~ ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی ~

Chapter Twenty-Two

page separator

XXII. The Origin of the Ordinary Arts

129. It is evident that the meanings understood by these people are all rhetorical, since all of them are based on unexamined opinion; their premises, utterances, and sentences are all at first rhetorical also. Rhetorical means, then, are the very first things to arrive. With the passage of time, incidents occur requiring them to [fashion] speeches and parts of speeches. These continue to develop gradually until, of the syllogistic arts, the art of rhetoric first emerges in their midst. With its growth, or after its growth, there begins the use of the meanings’ paradigms and images as means of making them understood or as substitutes for them, and so poetical meanings emerge. This use continues to grow little by little until gradually poetry is created. Of the syllogistic arts, the art of poetry develops in their midst owing to the human being’s natural inclination to seek out order and organization in everything; for utterances’ rhythms give them a certain ornament, harmony, and organization in relation to the [length of] time it takes to utter them. So with the passage of time there develops also the art of poetry. Thus there develop in their midst these two syllogistic arts [of rhetoric and poetry] which are two [of the three] syllogistic arts that are meant for everyone.

130. [143] Furthermore, they extend the range of speeches and poems and use them to narrate historical reports about past and current affairs they need [to preserve]. Thus oral transmitters of speeches and oral transmitters of poems emerge in their midst as well as those who memorize the historical reports narrated in these forms. These persons will be the ones who use correct language in that nation and its eloquent persons: they become that nation’s first wise men, the ones who govern it, and those to whom recourse is had concerning the language of that nation.

They are the persons also who combine for that nation utterances previously not combined and establish these as synonyms for current utterances. They make extensive and frequent use of this [process], developing uncommon utterances familiar to themselves, which they learn from one another and which every generation of them adopts on the authority of its elders. Along with this, they turn also to matters that fall under a certain genus or species, yet do not happen to have been named: sometimes they notice certain coincidences and contrive names for them. Similarly, they turn to things for which there was not urgent need and on that account did not happen to have names, and they combine [utterances to make] names for them. Aside from them, the rest of that nation is not familiar with these names; thus all of this will be uncommon. These, then, are the persons who reflect on this nation’s utterances and correct those of them that are defective. They look for what was difficult [144] to pronounce the way it was first coined, making it easier to pronounce; for what is unpleasant to the ear, making it pleasant to hear. And [they look] for what becomes
(1) difficult to pronounce when placed in certain combinations – a difficulty the originators did not notice and could not be familiar with because it did not arise in their time - or
(2) unpleasant to the ear, and they resort to remedies in both cases till they make the former easier to pronounce and the latter pleasing to hear.
They look for the various classes of combinations and arrangements that are possible in their utterances, consider which of them more perfectly signify the combination and arrangement of the meanings in the soul, pick these out and draw attention to them, and leave aside the rest, not using them except when necessity demands.

At this point this nation’s utterances become more correct than they were, and the idiom and language of this nation is now perfected. Then the youngster adopts these things on the authority of his elders just as he hears them from his elders. He grows up with them and, along with his contemporaries, becomes accustomed to them until they are so firmly established in him that he avoids pronouncing any but the most correct utterances. The succeeding generations memorize the speeches and poems, and the historical reports and moral teachings contained in them, that were current among their predecessors.

131. They will continue to transmit from memory until what they want to memorize becomes extensive and unwieldy. This makes it necessary for them to think of some way to make the transmission easier for themselves. Thus writing is discovered. At first it will be jumbled and then it is improved gradually with the passage of time: it is made to imitate, resemble, and come as close as possible to [spoken] utterances, in the same way as [spoken] utterances were treated earlier and made to resemble the meanings as closely as was possible. They will then use it to record in books what they find difficult to memorize, and what risks being forgotten with the passage of time, what they seek to preserve for their descendants, and what they seek to teach to, and have understood by, those who are far away from them in another country or habitation.

132. [145] Then after that the art of the knowledge of language begins to emerge little by little. Some human being will desire to memorize the single significant utterances [of the language] after having memorized the poems, speeches, and composite sentences. He will try to isolate the utterances after they have been combined. Or, he may wish to gather them up by hearing them from a large number of people and from those who are well known for using the most correct utterances in everything they say, who have labored to memorize their speeches, poems, and historical reports, or who have heard these from the latter. Thus he will hear the utterances from each of these individuals over a long time and write down everything he hears from them and memorize it.

