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Fri Oct 10 2008
Review: General Linguistics: Benmamoun (2007)
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Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics XIX
Message 1: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics XIX
From: Ignacy Nasalski <ignacy.nasalskiuj.edu.pl>
Subject: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics XIX
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EDITOR: Benmamoun, Elabbas
TITLE: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics XIX
SUBTITLE: Papers From The Nineteenth Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics,
Urbana, Illinois, April 2005
SERIES: Current Issues in Linguistics Theory 289
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Ignacy Nasalski, Institute of Oriental Philology, Jagiellonian-University Cracow
This book is a collection of papers presented at the Nineteenth Annual Symposium
on Arabic Linguistics held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in
March 2005. The presented papers cover a variety of topics ranging from the
traditional phonological morphological, syntactical and lexical studies, to the
advanced corpus research and computational linguistics.
The book preface is written by the Editor Elabbas Benmamoun, an Arabic linguist
from the University of Illinois, Urbana. The book itself is divided into three
sections containing fourteen chapters. Section I ''Computational and Corpus
Linguistics'' includes five papers that deal with computational and corpus-based
studies of Arabic. Section II ''Phonology, Morphology and Syntax'' contains five
chapters, too, and it focuses on Arabic phonology as well as on morphological
and syntactical aspects. In the third Section ''Sociolinguistics and Second
Language Acquisition'' four papers are presented and the main interest is put on
phenomena like multilingualism, linguistic diversity, social aspects of the
language use and the acquisition of Arabic as a second language.
The first paper ''Systematicity in the Arabic Mental Lexicon'' by Ilana Bromberg
deals with the relation between the phonetic form of a word and its meaning. The
study is based on the analysis of 1000 words selected for their frequency from
the Linguistic Data Consortium's distribution of the Arabic Gigaword Corpus, a
resource comprising four Arabic newspapers, specifically _Agence France Press_.
Bromberg demonstrates that there is - to some extant, at least - a predictable
correlation between the semantic and phonetic dimension of the Arabic lexicon.
She argues moreover that this systematicity is most probably encoded in the
brain. Finally she concludes that this sort of systematicity may thus facilitate
language acquisition, since it ''must be a built-in characteristic of language,
one that exists to aid the learner, the hearer, and the speaker'' (p. 15).
The second paper ''Arabic PAPPI: A Principles and Parameters Parser'' is written
by Sandiway Fong and it describes the properties of PAPPI, a freely-available
and extensible multilingual parser, that is implemented to examine the Arabic
clause structure analyzed in the Principles and Parameters (P&P) framework. The
author develops a parser that captures patterns relating to clause structure,
word order, agreement, placement of verbs and the like. He demonstrates ''how a
sample Arabic parser can be quickly produced (...) [and] how language-particular
constrains such as the AGR criterion can be defined in a multilingual parsing
system'' (p. 34).
The next paper by Salem Ghazali, ''Corpus-based Linguistic Analyses: Testing
Intuitions about Arabic Structure and Use'', is an extensive study of the
distribution of a number of Arabic words and grammatical particles. After
examining diverse sorts of collocations and colligation patterns, based mainly
on two exemplary words, i.e. the verb awshaka and the particle (wa-)qad,
Ghazali demonstrates that some nearly synonymous words can have different
distributions depending on the co-occurrence of other words and expressions.
Such results prove the limits of the regular studies of the Arabic lexicon based
on normal dictionary definitions.
The paper ''Learning Arabic Morphology Using Statistical Constraint-Satisfaction
Models'' by Paul Rodriguez & Damir Cavar deals with a machine learning model of
Arabic morphology. The authors propose an unsupervised constraint-based,
statistical learning model that approaches Arabic morphological parsing with a
segmental approach and does not rely on the use of a dictionary. They argue that
the success rate of the model in learning the root system and deciding whether a
consonant is part of the Semitic root morphology can be predicted with 75%
precision. These results apply, however, to the three-radical roots only, and
correlate, interestingly, with ''Zipf's law'', one of the most fundamental ideas
in the computational linguistics that states that longer words contain more
semantic information, while shorter words are more frequent.
