greatest Arabic grammarians of all time from Europe?
- Who are the greatest Arabic grammarians of all time?
- How to learn Arabic calligraphy – an introduction (part 1)
- The strange term Semitic languages: What does it mean?
- History of Arabic: Why do some scholars call Arabic a South Semitic language?
Note: This page was last updated on