LINGUIST List 16.2221|
Wed Jul 20 2005
Review: Textbook/Semitic Lang: Schulz (2005)
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara
What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley at collberglinguistlist.org.
A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
Message 1: A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
From: Otakar Smrz <smrzckl.ms.mff.cuni.cz>
Subject: A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
AUTHOR: Schulz, Eckehard
TITLE: A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-407.html
Iveta Kourilova, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of
West Bohemia, Pilsen
Otakar Smrz, Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics, Charles
University in Prague
According to the publisher as well as the author, this book is
supposed to be a clearly organized and user-friendly guide to Modern
Standard Arabic and an invaluable reference resource for all learners
and teachers of this language. It is advertised as a concise grammar
keeping theory to a minimum, yet, intended to be used by beginning
as well as advanced students, scholars in linguistics or related fields,
or even Arabs brought up and educated in the English-speaking
environment and themselves finding difficulties when consulting
traditional Arabic grammars during their study of Arabic.
At the same time, in the author's words, "the book assumes that the
user already knows Arabic and should be able to deduce the rule in
question from the examples quoted." That is why not all the rules are
explained in detail.
The author states in the preface that the book is based on
contemporary professional practice, i.e., the type of modern Arabic
used in newspapers, magazines, official and business
communications, as well as on the internet.
However, the reader does not find much evidence of that. Many
examples provided in the book have an undeniable flavor of the
previous works produced by the Leipzig group of Arabists (Schulz et
al. 2000, and the previous German editions), and it cannot compare to
the descriptive grammar of (Badawi et al. 2004), which is based on
texts from the 1990s, also with a preference for texts other than high
The focus of the reviewed book is on the standard written usage of
Arabic, and no discussion of its dialects is included.
The book is divided into four major parts:
I. Letters, pronunciation, auxiliary signs, writing
Part I covers the basic phonological and orthographic characteristics
Part II describes the morphology of verbs, by first introducing the
verbal grammatical categories like tense, mood, or voice, and then
presenting the conjugational patterns by means of paradigm tables,
with occasional remarks on their usage. The explanation goes from
sound verbs (in the basic and the extended/derived verbal forms) to
hamzated verbs, doubled verbs, and weak verbs (assimilated, hollow,
defective, doubly weak). Verbs of both triliteral and quadriliteral roots
are considered to the necessary extent.
Part III concerns nouns, which are viewed from a rather traditional
Arabic perspective. This class of words includes infinitives (i.e.
masdars), participles, diminutives and other derived nouns (of place
and time, of instruments, vehicles, etc.), collective nouns, proper
names; it also includes adjectives of numerous kinds, adverbs and
adverbial constructions, pronouns, prepositions, and particles. No
sooner than at the end of this part, the grammatical categories of
gender and number are discussed in more length, and the declension
principles are outlined in a more compact manner.
Part IV starts with the explanation of the definite article (the author
states, on page 126, that "there is no indefinite article in Arabic"), the
genitive construction, improper annexation, and the elative. Then, the
author devotes ten pages to the use of accusative. Following is a
table of doubly transitive verbs, which is one of the more interesting
sections of this book. Further, the various means of expressing
negation in Arabic are described.
Another chapter of Part IV analyzes these types of sentences and
clauses: nominal, verbal, objective, conditional, exceptive, temporal,
concessive, adversative, restrictive, clauses of reason, and relative
clauses. The final chapters of the book deal with the expression of
cardinal and ordinal numbers.
The book includes two indices, English and Arabic, for linguistic
terminology and selected expressions in either of the languages.
Cross-references are given throughout the book, although their
targets do not always match the entries in the index; sometimes, the
user would rather have to browse through the table of contents, or
search the index for the individual words of the cross-reference.
The inclusion of Arabic linguistic terminology both in the text and in the
index of the book is certainly helpful to learners when attending Arabic
language courses in the Arab world.
Surprisingly, there is no bibliography referring to the grammars,
dictionaries and other sources that the author consulted during the
preparation of the book. Neither is there any list of recommended
literature for further study.
As might have already become apparent, the book does not meet our
expectations. It does not even fit to how the author and the publisher
Even though the structure of the book may seem logical at first glance,
one can discover soon that the author's explanations are very
unsystematic. They give the impression that the author put them
together piece by piece without reconsidering the overall result with
respect to clarity, consistency, and completeness.
For example, on page 157, there is a subsection on "Subject in the Accusative"
after the particles ['inna], ['anna], etc. It is followed by ten more
subsections dealing with other uses of accusative. On page 160, the author
recurs to the same topic and devotes a subsection to "Particles Followed by the
Accusative ['akhawaatu 'inna]", the kind of information that the reader should
be able to find while learning about subjects in the accusative.
Or, on page 45 concerning perfect conjugation of defective verbs, the author
diverts to explaining how ['alif maq.suura], found in this group of verbs,
transforms into ['alif] in nouns followed by affixed pronouns. Those examples
are at that moment irrelevant to verbs, and the transformation itself is
governed by much more general rules of phonology and orthography, which are yet
never mentioned in the book.
The late introduction of the definite article (in Part IV - Syntax), the
discussion of nominal morphological categories (beginning on page
113, long after a passage on agreement on page 84) and the survey
of nominal declension paradigms (in the middle of the book), are just
some other instances of the same problem, when the ordering of
information in the grammar book is not natural and the internal
references are essentially insufficient.
The author tends to formulate rules that are only partial or not as general as
they could be. One of the very first observations in the section "Construct and
Genitive" that he points out is: "If the word in the construct state terminates
in [taa' marbuu.ta], the [taa' marbuu.ta] changes into [-tu] in the nominative,
into [-ti] in the genitive, into [-ta] in the accusative." However, this is by
no means the property of [taa' marbuu.ta] -- it is the mere declension in case
of a nominal in the construct state.
