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Dossier thématique : Mélanges de linguistique et de métrique en mémoire de Djamel Eddine Kouloughli
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The “Zamaḫšarian lan”, a review of the evidence

Michael G. Carter
p. 51-64


There is an old sectarian accusation that al‑Zamaḫšarī (d. 538/1144) interpreted lan “not” as denoting perpetual negation, with the heretical (i.e. Mu‛tazilite) theological implication that lan tarānī in Sūra 7 v. 143 denies the Beatific Vision to believers in the afterlife. This paper argues that al‑Zamaḫšarī himself never made such an assertion. He was certainly aware that negation in perpetuity could be expressed by abadan and similar temporal qualifiers, but when he does discuss lan it is always as a purely future negative with strong emphasis, which he refers to as ta’kīd or tawkīd, and the term ta’bīd [al‑nafy] “perpetual [negation]” is not found in any of those works of his which were accessible for this article. As the valuable study by al‑Bu‛aymī shows, that idea was already in circulation at least half a century before al‑Zamaḫšarī’s time, but he is not explicitly connected with it by name until Ibn Mālik (d. 672/1274), later enthusiastically followed by Ibn Hišām (d. 761/1360). This suggests that the heretical parsing of lan may have been attributed to al‑Zamaḫšarī retrospectively by opponents of his Mu‛tazilite position, a polemical fabrication which ever since has been accepted without question in both the Arab and Western grammatical traditions.

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First lines

This paper is inspired by Kouloughli’s 2007 edition of al‑Zamaḫšarī’s al‑Unmūḏaǧ fī al‑naw, which makes accessible, by its text, translation and notes, the essence of Arabic syntax, and thus unites the two linguistic traditions of the Arab and the Western worlds.

One notion for which al‑Zamaḫšarī is well known — indeed notorious in some quarters — is the assertion that the particle lan signifies negation in perpetuity, taʾbīd al‑nafy, the so‑called lan al‑zamaḫšariyya. This heretical proposition enraged the orthodox to a point where, as this paper will argue, it was introduced retrospectively into the manuscript tradition even though it is extremely unlikely that al‑Zamaḫšarī himself ever made such a claim for lan.

Before going any further, it is necessary to point out that for a number of reasons, particularly of time pressure and inaccessibility of material, the contents of this paper rely on only a fraction of the relevant primary sources, mainly al‑Zamaḫšarī’s Kaššāf, Mufaṣṣal an...

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Bibliographical reference

Michael G. Carter, « The “Zamaḫšarian lan”, a review of the evidence », Bulletin d’études orientales, LXV | 2017, 51-64.

Electronic reference

Michael G. Carter, « The “Zamaḫšarian lan”, a review of the evidence », Bulletin d’études orientales [Online], LXV | 2017, Online since 01 April 2019, connection on 17 January 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/beo.4799

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About the author

Michael G. Carter

Sydney University

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© Institut français du Proche-Orient

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