Chapter 5 Referencing Sībawayhi: The Reception of the Kitāb as a Source

In: The Foundations of Arab Linguistics V
Simona Olivieri
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The Kitāb Sībawayhi epitomizes the linguistic debate that took place among the Arabic scholars in the first and second centuries after the hiǧra and outlines how early grammarians interpreted major linguistic themes.

Sībawayhi’s (d. 180/796?) contribution to the development of the linguistic tradition is so significant that the Kitāb essentially became a grammatical source for later scholars, alongside the Qurʾān, the kalām al-ʿarab, and the pre-Islamic poetry.

The pioneering terminology established by Sībawayhi as well as his arguments would in fact be evoked by grammarians belonging to the most diverse traditions, in spite of the difficulties that scholars were confronted with when approaching the text, for the Kitāb was never easy to interpret. Similarly, the data available in the Kitāb would often be re-utilized: shortage in the availability of first-hand data provided established sources on which there was scholarly agreement with the status of reference texts.

This contribution thus aims to discuss the major aspects of the reception of the Kitāb Sībawayhi, as well as the reasons why the reference to Sībawayhi’s assertions would evidently provide legitimacy to the linguistic arguments adduced, by accounting for the credit bestowed on the author of the Kitāb and on the data presented therein. Finally, a discussion on the difficulties in distinguishing between the distinctiveness of the text itself and the interpretations set forth by later grammarians and commentators is introduced, so as to present the reception of some ambiguous references.

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