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The Doctrine of Language and Speech Sounds in the Works of Al-Jahiz and A.A. Potebni: Similarities and Differences

Al'-Avad Asil' Rafaa

Postgraduate student, Department of Theory and Methodology of Translation, Lomonosov Moscow State University. Higher School of Translation

119415, Russia, Moscow region region, Moscow, ul. Kravchenko Street, 7, sq. 304

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Abstract: The article is devoted to the study of works of two philosophers and linguists A.A. Potebnja and Al-Jahiz "Thought and Language" and "The Book of Eloquence and Interpretation". Their ideas in the field of the philosophy of language turned out to be meaningful and advanced for their time, Al-Jahiz managed to synthesize the views of previous Arabic and Persian scholars, applying them to Arabic, he managed to draw logical conclusions about the system of the Arabic literary language and collect a four-volume collection of Arabic poems and sayings. His teachings covered not only grammar, but such areas as dialectology, paralinguistics, proverbs and sayings, eloquence up to experimental linguistics. The most important contribution of the Arab scientist, which has not yet been fully studied by modern scientists, is his exhaustive definition of articulate sound as a thought-organizing part of the human body. The purpose of our study is to identify similarities and differences in the views of scientists regarding the sounds of speech and their differences from the sounds of other animals.


sound, articulate sound, Al-Jahiz, Potebnja, philosophy of language, image, eloquence, liguistcs, Aristotle, Humboldt

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

IntroductionAl-Jahiz (775-868) is an Arab writer, theologian, satirist, founder of Arabic literary criticism, philosophy of language and oratory.

The most worthy place in Arab culture is occupied by his satirical works, which, as well as in other treatises, are filled with philosophical meaning. We have seen some connections between the teachings of the Arab philosopher and the provisions of Russian linguistics of the XIX century, presented in the work of A.A. Potebni. With an in-depth study of Arabic treatises, it turns out that the issues raised by the Arab philosophers of language remain relevant to the history of linguistic thought to this day.

In the process of studying the main work on the philosophy of the language of Al-Jahiz "The Book of Eloquence and Interpretation" " ", we discovered some similar ideas with those ideas set forth by the famous Russian philosopher and linguist of the XIX century A.A. Potebney about human sounds and their difference from other types of sounds in nature. The article will provide a comparative analysis of the views of two philosophers - Al-Jahiz in his treatise on linguistics "Eloquence and Interpretation" in Arabic and A.A. Potebni in the book "Language and Thought".

The main part The first scientist who devoted in the treatise "On the Soul" to the topic of sounds in general and the participation of the human voice in particular was Aristotle.

In the chapter "On the characteristics of sound and voice" from this work, he wrote: "as for the voice, it is a sound made by an animate being: after all, no inanimate object has a voice, and they speak of their voice only by analogy, for example, that the pipe, lyre and other inanimate objects have length, melody and expressiveness." [1, p. 75]. Aristotle believes that sounds, or more precisely, the voice should be accompanied by some kind of representation - the voice is a signifying sound, not the sound of exhaled air. Opinions about the sounds of speech as the most important instrument of language include: the validity of sounds as a feature belonging to the human race; the division of speech and the possibility of reproducing it, giving it meaning, objective and subjective meanings. We find similar judgments in the work of the Arab scholar Al-Jahiz.

Al-Jahiz was sure that there is something in the sounds of human speech that can reflect the characteristics of any people. Al-Jahiz spoke for the first time among Arab scientists about articulate sound. He pointed out that sound is "an instrument of pronunciation, the essence of which consists in articulation, reproduction and creation of speech. The simple movement of the tongue as an organ does not contribute to the utterance of either rhythmic or prosaic speech, this happens only with the help of sounds; speech does not consist of letters [1], but only by connecting and reuniting sounds.  Each of these sounds has an image different from the other, but they are all used to identify the exact meaning in sentences, about facts in the process of interpretation; types and quantities; about their general and particular meanings; about the degree of benefit and harm and what is useless and incorrect [9, p. 33]. In addition to articulate sound, other linguistic and extralinguistic ways of expressing thoughts or meanings, including writing, gestures, poses, etc., are also important for Al-Jahiz. In the section "on the letters that lead to distortion of sounds" " ", the scientist lists several examples of incorrect pronunciation of Arabic sounds by foreign ones, where he compares sounds with images that have analogues in human consciousness and are reflected in the speech of any person [9, p. 16]. The scientist here focuses on the articulation of sounds, especially if they are complex sounds like in Arabic, which not only must be correct, but also somehow reflect the order and structure of words in the language, convey formed thoughts through sounds in a particular language.

