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Review of  Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics

Reviewer: Inas Youssef Mahfouz
Book Title: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics
Book Author: Ellen I. Broselow Hamid Ouali
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 23.3661

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EDITORS: Broselow, Ellen I. and Ouali, Hamid
TITLE: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Papers from the Annual Symposia on Arabic Linguistics. Volume
XXII-XXIII: College Park, Maryland, 2008 and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2009
SERIES TITLE: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 317
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Inas Y. Mahfouz, Ain Shams University, Egypt.


This book belongs to the Current Issues in Linguistic Theory series. It contains
papers from the annual symposia on Arabic Linguistics (2008-2009). The book is
divided into three parts: the first is dedicated to phonetics and phonology; the
second to morphology and syntax; and the third tackles language acquisition,
learning and contact. The volume begins with an introduction which is divided
into two sections. In the first, the editors highlight the contribution of
Arabic linguistics to research on language in general. The second section
focuses specifically on Arabic linguistics. The editors point out that
investigating Arabic linguistics involves two broad approaches. One focuses on
the detailed investigation of a certain variety and the other is interested in
cross-language variation. Most of the papers in this book belong to the latter
approach. Some of the papers discuss language acquisition and language change
while others examine the interfaces of linguistic subsystems, i.e., the
interface of syntax, semantics, phonology, and pragmatics.

The second section of the introduction is centered on current trends in Arabic
linguistics. It concentrates on three subfields in Arabic linguistics, similar
to the division of the entire volume. It explains what each part is about and
provides a brief summary of the papers included in each part. The introduction
ends with a closing remark that points out that the papers in this volume are
concerned with providing explanations for structural patterns. Arabic data have
played a clear role in encouraging researchers to include statistical
regularities in language models. The editors also pinpoint that the chapters
included rely on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for transcription.

Part I discusses phonetics and phonology. The large number of gutturals, the
presence of emphatic consonants and the wide variety of syllable types are all
features that have aroused the attention of those working in the field of Arabic
linguistics. This part comprises four papers. The first one is entitled
''Empirical Evidence: Stress as a perceptual unit in Cairene spoken Arabic,'' by
Rajaa Aquil. The author probes into speech processing and how listeners
recognize continuous spoken words, with special emphasis on Cairene Arabic (CA).
The researcher depends on the word spotting technique to assess the rule of
prosody in word segmentation. One hundred and nine subjects were tested
individually to hear nonsense words, in which real CA words were embedded, and
to repeat the words they could hear aloud. The paper examines three different
prosodic contexts: 1. Unstressed syllable followed by super heavy stressed
syllable; 2. