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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 year 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 , 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.


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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