In the last paper in the first section, ''Learning to Use the Prague Arabic
Dependency Treebank'', six Czech authors: Otokar Smrz, Petr Pajas, Zdenek
Zabokrtský, Jan Hajic, Jiri Mírovský and Petr Nemec investigate practical
aspects of using the PADT data and the computational tools in original research.
The corpus of PADT consists of morphologically and analytically annotated
newswire texts in Modern Standard Arabic based on the Arabic Gigaword. The
authors discuss the data structures of the PADT available from the Linguistics
Data Consortium (LDC) and analyze the working of the corpus and its annotated
data by focusing on the Arabic improper annexation as a part of the Construct
Section II starts with the paper ''Intonational and Rhythmic Patterns across the
Dialect Continuum'' by Salem Ghazali, Rym Hamdi and Khouloud Knis. The three
authors compare different aspects of the supra-segmental or prosodic variations,
such as vowel duration, syllable structure, speech rhythm and intonation across
various Arabic dialects spoken in western and eastern regions of the Arab world.
One of the conclusions is, for instance, that while the eastern dialects exhibit
the declination phenomenon, Moroccan Arabic does not. On the other hand, Iraqi
Arabic is characterized by the predominance of the falling pattern (HL), which
is encountered to a limited extent in Saudi Arabic, but is almost absent from
Abdessatar Mahfoudhi in his paper ''Roots and Patterns in Arabic Lexical
Processing'' explores the morphology of the Arabic root from a psycholinguistic
perspective. He starts with the review of the longstanding discussion whether
the lexical relations in Arabic are root-based (e.g. McCarthy 1981) or
stem-based (e.g. Benmamoun 1999). As a result of his experimental research
(three appendices of the stimuli used in the study/experiment are attached to
the paper) he comes to the conclusion that the root has a priming effect, which
cannot be said about the patterns, both sound and weak. On the whole, the
results of the Mahfoudhi's studies ''tend to support a morpheme-based theory of
Arabic morphology and a morpheme-based theory of lexical processing'' (p. 138).
The next paper ''Affrication in North Arabic Revisited'', presented by Eiman
Mustafawi, is framed within the Optimality Theoretic framework and deals with
affrication of the voiced velar stop [g] to [j] in Qatari Arabic. The author
observes that the affrication process is limited to the stem and occurs only
within restricted paradigms, i.e. it does not apply to broken plurals, verbs and
participles. She argues further on, that affrication is confined to contexts
where the voiced velar stop is adjacent to high front vowel [i(i)], and not to
any other front vowels, as suggested in previous analyses.
Hamid Ouali and Catherine Fortin in their paper ''The Syntax of Complex Tense in
Moroccan Arabic'' discuss the clause structure in Arabic within the P&P framework
and its minimalist manifestation. They focus on complex tenses in Moroccan
Arabic and the dependency relation that exist between tense and aspect in MA.
They present an innovative idea that ''the properties of Moroccan Arabic complex
tense clauses, in which both the auxiliary and lexical verb are fully inflected
for tense aspect and agreement, are accounted for with a biclausal structure''
The next paper ''On Agree and Postcyclic Merge in Syntactic Derivation: First
Conjunct Agreement in Standard Arabic'' by Usama Soltan is also presented from
the perspective of the minimalist version of the P&P framework. Though, contrary
to the previous authors, Soltan is interested chiefly in Modern Standard Arabic
and tries to account for why agreement is with the first conjunct when the
latter is in the postverbal position, i.e. in the VS order. He asks an old
question why agreement in the SV pattern is with whole conjunct and concludes
that full agreement follows from the assumption that the real subject is a
pronominal that is related to the preverbal conjunct.
