Quranic Linguistics Institute
The Three Primary Disciplines of the Arabic Language
There are many areas of study within the Arabic language. The three primary disciplines are:
Arabic scholars consider morphology to be one of the primary disciplines of the Arabic language. It teaches us word types, patterns, conjugation, derivation and other things. Arabic morphology is unique in the sense that it enables the speaker to derive words based on specific roots and patterns. This unique and powerful feature is something that only Semitic languages share. As far as a beginner is concerned, it should be the first thing taught because it helps understand and identify the various forms and types of nouns and verbs which are necessary to put together a sentence (i.e. syntax). Therefore, this level’s primary focus is morphology.
The well-known 4th century Arabic linguist, Ibn Jinni, advocates putting morphology before grammar. He writes in his authoritative commentary on al-Mazini'sKitab al-Tasreef:
.. الواجب على من أراد معرفة النحو أن يبدأ بمعرفة التصريف ..
..it is necessary for the one who desires (to acquire the) knowledge of grammar that he/she begin with (acquiring the) knowledge of morphology..
Dr. Abduhuar-Rajihi, expresses his agreement by quoting the above statement in his bookالتطبيق الصرفي. Arabic scholar, Mustafa al-Ghalayini, the author of the advanced authoritative grammar text,جامع الدروس العربيّة, puts morphology as the first science on his list of Arabic disciplines. Al-Halabi, the author of the eleven-volume encyclopedic linguistic exegesis of the Quran, lists morphology as one of the fundamental disciplines of the Arabic language.
In the late 90s, I had the privilege of taking Arabic/Islamic classes at the Zaytuna Institute (now Zaytuna College in California) taught by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson who is also the founder of the institute. He put morphology before grammar by teaching it first. The Shaykh used to say that non-Arabs should begin with morphology.
Therefore, I think it's a mistake to teach students, especially beginners, grammar without giving them proper foundation in the basics of morphology. Since grammar requires strong foundations in morphology, Arabic students should undertake the study of Arabic grammar (Level 2) only after they have successfully completed Level one of the series.
Arabic grammar, which is the second step in learning Arabic, focuses primarily on syntax and inflection. Arabic is an inflected language. Thus, words change depending on their position in the sentence. The study of inflection focuses on word endings. For instance, the word Muhammad will be Muhammadun if it appears as a subject,Muhammadan if it appears as anobject, and Muhammadin if it is an object of a preposition.
Students who are grounded in morphology and grammar are qualified to take the third level. Level 3 of the Quranic linguistics series integrates the study of morphology and grammar and introduces the highest discipline in Arabic--rhetoric(البلاغة). In rhetoric, we learn how to say the right thing at the right time for the given audience. It teaches us how to effectively use the tools of morphology and grammar. It teaches us how to make our speech eloquent. In this level, students learn how to use the knowledge and skills developed in the previous two levels to help them analyze key forms of expression and styles that make Quran unique and immutable.
In conclusion, studying Quranic linguistics is a 3-step process: The first step is Arabic Morphology which is like planting seeds in the ground. The second step is Arabic Grammar which is like watering a tree until its branches are fully developed. The third is rhetoric, which is the sweet fruit
The 3-level Quranic linguistics series only focuses on the aforementioned primary disciplines. Other areas of the Arabic language which are beyond the scope of this series include:
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