LINGUIST List 24.1459|
Sat Mar 30 2013
Review: Historical Linguistics; Syntax: Sadan (2012)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: Dinha Gorgis <gorgis_3yahoo.co.uk>
Subject: The Subjunctive Mood in Arabic Grammatical Thought
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3441.html
AUTHOR: Arik Sadan
TITLE: The Subjunctive Mood in Arabic Grammatical Thought
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics
REVIEWER: Dinha Tobiya Gorgis, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC)
This book, a revised and abbreviated English version of the author’s M.A. and
Ph.D. dissertations, treats one of the most controversial issues in Arabic
grammar, viz. the subjunctive mood in the verbal system of Classical Arabic
(CA). The other two moods associated with the imperfective verb, the
indicative and the jussive, are treated as options or alternatives to the
subjunctive according to various opinions attributed to mainly medieval Arab
grammarians. So the whole book is an elaborate overview and critical review of
what particles require the following imperfective verb to be assigned the
subjunctive mood or otherwise.
The author divides his work into a preface and eleven chapters, followed by a
discussion and conclusion, a bibliography, two appendices and three indexes.
Each of the first nine chapters, all structured alike, presents one particle,
whether bound or free morpheme. The particles, termed as either primary or
secondary, are generally believed to determine the form of the following
imperfective verb, sometimes called operators. The majority of medieval Arab
grammarians’ examples, notably those of the Basra and Kufic schools, are taken
from spoken varieties of the Bedouins, the Qur’an, ancient Arabic poetry and
very much less on Prophet Mohammad’s speeches, i.e. ḥadīth.
Chapter One, ‘AN (pp. 1-35), is devoted to the primary particle ‘an, which
syntactically Sībawayhi and a host of grammarians consider al-aamil (operator)
that induces the following imperfective verb to take the subjunctive mood,
e.g. qarrara ‘an yaktuba risaalatan li’ummihi ‘He decided to write a letter to
his mother’, where the final a (a diacritic called fatHa) in the verb yaktuba
is this mood marker. Such use expresses futurity. However, most grammarians
argue that ‘an following verbs denoting fear and desire is followed by a verb
in the subjunctive mood (this ‘an being referred to as ‘an al-xafeefa),
whereas ‘an after verbs denoting certain knowledge is followed by a verb in
the indicative mood (this ‘an being referred to as ‘an al-muxaffafa). As for
‘an after verbs denoting doubt, it can be followed by a verb in the
subjunctive or indicative mood (see pp. 29, 34-35). Still, “numerous examples,
many of which are introduced by the grammarians themselves, in which the mood
of the verb following ‘an is not as expected according to the grammarians’ own
rules” (p. 35) are attested as deviations.
Chapter Two, LAN (pp. 37-58), introduces the second primary particle, namely
lan. This is also called an operator with some functions similar to ‘an. But
unlike ‘an, which I regard as a complementizer in generative terms, lan is a
negator of the following imperfective verb with a future meaning, e.g. lan
‘adxula l-maktabata ‘I won’t enter the library’, where the final fatHa in the
verb is the subjunctive mood marker. The jussive mood is possible, but it is
believed to be “due to poetic license” (p. 57). Except for its disputable
etymology, this particle “has not been widely discussed by either grammarians
or modern scholars. One of the reasons seems to be that the common way of
speech requires the following verb in [the subjunctive]” (p. 57).
Chapter Three, KAY (pp. 59-77), discusses another important particle
(operator), viz. kay and its free variant likay (generally meaning ‘in order
to’) and their two corresponding negative forms, kaylaa and likaylaa, e.g.
saafara kay/likay yukmila diraasatahu ‘He traveled in order to continue his
studies’. The general rule dictates that we should assign a fatHa, the
subjunctive mood marker, to the imperfective verb word-finally.
Chapter Four, ‘ḎAN (pp. 79-109), presents conflicting opinions about the
identity of the particle ‘iḏan, also spelt with tanween (nunation).
