The Science of Language

phpoztwyzam.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Since the dawn of early Islam, and largely provoked by the doctrine of the miracle of the Qur’an’s linguistic inimitability, scholars of both Arab and non-Arab stock concerned themselves with studying the Arabic Language deeply and comprehensively. They were able to establish a range of sciences (‘uloom) into which the letters, words, and constructions of Arabic all fell. It is important to be aware of these sciences to fully understand the depth and breadth of the Arabic language, and the various angles through which it may be studied. These sciences may be divided into three main categories, each of which is further divided into sub-categories as follows:


1. Sciences related to the letters. They fall into two sub-categories:

i. That which deals with the articulation and sound of the letter. This is known as ‘ilm al-sawt (‘the science of phonology’), or ‘ilm al-tajweed (‘the science of art of pronunciation’)

ii. That which deals with the written representation of the letter. This is known as ‘ilm al-harf (‘the science of orthography’), or ‘ilm al-hijaa’ (‘the science of spelling’).


2. Sciences related to the words, with regards their meaning and form. They fall into four sub-categories:

i. That which deals with the meanings and connotations of words, and the vowelling of the words (on all but the last letters). This is known as ‘ilm al-lughah (‘the science of philology’).

ii. That which deals with the manner in which these words were attributed to their objects. This is known as ‘ilm al-wad.

iii. That which deals with the nature of the letters of these words, with regards to any additions, subtractions, transformations, exchanges, changes in the vowelling, and so on. This is known as ‘ilm al-sarf (‘the science of morphology’).

iv. That which deals with the origins and branches of the words, the relationship between them, and the manner in which some are formed from others. This is known as ‘ilm al-ishtiqaaq (‘the science of etymology’).


3. Sciences related to the constructions, with regards their meaning and form. They fall into four sub-categories:

i. That which deals with the relationship of some meanings to others, and the requirements of this relationship, as embodied in and indicated by the vowel on the end of each word. This is known as ‘ilm al-nahw (‘the science of syntax’).

ii. That which deals with the characteristics of speech composition by virtue of which they conform to the requirements of the occasion. This is known by ‘ilm al-ma’aani (‘the science of meanings’). This was considered the most important science of Arabic balaaghah (rhetoric) to the Arabs.

iii. That which deals with the different ways of expressing the various shades of a single meaning. This is known as ‘ilm al-bayaan (‘the science of style’).

iv. That which deals with the artistic embellishment of speech. This is known as ‘ilm al-badi’ (‘the science of rhetorical figures’).


There are also a further two sciences related to poetic constructions:

i. That which deals with the metres of poetry. This is known as ‘ilm al-‘arood (‘the science of prosody’).

ii. That which deals with the ends of each line of poetry. This is known as ‘ilm al-qaafiyah (‘the science of rhyme’)


May Allah grant us a deep understanding of the language of the Qur’an, and bless those in the past who exerted their efforts to master the language, and then simplify and explain it to us in an accessible manner. Ameen!


23 responses to “The Science of Language

  1. السلام عليكم

    Jazakallah Khairan once again. I have some questions though. I don’t exactly understand what you mean by ‘ilm ul wad. I love Ishtiqaaq (but who doesn’t), and I’m also interested in what exactly distinguishes ilm ul bayaan & ‘ilm al badi’. Can you cite an example of some sort for the latter (I have across many times how this word is better or this phrase is better in this context [often in ‘Ijaz ul Qur’aan, hence showing its deep level intricacy and beauty], but this is the first time I’ve heard the phrase ‘ilm al badi’). Jazakallah khairan once again. Please keep me in your du’aa.

    مع السلامو

  2. Typing to quickly, it should obviously finish with ياسر

  3. al-Salamu ‘alaykum,

    Wa iyyakum.

    To explain the difference between ‘ilm al-bayan and ‘ilm al-badee’:

    The main topics dealt with in ‘ilm al-bayan are simile (tashbeeh), metaphor (majaaz), and metonymy (kinaayah). Thus, its main investigation is into what a word implies or is implied by it. al-Sakkaaki described it as, “The science of signifying a single concept (ma’naa) in a variety of ways.” You can see from its main interests that it deals with figurative, and not literal, usages. In literal usage, there is a fixed relationship between the word (or signifier) and the word’s meaning. So the word ‘asad’ (‘lion’) can literally only refer to the animal we know as a lion. Figuratively, however, a man may be described as a ‘lion’ in reference to his courage. His courage may also be alluded to in other ways, as alluded to by al-Sakkaki. This, then, is the concern of ilm al-bayaan.

    The concern of ‘ilm al-badee’ however, are the manners in which speech is made more beautiful and ornamented (tahseen), and the ‘fine points of expression’ (mahaasin al-kalaam). Such ornamentation can take a number of forms, some examples of which are: rhymed prose (saj’) which enables prose to be dvided into sections, or paranomasia (jinaas), which establishes similarities among the words used, or antithesis (tibaaq), or allusion to the intended meaning (tawriyah), or the use of opposites (muqaabalah) to highlight the intended meaning, and so on.

    As you are fond of ishtiqaaq, there is a type of paranomasia called jinaas al-ishtiqaaq, in which the two words are related by their roots, for example in Surah al-Room, verse 43, Allaah says,

    فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ الْقَيِّمِ
    in which there is jinaas al-ishtiqaaq between the words أقم and القيم as they share the same root and are in the same clause.

    With regards ‘ilm al-wad’ علم الوضع: The root wa-da-3a means to put or place something. Thus this science refers to the meanings assigned to words, as having been recorded by lexicographers. Due to its close relationship and study of the meaning of words,some choose to translate it as ‘the science of semantics’ but as I do not think the two sciences completely overlap I chose not to.

