A Hypertext edition of The Kitāb of Sībawayhi.


The aim of the Sībawayhi Project is to produce a Hypertext edition of the Kitāb of Sībawayhi, the earliest and most important work of grammar in Arabic. The Project was initiated in 1997 by Prof. Michael G. Carter, Dept. of East European & Oriental Studies, Oslo University, Norway, with the financial support of the Norwegian Research Council and the Oslo University Communication, Technology and Culture Initiative.

Since then there has been intensive cooperation between Oslo University (Prof. Michael G. Carter) and the University of Bergen (Prof. Joseph. N. Bell, Head of the Dept. of Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures) in Norway on the one side and the Institute of Oriental Studies, St.Petersburg Branch (Dr. Efim Rezvan, Deputy Director of the Institute), and St.Petersburg State University (Dr. Alexander S. Matveev) in Russia on the other.

For Stage Two of the Project we were joined by Dr. Lutz Edzard from Bonn (now Professor in Oslo), generously supported by funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Under his hand the last seven chapters of the Kitāb have been made available in the same format as the first seven.

The third stage was to start a second edition in Sydney, converting all the existing files to Unicode, and hopefully to go on to complete the digitisation of the entire work. Funds were sought for this purpose, but to no avail, see New Developments, Stage Three. We will keep trying: at least the conversion to Unicode was carried out, as an after-hours private activity.


The Kitāb is the earliest and most influential of all Arabic grammatical texts, and still dominates Arabic linguistic thinking today. Yet it has never been satisfactorily printed: none of the five editions to date (from Calcutta 1887 to Beirut 1967) have any convincing scholarly authenticity.

The work presents peculiar difficulties which make it an ideal specimen for a Hypertext edition. For example, the text is famous for the thousands of glosses it has attracted: in a Hypertext version all these glosses can be attached to the text in an accessible way which is impossible in traditional printed form (cf. the Girgas and Rosen edition in this Demo and compare it with the manuscript C on which it is based). There are also hundreds of variants, not all of them trivial (see the note on faras)

Stages One and Two of the Project, this present Demo, consist of a re-publication of chapters 1-7 and 565-571 of the Kitāb, the first and last chapters of the work, dealing with general theoretical presuppositions and phonology respectively. They were chosen because they have an inner organic unity and have attracted sufficient Arabic commentary and European secondary literature to provide an excellent module with which to test the effectiveness of the Project (see Works contained in this Demo). By scanning and OCR of the printed editions, translations of and commentaries on the Kitāb, all the material available has been converted into an electronic form and stored in HTML format. The respective HTML files and scanned images of manuscript pages have been connected by Hypertext links, thus providing the reader with full information about the text and its variants available at the present stage of scholarship.


In the long term the Project envisions an electronically stored text marked in such a way that by clicking on a word (probably with an accompanying menu selection), the user can call up any variant, gloss, translation, location of original manuscript or reference to secondary literature, etc. In other words, a complete critical library will become attached to the text, which it is planned to make electronically accessible through the WWW. The usual search features will also be available, and it is assumed that as the Project progresses the browsing facilities, currently rather primitive, will evolve to the point where the Hypertext edition can be properly exploited for scholarly purposes.

Only time will tell whether the change of medium also results in a change in scholarship itself: there is a preliminary discussion of these issues in M. G. Carter, 'The Platonic edition: some consequences of computerized editing for text-based scholarship in Arabic grammar', in Manuscripta Orientalia (St. Petersburg) vol. 3, 1997, 54-58.


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