A quantitative and stylo-statistical approach to the phono-semantic structure of two companion-prayers of the Qurʾān: al-falaq and al-nās

Afnan H. Fatani



This paper is a linguistic investigation of al-Falaq and al-Nās, two companion-prayers in the Qurʾān. Although both prayers exhibit a marked symmetry on both lexical and phonological levels, this sym-metry has not been extensively studied by scholars due to the highly familiar nature of these two short prayers. Immediately noticeable on the phonological scale is the highly cacophonous and staccato rhythms of al-Falaq, which appear to be produced by a profusion of fricatives (/f/, /kh/) and plosives (/q/, /b/, /d/), combined with a scarcity of nasals and glides. In contrast, al-Nās has a much smoother sound patterning as a result of the profusion of nasals and sibilants. This striking numerical difference in the phonological configuration of these two companion-prayers leads us to suspect the presence of phonosymbolism or a correlation between phonological patterning and subject matter. In other words, this variation can be accounted for by shifts in subject matter from the dynamic process of "splitting" in al-Falaq to the movements of the Hisser (Satan) in al-Nās. Subjecting the phonological data in both texts to simple statistical checks will allow us to be sure that these observed patterns are indeed statistically significant and not attributed simply to chance variability. The perspective that I am adopting here is stylo-statistical, where the main purpose is to devise a measure that is not only statistically satisfactory but stylistically interesting as well.


Arabic phonosymbolism, phonological symmetry, stylo-statistics, Arabic Qurʾān, iconicity, functions of fricatives and plosives

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