    I hope it is now clearer to you. Wa al-Salaam.

  4. السلام عليكم

    Forgive my ignorance, but I had always been under the impression that Tajweed referred to a specific style of reciting Arabic lyric poetry. From what you say though, I’m not so sure anymore… so what exactly DOES the word mean?

    Is it a general term for phonemics? (Does one, for instance, refer to the different pronunciations of different Arabic dialects as Tajweed?) Or does the term imply some stylised, artistic set of pronunciation rules?

    On a different note: does Tajweed imply a single standard, or is there the idea of several different “tajweeds” that are applied in different circumstances?

    I’d appreciate it very much if you would clarify my confusion – many thanks in advance!

    Otherwise, I just wanted to say thank you for the wonderful articles on this website and for the collection of links. It really is a gem in itself!

    ~(* Raya

  5. Jazakallah Khairan. You explained the difference between Bayan & Badi’ very well. With the wad’, it is simply assigning meaning to words, and I think you are correct not to overlap it with Semantics, because Semantics is quite broad. So it is simply the knowledge of saying “تفاح” is “apple” because this is how it is used by the speakers of the language? Or something like that? I’m assuming its much simpler than I thought and I was more taken aback by the existence of the science then the content matter of the actual science. Please Keep me in your du’aa.

    Thanks for the nice example from Surah Rum by the way.


  6. al-Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatullah

    Jazakamullahu khairan

  7. Raya, wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam. You are welcome, and thank you for your comments.The word tajweed is the verbal noun from the verb jawwada, and the general linguistic meaning is ‘excellence and precision’. This general meaning took on a new, specific meaning when it came to Islamic terminology (see also the post ‘Discover your Roots’ for more examples of this) wherein it came to be defined as the recitation of the Qur’an as it was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him), and more specifically ‘giving every letter its right in recitation’ – i.e. observing its correct pronunciation and qualities. Thus it is more technically applied to a specific set of pronunciation rules (when related to the Qur’an). In terms of the science of tajweed as mentioned in the above post, the classical scholars researched the sounds of the letters according to their makhrarij (points of articulation) for Qur’anic purposes, and thus the science was known as the science of tajweed. More contemporary scholars research this area in a wider sphere, and are involved, for example, in comparative phonology. Thus, the term ‘ilm al-sawt (phonology) better reflects the wider base through which it is now studied.

    In terms of a single tajweed versus multiple tajweeds; the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the main Arabic dialects prevalent at the time (according to a tradition of the Prophet peace be upon him, there are seven readings (ahruf) of the Qur’an), to make the memorisation and reception of the Qur’an easier upon the various Arab tribes. The differences were not major ones, but you will find that for each of the different qiraa’aat (ways of reciting the Qur’an) there are slight changes in the rules of tajweed (due to its meaning that one gives every letter its right during recitation, and pronouncing it with excellence and precision). Thus, you will find for example, that in the recitation of Warsh (practiced today mainly in Morocco, Algeria and some other parts of North Africa), there is a slight difference in the tajweed rules of the hamzah ء in recitation. However, it is important to note that the tajweed rules are not mix ‘n’ match – only one set applies at any one time.

    You can read more about the seven qiraa’aat at this link:
    I hope this clarifies your confusion; please enquire further if you have any more questions on this or other matters.

  8. Yaser, wa iyyakum.

    Although ‘ilm al-wad’ is in a way what you said, it tries to look more into the reasons/relationships behind the word ‘tuffaah’ referring to the object ‘apple’. It has not been written about much; Mawlana ‘Adad al-Deen wrote a paper on it (I cannot remember the name), and Bernard Weiss wrote a paper entitled “Subject and Predicate in the Thinking of the Arab Philologists” (Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 105, no. 4 – available on JSTOR) in which he touched on it too.

    Yusuf, wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allah, wa barak Allaahu feek.

  9. Ameen! Thank you for the thoughtful explanation.

    Ya Haqq!

  10. Jazakallah Khairan. I’m interested only because I’ve never heard of this field before. Jazakallah Khairan for the information. Please keep me in your du’aa.

    مع السلامة

  11. Irving, you are welcome.

    Yaser, wa iyyaakum.

  12. Jazaaki l-laahu khayran for your site, I love it and wish you posted more often! Thought you might be interested in this: Journal of Arabic Linguistics Tradition

  13. Wa iyyaakum khayr al-jazaa’.

    Thank you for pointing it out to me; I have enjoyed reading their articles and studies for the past three years, and encourage other people to also take benefit from them.

    Once things are settled in shaa’ Allaah I will be able to post more often bi idhnillaah.

  14. salamun alaina wa ‘alaikum
    we need The Islamic Alphabetical Association to make some rules for the translettering arabic sound to the Latin

  15. Wa a’alykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    A good suggestion, or we can use what we already have. The ALA-LG transliteration scheme is quite good.

    Click to access arabic.pdf

  16. Pingback: Suhaib Webb » Blog Archive » NOW is the Time to Learn Arabic!

  17. Pingback: NOW is the Time to Learn Arabic! « Tayyibaat

  18. Pingback: Now is the time to learn Arabic | Greeks Rethink

  19. Pingback: NOW is the Time to Learn Arabic! |

  20. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  21. As Salamu alaykum wa rahmathullah,

    Firstly I ask forgiveness if this post/comment offends you/concept of ur website. I am a muslimah who has been accepted to IlmSummti 2009 and desperate need of financial aid. Pl help me either by supporting financially /spreading the word insha Allah. Pls visit– for sadaqa -e jariya insha ALlah. Jazakumullah Khayr.

  22. i the text was informative , keep it up..

  23. Pingback: Dickinson Arabic Online Literature Project » The Arabic Language

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s