One of the main ideas about sounds in the works of Al-Jahiz is that in some cases distortions manifested in the form of intermediate variants of sounds or phonemes exist only in speech, but they have no application in writing, that is, they exist only in consciousness. It is characteristic of Al-Jahiz's works that he cites a large number of examples from everyday life. For example, talking about the way of pronunciation of sounds of one of his acquaintances, Al-Jahiz writes the following: "if the speaker tried hard, sharpened his tongue, trying to pronounce some sounds clearly, the nature of the language will certainly meet him" [9, p. 17]. On the one hand, he identifies several types of speech distortion, including reprimands, which he explains by misunderstanding the logic of a particular language, and not fully formed articulation apparatus, when the meanings of words are revealed only through interpretation.

Al-Jahiz also certainly gives due place to the difference of sounds in animals and humans. Al-Jahiz tried to observe the sounds of animals in nature, including birds, animals and lions, to isolate sound segments in their speech. He believed that the larger the size of their tongue, the clearer and more distinct their sounds. This is observed in parrots and piebald crows. The amazing discovery of the scientist was that talking about animal sounds in the section "about sounds", he for the first time using an experimental method in phonetics, comparative analysis and observation of a child's speech at the first stages of development, achieves real results when the latter easily pronounces the simple letters em and be in words such as mom and a woman. These two letters are obtained by closing the lips. Al-Jahiz compares these processes with the pronunciation of the sound of ma in some animals. Observing some species of animals, Al-Jahiz was sure that in the cries of birds from the ryabkov family, sounds (k and t) can be heard; in dogs, these are sounds a and f or in pairs such as ab-ab, au-au, af-af [9, p. 27].

An interesting fact is that Gottfried Leibniz was convinced that man, in fact, imitates the sounds of nature and feels the effects of things produced on him. As a result, this led to the emergence of the theory of "woof-woof" and the interjection hypothesis – "ugh-ugh" [3, p. 12]. According to Al-Jahiz, man is a microcosm that combines the qualities of all living and existing things, he is able to create images, compose and narrate; he is endowed with the gift of speaking different languages and dialects.  Al-Jahiz cites an interesting example from life in his work: "when one child was asked who your father was, he replied that his father was av-av or woof-woof, since his nickname in Arabic was "dog" [9, p. 27].

 Interest in the study of the inner form is beginning to be observed in European Neoplatonism. The German linguist V. von Humboldt wrote a lot about the articulateness of sounds, who in the main thesis on language linked the activity of the spirit with the language, in particular, with the spirit of an individual people.  Humboldt introduced the concept of "internal form of language" into scientific circulation, which contributed to the connection of the internal and external forms of language, on the one hand, and mentality and people on the other. Exploring different languages in the main linguistic work "On the difference in the structure of human languages on the spiritual development of the human race" (1836), he wrote that articulation is based on the power of the spirit to force organs to such modifications of sound that correspond to the form of activity of the spirit itself. What is common between the activity of the spirit and articulateness is that both decompose their domain into main parts, the combination of which forms such wholes that carry the desire to become parts of new wholes [8, p. 64]. In this regard, it can be said that V. von Humboldt considered language as a dynamic and creative product, the activity of which is manifested in the impact of language as a social phenomenon on an individual, and the more consciously an individual uses language in accordance with his internal and external needs, the more strongly language affects his thinking. Different languages, according to V. von Humboldt, are not different visions of the same subject, but different visions of it. Humboldt cleverly notes that "the spiritual originality and the structure of the language of the people penetrate so deeply into each other that, as soon as one exists, the other can be deduced from it. Mental activity and language contribute to the creation of only such forms that can satisfy both of them" [7, p. 360]. V. von Humboldt, in one of the main theses on the synthesis of material and spiritual cultures in language, believes that they reach their peak in the renewing work of the spirit to make articulatory sounds suitable for the expression of thought.

A.A. Potebnya believes that in the cries of animals closest to us in terms of body structure, articulate sound does not occur at all, and in birds – only as an accidental consequence of human efforts for their nature, or at least as a phenomenon that does not have for their life and shadow the meaning that it has for our [8, p. 63]. A.A. Potebnya considers the pronunciation of sounds for children to be nothing but serious work and heavy load: "a child perceives sound with much more certainty than an animal. Into this sound it transfers its subjective pleasure from the movement of organs and, finding an aesthetic value in it itself, stops attention on it." In modern cognitive science, attempts are being made to identify knowledge complexes and ways of describing the cognitive background of speakers, among which language knowledge (knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, phonetics, conventional language communication methods characteristic of a particular communicative model) take their due place [4, p. 368].

However, A.A. Potebnya stops in his research on physiological facts, and does not deepen the study of animal sounds and their similarity to the speech of a child, which closely link the natural world of man and animal. The scientist writes that the ability to suck, swallow, scream, etc., which precedes the first noticeable glimpses of the child's mental life and is common with animals, can only be understood as a consequence of the bodily mechanism. However, he gives an interesting example of songbirds that are able to retain repetitive harmonic intervals of sounds in memory, but at the same time they are not characterized by an objective and strict division of sounds, on which human music is based [8, p.61].

