Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali
|Title||The Father of Arabic Grammar|
|Born||16 BH (603 CE)|
|Died||AH 69 (688/689)|
|Era||Islamic golden age|
Abu al-Aswad al-Du?ali (Arabic: ? , ?Ab? al-?Aswad al-Du?al?y; c.-16/603-69/689), whose full name is ?Ab? al-Aswad lim ibn ?Amr ibn Sufy?n ibn Jandal ibn Yam?r ibn H?ls ibn Nuf?tha ibn al-di ibn al-D?l ibn Bakr, surnamed al-D?l?, or al-Duwal?, was the Arab poet companion of Ali bin Abu Talib and grammarian. When the great expansion of the Islamic Empire, with millions of newly-converted non-native speakers wishing to read and recite the Qur?an, made the adoption of a formalised grammar system necessary, tradition honors al-Du?ali as the father of Arabic grammar. His science of grammar led in turn, to the establishment of the first great School of grammarians at Basrah, that would be rivalled only by the school at Kufah. Al-Du'al? is said to have introduced the use of diacritics (consonant and vowel markings) to writing, and to have written the earliest treatises on Arabic linguistics, and grammar (nahw). He had many students and followers.
Al-Du?ali is credited with inventing a system of placing large colored dots above certain letters to differentiate consonants (because several groups share the same shape), and indicate short vowels (because the sounds are not otherwise indicated).:664 :131 Consonant differentiation is called I'jam (or naqt). Vowel indication is called tashkil. Al-Du'ali's large-dot system addressed both of these, resolving readers' confusion and making clear how to read and write Arabic words.:131
Although effective, the large dots were difficult to use on small-size fonts and on any but a limited selection of scripts. They were also time-consuming to make on any size font or script. Thus, the Umayyad governor al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi asked two of al-Du?ali's students to create and codify a new system that was simpler and more efficient. A new tashkil (vocalization) system was developed by Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi (d. 786). It has been universally used for Arabic script since the early 11th century.:131
Abu ?Ubaydah said:
Abu Sad al-Sirafi described how once al-Du?al? encountered a Persian from N?bandaj?n, named Sa'd. Sa?d and a group of fellow Persians had converted to Islam and become protégés of Qud?mah ibn Ma?'?n. Al-Du?al? noticing Sa?d walking leading his horse asked "Oh Sa'd, why don't you ride?" To this Sa?d replied "My horse is strong (li)", causing some bystanders to laugh. He had meant to say "lame" (li). Then al-Du?al? rebuked them, saying:
A first-hand account of al-Nadim in his Al-Fihrist supports the view that al-Du?al? was the first grammarian. He visited a book collector, Mu?ammad ibn al-Husayn in the city of Haditha, who had the most marvelous library al-Nadim had ever seen. It contained Arabic books on grammar, philology and literature, and ancient books. He had visited a number of times and found the collector friendly, but wary; fearful of the Clan of Hamdan [of Aleppo]. He was shown a large trunk left Al-Husayn by a Kufan collector of ancient writings. This trunk, filled with parchments, deeds, pages of paper from Egypt, China, Tihamah, 'adam' (sg. 'adim' type of parchment) skins, and paper of Khurasan, seen by Al-Nadim, had bundles of notes on grammar and language written in the hand of scholars like Abu 'Amr ibn al-'Ala', Abu Amr al-Shaybani, Al-Asma?i, Ibn al-A'r?b?, Sibawayh, al-Farr?', and Al-Kisa'i, as well as the penmanship of authorities of the Hadith, such as Sufy?n ibn 'Uyaynah, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Awza?i, and others. Among these I read that grammar came from Abu al-Aswad [al-Du?al?]. On four leaves, of what looked to be China paper, in the writing of Yahya ibn Ya'mar, of the Banu Layth was written "Remarks about the Subject and Object". Under these notes, written in ancient calligraphy "This is the handwriting of 'All?n the Grammarian", and under this "This is the handwriting of al-Na?r ibn Shumayl." When the book collector died, the case and its contents were lost, except for the manuscript.
The Wafayat al-Ayan (Obituaries of Eminent Men) by Ibn Khallikan contains a similar account with additional information: Great diversity of opinion exists about his name, surname and genealogy. He lived in Basra and was intelligent, sagacious, and one of the most eminent T?b?s (inhabitants of Basra). He fought at the Battle of Siffin under Ali ibn Abi Talib and he invented grammar. Ali laid down the principle of the three parts of speech; the noun, the verb and the particle and told him to write a treatise on it. He was said to be tutor to the children of the governor of Arabian and Persian Iraq, Ziyad ibn Abih.
When he noticed that native Arab speech was being influenced by foreign immigrants he asked Zi?d to authorize the composition of a guide for correct use. At first the emir refused but, sometime later overhearing someone say "tuwaffa ab?na wa tarak ban?n" (which might be rendered in Latin *mortuus est patrem nostrum et reliquit filii, analogous in English to *him died and left they, mistakes due entirely to incorrect vowel choice) - Zi?d changed his mind.
Another anecdote relates how when ad-Du'al?'s daughter came to him saying "Baba, ma ahsanu 's-sam?i?" (what is most beautiful in the sky?) - he answered: "Its stars;" but she replied: "I don't mean what is the most beautiful object in it; I mean how wonderful its beauty." - to this he remarked "You must then say, "ma ahsan 'sam?a (how beautiful is the sky)." And so he invented the art of grammar. Ad-Du'al?'s son, Ab? Harb, relates that the first section of his father's composition (the art of grammar) was on the "verbs of admiration".
Another account says that it was when he heard a man recite a passage from the Qur'an: Anna 'llahu bariyon mina 'l-mushrikina wa ras?luhu, pronounce this last word "rasulihi, that he decided to compose his grammar. He called his book the art of grammar 'nawhu' (in the same way) i.e. as Al? lib had done. Several accounts of his proverbial wit survive. One such goes as follows: When due to a problem neighbour, Ab? 'l-Aswad had moved house, someone said "So have you sold your house?" He replied "Rather, I have sold my neighbour." When ibn al-Harith ibn Kalad ath-Thakaf? remarked of a tattered cloak he wore - "not tired of that cloak?" He replied "some tiresome things are impossible to quit." At this the other sent him 100 cloaks, to which Ad-Du'al? penned this verse:
Another verse attributed to him is this:
He died at Ba?ra of the plague, or possibly of palsy before the outbreak, aged eighty-five years. Others say he died in the khalifate of Omar ibn 'Abd 'l-Az?z (717-720).
A chapter in Wafayat al-Ayan on another grammarian of Ba?ra, Abu Amr Isa ibn Omar ath-Thakafi, reports that al-Khal?l Ibn A?mad had heard from Sibawaih, an erstwhile student of ath-Thakafi, that ath-Thakafi had the authored over seventy works on grammar, all but two of which were lost by a collector in Fars. The two titles survived were Ikm?l (completion) that remained then in Fars, and 'al-J?m?' (the collector), that Sibawaih was in possession of and studying in the course of composing his own treatise, the famous 'Kitab'. Al-Khal?l claim here is that:
Among the scholars who studied Abu al-Aswad were Yahya ibn Ya'mar, 'Anbasah ibn Ma'dan, 'Anbasah al-Fil ('Anbasah of the Elephant); Maymun ibn al-Aqran. Nasr ibn 'Asim was said to have studied with him.