The Sub-Disciplines of Arabic

If you think about it, there is a lot involved in language (any language). The renowned Andalusian historian and sociologist Ibn Khaldun (d. 808 H / 1406 CE) enumerated four major areas in the study of the Arabic language:

  1. Lexicology اللغة
  2. Grammar النحو
  3. Rhetoric الببان
  4. Literature الأدب

Of course, each of these has numerous sub-disciplines and areas. How many sub-disciplines are there in all? Several writers gave twelve as a number for sub-disciplines, with some composing lines of poetry summarizing them for easy memorization, e.g. Egyptian educationist and writer Ahmad al-Hashimi (d. 1943 CE) wrote:

نحو وصرف عروض ثم قافية ** وبعدها لغة قرض وإنشـــــــــاء 
خط بيان معان مع محاضــــرة ** والاشتقاق لها الآداب أسماء 

However, it is possible to identify other disciplines beyond these twelve. Below, I present a fourteen-fold taxonomy, arranged these under a modified version Ibn Khaldun’s higher-level categories: I have added one category (‘Media,’ which deals with the sounds and script of the language), and collapsed Lexicology and Grammar into a single category ‘Words.’ For some disciplines, I list prominent sub-disciplines. In future blog posts, I might explain some of disciplines that are less familiar (name-wise or content-wise) to many people.


  1. Sounds: Phonology
    • Phonology `ilm al-aṣwāt
    • Phonetics (including Qur’anic Phonetics `ilm al-tajwīd)
  1. Script: Orthography (`ilm al-rasm / al-khaṭṭ)


  1. Origin, Coinage (`ilm al-waḍ`)
  2. Meaning
    • Lexicology (matn al-lughah)
    • Triconsonantal Semantic Patterns `ilm al-ishtiqāq
  1. Internal Structure of Words: Morphology (`ilm al-ṣarf)
  2. Terminal Variations on Words: Syntax (`ilm al-naḥw)
  • Rules of Syntax qawa`id al-naḥw
  • Meta-Grammar `ilal al-naḥw / uṣul al-naḥw


  1. Linguistic Pragmatics (`ilm al-ma`anī)
  2. Imagery, Figurative Expression (`ilm al-bayān)
  3. Rhetorical Embellishments (`ilm al-badī`)


  • Poetry

  1. Prosody, Metrics (`ilm al-`arūḍ)
  2. Rhymes (`ilm al-qawāfī)
  3. Writing Poetry (qarḍ al-shi`r)
  • Prose

  1. Composition (al-inshā’)
  2. Public Speaking (al-khaṭābah / al-muādara)


– Suheil Laher


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