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Review of  Copulae in the Arabic Noun Phrase

Reviewer: Kariema El Touny
Book Title: Copulae in the Arabic Noun Phrase
Book Author: Francesco Grande
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Language Family(ies): Semitic
Issue Number: 25.1873

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The aim of the book is to investigate the copulae in the Arabic Noun Phrase both morphologically and syntactically. The former is achieved by analyzing the grammatical markers that combine with the Arabic noun, adnominal markers, to express (in)definiteness, case, gender, and number (including the singulative function). The latter is done by examining Arabic modification structure, namely, the relationship between a noun and its modifier: an adjective, apposition, relative clause, or genitive clause.

The author proposes predication analysis as a unified account rather than other kinds of analyses of the adnominal markers in Arabic found in the literature. He makes two hypotheses: (1) that the Arabic modification structure is a predication structure; and (2) that the Arabic adnominal markers always occur in a modification structure occupying a medial position at some level of representation. He goes on to claim that if both (1) and (2) are established, consequently, the adnominal markers should be considered as copulae. He clarifies that the adnominal markers and copulae are not separate entities, but should be viewed as different representations of the copula of the NP-internal predication.

In chapter 1, the author adopts the genetic-diffusionist model of Gabrini and Durand (1994) over Pennacchietti’s (1968) theory. He provides an extensive diachronic characterization of the Semitic and Arabic copulae of NP-internal predication and argues that they are either pre-Semitic or Amorite. He also indicates that the adopted model gives a better understanding of other phenomena as well, such as the Arabic taltalah and case-endings. The latter is characterized as a pre-Semitic feature.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to providing a generalized Relative Clause (RC) analysis of the Arabic modification structure to better understand the Arabic predication analysis proposed by the author. He builds on the work of Arab Grammarians and contributes to the body of research by offering new insight on its diachrony, and clarifying the typology of the Arabic predication analysis. In addition, he provides a comprehensively more accurate representation of the internal structure of the copula ‘l’, a pronominal article, as well as of the copula ‘lladi’ and related forms.

In chapter 3, the author investigates, in depth, examples of Arabic adnominal markers to corroborate his claim that they are copulae. He examines the functional categories of those most commonly used: ‘di’, ‘l’, ‘n’. The results directly incorporate some of the language-specific phenomena, such as the ‘(l)la’-prefixation, into the author’s proposed predication analysis. Furthermore, by briefly analyzing the development of the relative clause system in Old Arabic, the author uses the standpoint of predication analysis to argue that these recursive structures are a series of copulae. Thus, it introduces more than one level of NP-internal predication to the Arabic modification structure. This analysis provides explanations for two phenomena: (1) the occurrence of more than one copula in the Arabic modification structure is a result of recursive embedding; (2) case-endings might be explained as recursively embedded copulae. The author ends the chapter with a partial inventory of Arabic copulae using the new information.

Building on the data presented in chapter 3, the author provides a copular interpretation of Arabic case-endings in chapter 4. This interpretation affects both the typology of Arabic copulae and that of the relative constructions. The data, combined with recursive analysis, lend strong support to the validity of the predication analysis proposal and explain a few apparently unrelated phenomena, such as number-marking in Classical Arabic ‘lladi’. The author sums up the chapter by providing a broader inventory of Arabic copulae than that in chapter 3.

In the fifth and final chapter, the author examines three integral aspects in the validation of his predication analysis hypothesis: (1) possible counter-examples, (2) the origin of the overt copula within the Arabic modification structure, and (3) its distribution. He draws on observations already in the literature, for example the relationship between (and the history of) the numeral classifier and the noun, and utilizes them to illuminate the properties of the Arabic modification structure, in particular, and several other issues in general. An example of the latter is the original function of ‘tanwin’, which could be explained as a numeral classifier. The author uses the examination of (2) to explain other phenomena, such as the syntactic evolution of the Semitic definite article, which is a topic remotely linked to the Arabic modification structure. He ends the chapter with an analysis of case-endings in Arabic and Akkadian and treats them as the evolution of various copulae.