Section III concerning sociolinguists and second language acquisition begins
with the paper ''Null Subjects Use by English and Spanish Learners of Arabic as
L2'' by Mohammad T. Alhawary, who examines sentences without overt subject and
their status in the language of Arabic learners whose first language is Spanish
or English. Both languages vary significantly, since Spanish, like Arabic but
contrary to English, has a null subject. The focus of attention here is the
phenomenon of transfer and particularly the distribution of the null subject in
the production of Arabic data by speakers of both languages who have no previous
contact with Arabic. One of the surprising results is the striking difference in
the production data for beginners, because the native English speakers acquired
the use of agreement inflection and null subjects in the Arabic earlier than
native Spanish speakers, which further indicates - as claimed by Alhawary - ''a
close correlation between development of null subjects and development of verbal
agreement inflection'' (p. 241).
Maher Bahloul in his paper ''Linguistic Diversity: The Qaaf across Arabic
Dialects'' presents a rather unique (since the studies presenting dialectal
variation across all or the majority of Arabic dialects are rare), and
elaborated overview of the distribution of the phoneme /q/ and its many variants
in eighteen Arabic dialects from the Maghreb to the Gulf (however, the dialects
of Mauretania, Western Sahara, Somalia, Djibouti and Comoros, were omitted due
to a lack of informants). The study has been based on questionnaires distributed
among undergraduate and graduated college students and teachers in Sharjah,
Tunisia and USA. The author gives an outline of well known variants of /q/ in
their geographical distribution and according to the urban vs. rural split.
Interestingly, ''the voiced velar stop variant [g] is omnipresent; it is followed
by the voiceless uvular stop [q] which appears in twelve of the eighteen
dialects. The third variant is the glottal stop; it appears in seven of the
eighteen Arabic dialects'' (p. 262). Bahloul argues that the distribution of /q/
and its variants divides the Arab World into five main areas.
Moha Ennaji in the paper ''Arabic Sociolinguistics and Cultural Diversity in
Morocco'' takes up the old issue of multilingualism in Arabic and its relation to
multiculturalism, and spotlights the sociolinguistic situation in Morocco where
at least four languages compete for space: Moroccan Arabic, Standard Arabic,
Berber and French. The author adds to those four languages besides Spanish and
(recently) English also, quite surprisingly, Classical Arabic, and investigates
the language attitudes elicited through interviews and questionnaires. Finally
the conflict situation in its diglossic, quadriglossic and bilingual dimensions
The last paper in the book ''The Gendered Use of Arabic and Other Languages in
Morocco'' is written by Fatima Sadiqi, who studies sociolinguistic and gender
aspects of langue use. The author draws attention to the correlates of
linguistic differentiation with ethnic, socio-economical and educational ones
and investigates the changing position of women in the Moroccan society from the
background of the interplay between Arabic, French and Berber. The author argues
that although Modern Standard Arabic has been a predominantly male language for
a long time, the situation started to change in recent years with empowerment of
women. Berber, on the other hand, is seen by Sadiqi as an instrument of
maintaining the Berber identity. Interestingly, she compares the fate of Berber
with the fate of Moroccan women. While Moroccan Arabic is not associated with
any specific gender, French, Sadiqi claims, is used by women to reflect their
social prestige and by men to assert their economic and political status.
Prepared by a range of researchers from different universities und institutes
from the Czech Republic, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, USA and UEA,
this volume from the invaluable series ''Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics''
presents significant contributions to various fields of Arabic linguistics. It
is a demanding book addressed to advanced linguists. It requires a fair
acquaintance not only with Standard Arabic, but also with at least some of the
spoken dialects as well as with the methodology of computational linguistics
that is frequently referred to throughout the book. Especially the first section
shows clearly that methods from the computational linguistics can effectively be
used with regard to such morphologically and syntactically complicated languages
as Arabic. And indeed, they are used more and more often.