133. It may therefore be necessary that one know who [the speakers] are on whose authority he ought to receive that nation’s language. So we say: it ought to be received on the authority of those whose linguistic and psychical habits have become so firmly established with the passage of time that they avoid imagining or pronouncing letters other than their own and avoid imagining or pronouncing utterances other than those combined from letters that are their own, who heard none but their own language and idiom, or heard them but their minds avoided imagining them and their tongues avoided pronouncing them. As for the ones whose tongues are pliable for pronouncing any letter they wanted foreign to their own letters, any utterance they wanted combined from letters other than their own, and any sentence they wanted composed of utterances other than their own, they run the risk of saying things in a way foreign to the habits originally established among them and become accustomed to this way of saying things. Thus, the way they express themselves becomes foreign to the way their nation expresses itself: it will be wrong, ungrammatical, and incorrect. If additionally they have associated with foreign nations and heard their languages or pronounced them, they will be even more likely to make mistakes and they run the risk of picking up the habit of not following the idiom of the nation to which they belong. Similarly, if those who used to avoid pronouncing and imagining [146] the letters and utterances of other nations - that is, who used to avoid what they had not been habituated to doing in the first place, to violating the patterns and declensions of their own utterances - associate frequently with other nations and hear their letters and utterances, they too run the risk of having their [original] speech habit change and what they hear from others establish itself in them so that there comes a point where one cannot rely on what one hears from them.

134. In every nation the inhabitants of the desert who dwell in large tents of hair or wool and in small tents and in huts constructed of tree branches are too rude and less likely to abandon their established habits. Their souls are more likely to avoid imagining and their tongues pronouncing the letters and utterances of other nations. And other nations are less likely to associate with them on account of their wildness and savagery. The inhabitants of towns and villages and mud houses, on the other hand, are more adaptable. Their souls are more open to understand and conceive of and imagine, and their tongues more ready to comply in pronouncing, that to which they have not become habituated. Therefore when the nation consists of these two groups, it is best that the idioms of the nation be received on the authority of the desert-dwellers. From among these, one should seek out the people who live in the middle of their land; for those who live on the borders are more likely to associate with neighboring nations, so that their idioms become jumbled with the idioms of the latter; or else [they are more likely] to fancy the barbarism of their neighbors. For when they do business with their neighbors, the latter will need to converse in an idiom strange to their own tongues, their tongues will not yield to many of its letters, and so they will resort to expressing the letters that come easily to them, leaving aside what they find difficult. Consequently, their own utterances will be incorrect and will exhibit a strange element and barbarousness taken over from their neighbors’ idioms. When they keep on hearing what is wrong from these neighboring nations and become accustomed to understanding it as if it were right, they risk changing their [speech] habits. Therefore it is not proper to receive a nations’s idiom on the authority of these people. When a nation has no desert-dwellers, its idiom is to be received on the authority of those who dwell in the very central part of its land.

135. [147] You will realize all this clearly when you consider the situation of the Arabs in these things: for they comprise those who dwell in deserts as well as those who dwell in cities and villages. It is when the Arabs settled in cities that they began to develop their language as an art - which process occupied them, for the most part, from the year ninety to the year two hundred of their calender. [0] The persons who attended to it were inhabitants of the Arab cities of Kufa and Basra in the land of Iraq. They transmitted their idiom and its correct usages from the desert-dwellers rather than from the townspeople, more particularly from those desert dwellers who lived in the central part of their land, and from among these, the wildest and rudest, and furthest from submission and compliance - that is, [the tribes of] Qays, Tamim, Asad, and Tayy, and then Hudhayl; for it was largely on the authority of these tribes that the Arabic language was transmitted. Nothing was received on the authority of the rest because they lived on the borders of the Arabs’ land, had associated with other nations, and their tongues had become adapted to complying easily with the utterances of the other nations surrounding them, such as the Ethiopians, Indians, Persians, Syriac speakers, and the people of Syria and the people of Egypt.