Disagreements concern not only its two spellings, but also “its definition,
the necessary conditions for its influence on the following verb, [and] its
etymology” (p. 107), among other things. Although the author proposes that
this particle “was originally used as an adverb meaning ‘therefore’ or ‘well’
with no syntactic effect” (p. 107), he admits that it can fulfill two
different roles: that of adverb and operator.
Chapter Five, ‘AW (pp. 112-125), is devoted to the particle ‘aw, basically a
conjunction meaning ‘or’. Sadan, however, states that “[all] grammarians
emphasize that in most sentence types in which ‘aw is followed by a verb in
[the subjunctive], it denotes a meaning other than ‘or’” (p.111). In certain
syntactic configurations, and with semantic similarities/dissimilarities, ‘aw
may have meanings such as ‘unless’ and ‘in order to’; lines of poetry and
Qur’anic verses are offered to support the argument. In the author’s words:
“in most examples in this chapter the meaning of ‘aw followed by [an
imperfective verb in the subjunctive mood] is indeed [‘illaa ‘an] (p.117).
Chapter Six, FA- (pp.127-171), which Sadan admits is “quite lengthy and
involved” (pp.127-171), is devoted to another conjunct, viz. fa- , because
“[the] mood of the imperfect verb following fa- is one of the most complex
subjects in Arabic syntax” (p. 170). A number of semantic and syntactic
reasons, including modality (a term which the author does not mention
explicitly), are documented, especially those offered by Sībawayhi and
al-Farrā’, where the former’s presentation is described as “more systematic”
than the latter’s and hence more widely circulated and accepted by later
Chapter Seven,WA- (pp. 173-195), handles the question of wa- when “it denotes
a meaning other than ‘and’” (p. 174) and thus functioning as an operator which
induces the following imperfective verb to take the subjunctive mood in a
similar fashion to the preceding conjuncts. And as before, Sadan explores the
ideas of Sībawayhi, al-Farrā’, other grammarians and those found in secondary
sources (kept in that order) for the sake of comparison. Although it is said
that “[the] mood of the imperfect verb following wa- has received considerably
less attention than the mood of the verb following fa-'' (p. 194), yet it
remains to say that both conjuncts can function as operators “in the same
syntactic environments” (p. 195).
Chapter Eight, ῌATTᾹ (pp. 197-248), is concerned with the subjunctive mood of
the imperfective verb following the particle ḥattā, bearing in mind that it
can be followed by a verb in the indicative mood as well, in addition to being
used as a preposition followed by a noun or an adverb meaning ‘finally’ (see
p. 248) and as a conjunction meaning ‘and’ or an adverb meaning ‘even’. One
may also add to this list the fact that it can be a discourse marker
functioning as an empty category in sentence-initial position. Other meanings,
such as ‘so…that’ and ‘such…that’, are additionally reported in the literature
(see p. 217). Due to its multifunctional nature, arguments and
counter-arguments are expected among grammarians, whether medieval or later,
especially between Sībawayhi and al-Farrā’ and their supporters. And this is
what the author tries to demonstrate using ample examples from various
Chapter Nine, LI- (pp. 249-270), is the final chapter that deals with another
particle, namely lī- and its four variants, which most grammarians reduce to
two while only three are said to be dealt with by Sībawayhi (see p. 249).
Apart from the two variations in pronunciation, all analyses are generally
semantically-oriented. Sībawayhi, however, “maintains that the verb following
lī- is [in the subjunctive mood] not due to its direct effect but to [a
suppressed] ‘an” (p. 266). This is the claim made by the Basrians, whereas the
Kufic school believes lī- to be an operator; that is, it has a direct effect
on the following imperfective verb and hence assigning the subjunctive mood to
it (p. 267).
Chapter Ten, FREE NAṢB (pp. 271-282), traces the tradition of assigning the
subjunctive mood to an imperfective verb in the absence of an operator and
hence the word “FREE” in the title of the chapter. Sadan refers to some rare
instances whereby the mood of the associated verb is accounted for in terms of
a suppressed ‘an residing in the speaker’s mind, perhaps due to poetic license
as justified by Sībawayhi, for example, in two places in his work (see p.