The presented results, especially those pertaining to relation between form and
meaning (Bromberg), synonymous words distribution (Ghazali) or null subjects
(Alhawary), will be most certainly beneficial not only to researchers, but also
to teachers of Arabic. However, as in case of such compilations, different
papers will be of interest for different scholars.
There are, nonetheless, some critical remarks pertaining to some particular
papers that I want to articulate. For instance, the paper by Bromberg (pp.
3-17), although highly interesting in itself, lacks a review list of at least
some of the Arabic examples which the author discusses.
Ennaji expresses a rather controversial opinion that Classical Arabic is ''a
written language that is learned at school'' (p. 268) which is a widespread, but
wrong opinion. Classical Arabic in its morphological, syntactical and lexical
dimensions, as described in some standard treatises like Fleisch (1956) or
Fischer (1987) is confined only to some very rare situations like reciting the
Koran, classical poetry or literature, but certainly not used currently ''in the
mosque, in the Ministry of Justice and of Islamic Affairs'' (p. 269), where the
language in use can be at best labeled as ''modified classical'' (Blanc 1960) if
not simply Standard Arabic with only some classicizing interferences. I missed
also the explanation, why Ennaji uses the term ''quadriglossia'' to refer to the
situation in Morocco, although we have since Kaye (1994) the competing term
One of the main reading obstacles in the book is the fact that the
transcriptions are formatted according to several different standards from one
chapter to another. While the Czech authors (cf. p. 88) use the European
transcription in accordance with the standards of the German Oriental Society
(DMG), others use various English transcription systems. What even more
irritating, the Arabic transcription varies within one and the same paper, as
the in paper by Ghazali (p. 37-61), where one finds three different version of
the same Standard Arabic phoneme jim, and two different versions of the
pharyngal ha' (pp. 38, 39, 42). Incorrect is also the regular transcription of
hazmat al-qat' before the definite article al-, which is especially bizarre in
cases of syntactical unity (pp. 47, 49).
Similar discrepancies can be found in the paper ''Intonational and Rhythmic
Patterns'' (one of the co-authors is again al-Ghazali) where e.g. the word 'day'
is once transcribed as *yum (correctly should be yuum) and another time as juum
(p. 119). In the same paper an incorrect form *barid ('cold', masc.) appears
instead of baarid, whereas a few lines below we find a hybrid *baarda ('cold',
fem.), which is yet again incorrect, since long vowels in dialects are
contracted before two adjacent consonants (VVCC > VCC, so it should be barda).
The editor of the book should have put more emphasis on this aspect.
Benmamoun, E. 1999. Arabic Morphology: the Central Role of the Imperfective.
_Lingua_ 108, p. 175-201.
Blanc, H. 1960. Stylistic Variations in Spoken Arabic: a sample of
Interdialectal Educated Conversation. In C.A. Ferguson (ed.), _Harvard Middle
Eastern Monographs III_, p. 80-160.
Fischer, W. 1987. _Grammatik des Klassischen Arabischen_. Wiesbaden.
Fleisch, H. 1956. _L'Arabe classique. Esquisse d'une structure linguistique_.
Kaye, A. 1994. Formal vs. Informal in Arabic: diglossia, triglossia,
tetraglossia etc., polyglossia - multiglossia viewed as a continuum.
_Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik_ 27, p. 47-65.
McCarthy, J. 1981. A Prosodic Theory of Non-Concatenative Morphology.
_Linguistic Inquiry_ 12, p. 373-418.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ignacy Nasalski is employed at the Institute of Oriental Philology, Jagellonian
University of Cracow, Poland, where he works on sociolinguistic and
socio-cultural problems of the modern Arab World. He has published among others
the book _Die politische Metapher im Arabischen. Untersuchungen zur Semiotik und
Symbolik der politischen Sprache am Beispiel Aegyptens_ (Harrassowitz 2004).
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