136. So [to return to the development of the art of a people’s language], at first the single utterances used by them are to be received until all of them, uncommon as well as current, are collected and memorized or written down, and subsequently all the combinations of utterances used by them in both poems and speeches. Then after that the person who inquires into utterances will begin to reflect on which of these two are similar as single utterances or when combined, and ascertain the different classes of similar utterances, that by virtue of which they are similar in each class, and the concomitances of each class. At this point the utterances’ general [characteristics] and general rules emerge in his soul. For these general [characteristics] of utterances and rules of utterances that have emerged in his soul, one will need utterances with which to express them so that it becomes possible to teach and learn them. At this point one will have to do one of two things: either be inventive and combine letters into utterances that have not been spoken at all before, or transfer - either [148] haphazardly and for no reason, or for a particular reason - some of the utterances that they had used before to signify other meanings. Both of these procedures are possible and in common use, but it is best that one calls the rules by the names of the [primitive] meanings that are most similar to them - by finding out for each one of the rules of utterances a primitive meaning that is most similar to it and calling that general [characteristic] or that rule by the name of this primitive meaning - till in this fashion one calls all those general [characteristics] and rules by the names of similar primitive meanings for which people had names already.

137. Thus they encompass their language and idiom by an art that can be learnt and taught through speech, and it becomes even possible to give reasons for everything they say. The same is true of the scripts they have been using to write their utterances. If there are general [characteristics] and rules concerning them, all these are ascertained and names are sought for all of them so that they can be articulated and it becomes possible to teach and learn them through speech. The utterances that now express those rules will be utterances that are in their secondary setting, while the original utterances were utterances that had been in their primitive setting - that is, utterances that are in their secondary setting are transferred from the meanings they had originally signified.

138. So now they will have five arts: the art of rhetoric, the art of poetry, the capacity for memorizing their historical reports and their poems and of transmitting them orally, the art of the knowledge of their language, and the art of writing. Rhetoric is the excellence of persuading the multitude about things in which the multitude deal, using their limited notions, premises that are generally approved by the multitude on the basis of unexamined opinion, and utterances in their primitive setting as the multitude is accustomed to use them. The poetical art projects images through speech about precisely these things. The art of the knowledge of language comprises only utterances in their primitive setting that signify meanings with which the multitude are familiar and in which they deal, and utterances in their secondary setting by which the meanings and rules [mentioned above] are expressed. The art of writing, too, is the art through which [written] utterances that signify precisely these meanings are marked accurately and preserved.

139. [149] Therefore those who engage in [these five arts] are to be counted with the multitude, for none of them is concerned in his art with anything theoretical nor with any part of the art that rules all the arts in the strict sense. They may well have rulers and ruling arts: the latter are the arts with which one gets to govern their affairs - either an art that serves them by looking after the arts they practice so that each one many attain his purpose from the art he practices and not be obstructed from his purpose, or an art with which their ruler employs them in their arts so that they may attain their [common] purpose from their arts or with which he employs them in their arts so that through them he may attain his purpose and what he craves for himself, such as wealth or honor. His status in relation to them will be the same as the status of someone who rules over agricultural workers in that he has the ability to excel in making efficient use of agricultural workers and to excel in counseling them about agriculture in order that they may attain their purpose from the various sorts of work they do in agriculture or in order that through the various sorts of work they do in agriculture he himself may attain his purpose and what he seeks. This is how he, too, is counted as one of them. The ruler of the multitude and the person who governs their affairs acts in a similar way when he employs them in the particular practical arts, serves them by looking after their arts for them, and in general employs them in those arts for their own sake or for his, or for the benefit of both. Thus he too, is one of them; for his ultimate purpose is their purpose also. His art, then, is precisely their art in genus and species, except that it is the highest in that genus or species. The rulers of the multitude who serve them by looking after the things by virtue of which they are a multitude and employ them in the things by virtue of which they are a multitude are, then, themselves of the multitude when the ruler’s purpose in serving them by looking after those arts and employing them in those arts is the same as their purpose. Whether this is to be attained for himself alone or is to be attained for all of them, he is one of them. The rulers of the multitude who are of this sort are, then, also part of the multitude. This is just another one of the arts of the multitude. It, too, is an ordinary art, except that those who practice it and engage in it count themselves among the elect. The kings of the multitude are, then, also of the multitude.

page separator


[Footnote 0: That is, according to the Anno Hegirae; in the calendar of the Common Era, this would correspond to 709-816.] Back to text