Word counts and aya counts in the Quran

April 1, 2017
Tags: -linguistics
Length: medium

Update 2018-08-22 — Small change it title and title design.

Update 2017-12-31 — New design. Title now in the bottom right.

Another uncalled-for graph. I recently helped a student getting word counts for suras (chapters) in the Quran by running a script on the Quran in plain text downloaded from tanzil.net. I then had this nice little data file and felt I had to do something with it. The result is the document below, which is a graphical representation of the number of words and ayas (verses) in each sura in the Quran. It is intended to be printed on A3-paper. For A4-paper you will need a printer with high resolution since the text will be very small.

The source code for the document can be found here.

Word counts and aya counts of suras in the Quran

I first thought of this as nothing more than an exercise in graph design, using Edward Tufte’s principles of omitting all elements that do not represent any information in order to get a high information to ink ratio. Note for instance that the grid lines are produced by removing ink from the bars rather than adding lines in in the background, and how the two layers of quantitative information, the lines for word and aya counts, share numerical scale on the horizontal axis but with word counts being multiplied by 10. The graph did however also turn out to visualize some interesting aspects of the Quranic text. The suras are often said to be ordered roughly by descending length, except for the first sura. Sura lengths are typically compared by the number of ayas. This is easily done since aya numbers are given in the Quranic text. By this measure the second sura, which is the longest, is roughly one third longer than any other sura. By measuring sura by word count, however, which of course a much better measurement, we see that the second sura, the longest, is in fact around twice as long as the fourth sura, which is the second longest aya.

We also see that there is not clear proportional relation by the number of words and the number of ayas in a sura. The ayas in some suras are very long while they are very short in some ayas. Average length of ayas in a sura ranges from 23.7 in sura 5 (‘The Table’) to 3.3 in sura 80 (‘He Frowned’). For suras where the black line that gives word count is the same length as the gray, thicker line that gives aya count, the average number of words per aya is 10, which is close to the total average of 12.5. Thus, suras for which the black word count line extends far beyond the gray aya count line, the text tends to be prose-like and expository. For suras where the black line is much shorter than the gray line, the text tends to be rhetorically forceful and intense.