Grande ends the book with four sections: conclusions, where he summarizes the findings of the study, and three appendices. In Appendix I, there is a table of the several forms of the Arabic noun. Appendix II is a short minimalist approach to the transformations in Arabic modification. Finally, appendix III covers briefly the topic of adjectivation and modification.


The topic of the Arabic noun phrase and the properties of its adnominal markers is not one of the most common topics in the literature. Its undertaking by the author should be applauded. The profusion of data used is evident in examples from Old Arabic, Classical Arabic, Modern Classical Arabic, all the way to Modern Arabic dialects, along with other Semitic languages. The methodology by which he investigates and achieves his results is commended. Comparisons are drawn not only between various dialects but also between competing theories. Shortcomings in the literature, along with the role this work plays, are identified and clearly expressed. All of this is written in sections that build on previous ones and chapters that complement and complete each other.

This book could serve as a reference for Arabists, Semiticists, and in particular, dialectologists. It is also essential to linguists working on Arabic syntax, morphology, and philology. However, the book is not for undergraduates or post-graduates in their early research stages. It is quite advanced and the author assumes a prior knowledge (and a good command) of not only the theories presented but also of Arabic. The reason for such a proviso is that there are a few transcribed quotations from various Arabic sources that would be difficult to grasp otherwise. The data used plus the comparisons and summaries of the diachronic analysis that are presented through maps, tables, and diagrams, however, are presented using an easy-to-follow language.

However, the author assumes more than just prior knowledge. Firstly, the author uses abbreviations without mentioning the longer versions first. For example: NA was used in section 2 without first identifying it as Najdi Arabic. Secondly, in the introduction, footnote (21) is a reviewer’s comment on the broader definition of the copula used by the author in the book. It would be better for the reader to have that familiar concept mentioned and how much deviation the reader should anticipate. Similarly, the author uses the word ‘Colloquial’, in the general sense of the word, as opposed to other varieties of Arabic, without clearly stating which region: Egyptian, Moroccan, etc. For instance, in chapter 1, section 1.4.4, he contrasts the Colloquial (b) ‘i-ktib’ (which region?) with the Classical Arabic ‘ya-ktib’. These liberties taken by author, which form a constant practice throughout the book, do not affect the logical sequence of his argument negatively, but may confuse the reader.

As for the Koranic examples, which are used prolifically since the study deals with Old Arabic and Classical Arabic, they are well transcribed, translated, and cited. However, there is a missing word in example (18) in the introduction. The sentence should begin with ‘Al-H’amd-u’ (meaning ‘Praise’) followed by ‘le-llah-’' (meaning ‘to Allah’). It is translated: ‘Praise be to Allah’ (Al Hilali & Khan 1997).

Apart from the occasional typo, wrong translations (chapter 2, section 2.4, ‘jaban’ means ‘coward’ rather than ‘lazy’), and confusing places where the same example is used for two different dialects (as Syrian in chapter 2, section 2.8.2 and as Moroccan in chapter 3, section 3.4), the book makes a compelling argument and fills a need in the literature.


Al Hilali, Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din & Muhammad Muhsin Khan. 1997. Translation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language. King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, Madinah: KSA. (14 December, 2013).

Gabrini, Giovanni & Oliver Durand. 1994. Introduzione alle Lingue Semitiche. Brescia: Paideia.

Pennacchietti, Fabrizio. 1968. Studi sui Pronomi Determinative Semitici. Napoli: Instituto Universitario Orientale.
Kariema El Touny holds an MA from Women's College, Ain Shams University. Her research interests include (but are not limited to) Syntax, Arabic Dialectology, Typology, and Theory Construction. She presented and published research on Cairene Arabic within the frameworks of the Minimalist Program and Optimality Theory.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9789004256279
Pages: 343
Prices: U.S. $ 162