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al-khalil

Who wrote the first Arabic dictionary?

Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi (الخليل بن أحمد الفراهيدي), a gram­marian who was born in 718 (100 AH) in present-day Oman.

LAST UPDATED: 1 month ago

Al-Khalīl ibn ’Ahmad al-Farāhīdī (الْخَلِيل بن أَحْمَد الْفَراهِيدِي), a gram­marian who was born in 718 (100 AH) in present-day Oman. But that was not his only achievement…

His work Kitāb al-‘Ayn (كِتاب الْعَيْن), “the Book of the Let­ter Ayn”, is regarded as the first dictionary of the Arabic language and one of the ear­liest known dictionaries of any lan­guage.

In the early days of Islam, scholars and commentators had already started to paraphrase words of the Qur’an.

Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbās (عَبْد الله بن عَبّاس), one of the Prophet’s cousins and com­panions, com­piled a list of words of foreign origin. These compila­tions were mainly based on topics, e.g., words that dealt with a camel or a horse.

Who was al-Khalīl, who is often just called al-Farāhīdī?

He lived in in present-day Iraq and was a famous of the Basra school (الْبَصْرِيُّونَ) of grammar.

He was the first scholar to classify the consonants of Arabic and ex­plained why they are impor­tant: the root.

He found out that ev­ery quadriliteral root (4 root let­ters) contains at least one of the following consonants: ب – ف – م – ر – ن – ل.

How did he arrange words?

Al-Farāhīdī’s arrangement of the letters does not follow the alpha­betical order we use today. He used a phonetic order according to the place of articulation in mouth and throat, from the pharyngeal conso­nants (ع, ح) to the labials (ف, ب).

You produce pharyngeals by mak­ing the muscles in your throat tighter so that air can’t flow freely. Labi­als are made with the two lips. According to this system, the order be­gins with the letter ﻉ which is also the reason for the dictionary’s name.

Al-Farāhīdī saw in the ع the first and most essen­tial sound of Arabic because no letter comes deeper from the throat. His dictionary ends with the letter م which is the last letter pro­nounced with the lips.

Later, roots were sorted alphabetically, starting with the last of the three radicals, then the first, and then the sec­ond. This is called rhyming order. For poets, the last let­ter is often the most important one.


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Remark: The most famous Arabic dictionary is Lisān al-‘Arab (لِسان الْعَرَب), com­piled by Ibn Manzūr (ابن مَنْظُور) in the early 14th cen­tury (711 AH). It contains around 80,000 entries.


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