 Potebnya talked a lot about the sounds of human speech, he wrote that "articulate sound is still an exclusive belonging of a person" [8, p. 63]. Dwelling on the internal and psychological characteristics of the sounds of human speech in his research, he wrote that "we need to look for a definition of articulate sound not in what it is – regardless of consciousness, but in what it appears to the speaker's consciousness itself. Sound from the side of its influence on our mental life seems to us not a measure necessary for calming the body, but a means to equalize mental shocks, to get rid of their overwhelming force" [8, p. 64].


Conclusion Language, according to scientists, is a special vision of the world by one or another people, a unique type of thinking that reveals the history of peoples, connects the past and the present and helps to predict the future.

Humboldt believes that language, with all its roots and the finest fibers of gossip, is a national spirit. But still, studying the hypotheses put forward by Potebn and Al-Jahiz, it can be concluded that in languages there are similar schemes and patterns of development of such an area in language, which is called phonetics or the science of sounds, which is not given sufficient attention in modern language science. The sounds, which were first mentioned by Greek scientists, originate from the thinnest layers of human nature. Sounds, or more precisely articulate sound, as part of the language is a product of the activity of the spirit, but, nevertheless, the corresponding images embedded in them by a person in each language demonstrate the processes of conscious coding of the mentality of any ethnic group, lifestyle, historical past, material and spiritual culture, customs and mores, etc. "The formation of the meaning of the utterance is based on all our knowledge about the world, transmitting both collective and individual experience of human cognition" [2, p. 35]. Thus, Al-Jahiz saw the inability to pronounce some sounds as a disadvantage, which is a misunderstanding of the basic principles of the functioning of a particular language, an obstacle hindering the further development of communication. It can be concluded that phonetics, among other branches of linguistics, is the basis for Al-Jahiz, on which clear speech and pure rhetoric are built.   



[1] It should be noted that the Greek philosophers did not see the difference between sound and letter, the same thing we observe in the work of Al-Jahiz.


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The article presented for consideration "The doctrine of language and speech sounds in the works of Al-Jahiz and A. A. Potebni: similarities and differences", proposed for publication in the journal "Litera", is undoubtedly relevant, due to the study of the theoretical heritage of the Russian linguist A. A. Potebni in comparison with the postulates expressed by the Arabic linguist. Thus, in the reviewed article, the author's attention is focused on a comparative analysis of the views of two philosophers - Al–Jahiz in his treatise on linguistics "Eloquence and Interpretation" in Arabic and A. A. Potebni in the book "Language and Thought". In this work, the author examines in detail the formation of the doctrine of language and sounds in the works of various scientists since Aristotle, comparing the achievements of Arab and European researchers. The disadvantages of the work include the presence of a "self-concept", since the author does not provide information about the research of this issue in domestic and foreign linguistics, which does not allow us to identify the scientific lacuna that the author is going to explore and authoritatively assert the novelty of the research. Being a theoretical work, it is not entirely clear which body of texts was taken for research, whether the texts are original works of scientists or references given in the works of other researchers and their interpretation of the original author's ideas of Potebni and Al-Jahiz. The article is innovative, one of the first in Russian linguistics devoted to the study of such topics in the 21st century. The article presents a research methodology, the choice of which is quite adequate to the goals and objectives of the work. The author turns, among other things, to various methods to confirm the hypothesis put forward. The following research methods are used: statistical, logical-semantic analysis, hermeneutical and comparative methods. This work was done professionally, in compliance with the basic canons of scientific research. The research was carried out in line with modern scientific approaches, the work consists of an introduction containing a statement of the problem, the main part, traditionally starting with a review of theoretical sources and scientific directions, a research and a final one, which presents the conclusions obtained by the author. The theoretical material is supported by language examples based on the material of the English language. Russian Russian bibliography includes 9 sources, including theoretical works exclusively in Russian and 1 in Arabic without translation of the title into Russian. This amount is clearly insufficient for such fundamental work. We believe that the lack of foreign works in English does not allow the work to enter the global scientific paradigm. Unfortunately, the article does not contain references to fundamental works such as PhD and doctoral dissertations. In general, it should be noted that the article is written in a simple, understandable language for the reader. Typos, grammatical and syntactic errors were not detected. The comments made are not significant and do not affect the overall positive impression of the reviewed work. The practical significance of the research lies in the possibility of using its results in the process of teaching university courses in linguistics and the history of linguistics, phonology. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities. The article "The doctrine of language and speech sounds in the works of Al-Jahiz and A.A. Potebni: similarities and differences" can be recommended for publication in a scientific journal.
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