271). The majority of grammarians, past and present, are of the view that the
mood of the verb must be the indicative, not the subjunctive; rarity cannot be
the rule (p. 282).
Chapter Eleven, THE POSSIBLE INTERCHANGEABILITY OF RAF’ AND NAṢB (pp.
283-290), covers the possibility of assigning the subjunctive or indicative
mood interchangeably to the verb following the conjuncts ‘aw, fa- and wa- and
their pertinent meanings. The Kufic school maintains that meaning remains
stable irrespective of mood; their evidence comes from Qur’anic verses. The
Basrians, on the other hand, defend their position in saying that each mood
conveys a different meaning (see p. 290).
The last six pages (291-296) which round out the book’s whole argument under
the title “DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION” (pp. 291-296). These pages summarize the
differences in approach between early grammarians, especially Sībawayhi and
al-Farrā’, and later ones. Dialectal differences and historical developments
in CA are reiterated; the Old Iraqi School, mainly represented by Kufic
thought, is once more brought up. In the end, the speaker’s intention cannot
be ignored in any grammatical analysis.
Let me start from the bottom line: the book is without any doubt an excellent
piece of work that took the author a decade to complete. This book, like
Saliha’s (2010) dissertation, which is written in Arabic, is a worm’s eye view
of the “subjunctive” mood overview/review of the verb in CA.
As any book is far from perfection, a number of remarks ought to be made here.
First of all, I am not happy with the title of the book; it is intriguing. I
wish the generic word Arabic was converted into CA so that an average reader
would be aware of what variety of Arabic is intended right from the start.
Alternatively, the author could have included discussions related to Modern
Standard Arabic (MSA) in order to give a more comprehensive picture. For
example, textbook writers introducing MSA to non-native speakers do not
distinguish between case such as ‘accusative’, assigned to nouns, and the
corresponding mood, e.g. subjunctive, assigned to verbs. Like all Arab
grammarians, ancient and modern, only one grammatical term is given for both
case and mood, viz. manṣūb, and this is what instructors erroneously teach at
the American DLIFLC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center), for
example, right now, whereas Sadan does make the correct distinction but
without a comment about such confusion. He is, however, to be thanked for
Secondly, footnoting as well as cross-referencing is overused; the reader is
disrupted now and then, especially with the overused “See”, to the extent that
one loses focus and interest to go on reading smoothly. An average reader in
particular is likely to get bored; s/he will have to leave out what might be
Four more issues are worth noting: (1) some explanations are not supported by
examples (see, for example, pp. 156-157); (2) examples in Arabic script are so
rare (but see chapter 4); (3) transcription that is intended as phonetic
representation that should not start with Roman capital letters as if we were
starting an English sentence; and (4) the inclusion of tribal variations in
pronunciation is unnecessary for the purpose of generalizations; a few
instances do not count that much in accounting for any grammatical system.
Last but not least, the only lexical mistake which I found is the word
“literary” (p. 316 line 10), which ought to be ‘literally’; otherwise, the
production quality is an amazing.
Saliha, Amal Mahmood. 2010. Operators inducing the subjunctive mood in the
imperfective verb as documented in the book of Saḥīḥ al-Bukhāri (in Arabic):
An applied syntactic study. Unpublished M.A. dissertation. Ghazza Strip:
Islamic University. Retrieved on 4 Feb. 2013:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dinha Gorgis is a former professor of linguistics who has taught at a number
of Arab universities since 1973 and is currently an Assistant Professor of
Arabic at DLIFLC in Monterey, California. He is also ex-editor-in-chief of
Sayyab Translation Journal, published in London, and a reviewer on the
editorial board of linguistik, The Linguistic Journal, and Glossa. He has
reviewed for the LINGUIST List and for eLanguage. His most recent contribution
is: “Academies of the Arabic Language and the Standardization of Arabic.
Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, ed. Chapelle, C. A. Oxford, UK:
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