On the other hand, there are also cases of overgeneralization,
inaccuracies and misleading statements. On page 175, we learn
that "if the verb precedes the subject, there is always [!!!] agreement
in gender." Half a page later, we learn that "it [the masculine form] can
be used if the (feminine) subject does not follow the verb immediately."
Likewise, affixed pronouns also happen to be confused by the author. He lists
[y] as the 1st person singular form for direct object pronouns, which is wrong.
It should be [nii]; this fundamental form is simply missing in the book. [y],
i.e. [ii] and [ya], are possessive pronouns. One can find possessive pronouns in
the section entitled "Affixed Pronouns (Direct object pronoun suffixes)", page 93.
The book is littered with dozens of misspellings and vocalization errors in the
Arabic script ([al-ficlu ghayru al-mutacaddiiyu] instead of [al-mutacaddii],
[bi-.suuratin ghayri rasmiiyin] instead of [rasmiiyatin]), while there is no
parallel transliteration that could otherwise resolve the dubious cases and
excuse some as unintentional typos. For a learner, there is no way of finding
that e.g. the patterns of passive participles on page 65 are wrong: [madcuwun],
[madcuwatun], [mam^siyatun], [malqiyatun] should all include a [^sadda] and
become [madcuuwun], [madcuuwatun], [mam^siiyatun], [malqiiyatun].
Another unfortunate and very authoritative 'typo', as if an attempt to describe
the underlying transformation, but unfinished and resulting in a gross error:
"my teachers" in nominative equated to [mucallimuuya], instead of [mucallimiiya]
(page 95; cf. Fischer 2001, par. 269 c).
In addition, the book contains several other huge grammatical errors, such as
[kataba lii 'an sa-ya.sila al-wafdu ghadan], which is to mean "he wrote to me
that the delegation would (or was (due) to) arrive tomorrow".
It is disappointing that a grammar book features misspellings in such an extent,
and that the Cambridge University Press have not tried to keep to their
editorial standards. Schulz's use of [hamza] with definite articles and words
with [hamzat al-wa.sl] / prosthetic vowels is considered a gross error by many
linguistic authorities (even though (Fischer 2001) does not respect that either,
for reasons that might well be other than linguistic).
The author's "keeping theory to the minimum" turns out not to be a
virtue at all. By refusing to introduce deeper concepts, he does not
simplify -- he breaks the logic of the matter. For instance, he always
refers to the verbal perfect and imperfect as 'tense', not 'form', which
forces him into cumbersome formulations to try to distinguish both,
like "the Arabic perfect tense does not actually express a certain
tense; it merely states the verbal action" vs. "the imperfect tense is
actually neutral regarding tense and merely describes the verbal
action in its course". He even never uses the notion of functions and
forms in language, nor does he talk about verbal aspect.
While the book should cover Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and not concern
dialects, in the survey of doubly weak verbal forms (pages 53 to 56), the author
hastily, and only here, includes very non-MSA expressions ("native speakers
prefer") as conversational alternatives to the imperatives of 'come' and 'see':
[tacaal], [tacaalii], [tacaaluu], and [^suuf], [^suufii], [^suufuu]. Arguably,
such a departure is not didactical at all. In MSA, one can use [tacaala],
[tacaalay], [tacaalaw], and [un.zur], [un.zurii], [un.zuruu].
In summary, we find the quality of the book too unsatisfactory for us to
recommend this work to anyone who studies Arabic. It is not written in
a systematic way; it is neither reliable, nor up-to-date. The book is
also not easy to consult.
The recently published Arabic grammars that we do recommend
include Badawi (2004), Holes (2004), and Fischer (2001).
Elsaid Badawi, Mike G. Carter, Adrian Gully (2004): Modern Written
Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge.
Wolfdietrich Fischer (2001): A Grammar of Classical Arabic. Yale
Language Series. Yale University Press, third revised edition.
Translated by Jonathan Rodgers.
Clive Holes (2004): Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and
Varieties. Georgetown Classics in Arabic Language and Linguistics.
Georgetown University Press.
Günther Krahl, Wolfgang Reuschel, Eckehard Schulz (2001):
Lehrbuch des modernen Arabisch, Neuausgabe, Langenscheidt
Günther Krahl, Wolfgang Reuschel, Dieter Blohm (1990): Lehrbuch
des modernen Arabisch 1, Langenscheidt Verlag Enzyklopädie.
Günther Krahl, Wolfgang Reuschel, Dieter Blohm (1989): Lehrbuch
des modernen Arabisch 2, Langenscheidt Verlag Enzyklopädie.
Eckehard Schulz, Günther Krahl, Wolfgang Reuschel (2000):
Standard Arabic: An Elementary-Intermediate Course, Cambridge
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS
Iveta Kourilova is a Senior Lecturer of Arabic in the Department of
Middle Eastern Studies, University of West Bohemia, Pilsen. She
studied Arabic extensively at Damascus University, Alexandria
University, Cairo University, as well as the Bourguiba Institute in Tunis.
She is currently a Fulbright Visiting Scholar affiliated with the Middle
East Institute and Georgetown University.
Otakar Smrz is a Researcher in the Institute of Formal and Applied
Linguistics, Charles University in Prague. He is the head of the Prague
Arabic Dependency Treebank project, and specializes in formal
description of Modern Standard Arabic. He is currently a Fulbright
Visiting Scholar at the Linguistic Data Consortium, University of
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