Al-Jahiz on Misarticulation

30 Nov 2017

The Kitāb al-Bayān wa-l-Tabyīn (The Book of Clear Communication) by Abū ʿUthmān al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 255/868) is an encyclopaedic study of communication and its place within human societies—specifically of communication through Arabic, the language of divine revelation, and its place within the ʿAbbasid polity. God’s use of Arabic in the Qurʾān endowed the community of Muslims with a special status. The proper use of Arabic was central to how man fully and appropriately thanked God for His gift of creation. It was also central to how the Qurʾān was properly recited and explicated. This article presents a translation of the majority of a chapter from the first volume of Kitāb al-Bayān wa-l-Tabyīn in which al-Jāḥiẓ explores the phenomenon of misarticulation (luthghah). His exploration of this phenomenon touches on phonetics, physiology and anatomy, speech disorders (considered by al-Jāḥiẓ to be ‘defects’), linguistic barbarisms, and mimicry, and thus it becomes an exposition of what clear communication is not.