Man is Not the Only Speaking Animal: Thresholds and Idiom in al-Jahiz

First paragraph from the article

Al-Jāḥiẓ was a theologian who wrote in a literary manner. By this I mean that he used the full range of the Arabic language, including technical, idiomatic, ambiguous, unambiguous, connotative and direct expressions. A flexible use of language often invades passages of tight dialectical argumentation in his works, bringing together what might seem to be contrary ways of thinking. This essay* is one foray into the difficult question of how al-Jāḥiẓ understood the relationship between idiom and logic, and between the semantic drift of literary language and the practice of dialectic with its defined terms. It addresses a particular case where al-Jāḥiẓ seems to use idiom and onomatopoeia to argue a point that he elsewhere contradicts in straightforward language, namely the idea that animals “speak.” That the context is a classification, typically a site of technical and defined usages, only makes the passage more confusing.



  • Shawkat M. Toorawa
  • Joseph E. Lowry

Publication Type

Book Name

Arabic Humanities, Islamic Thought. Essays in Honor of Everett K. Rowson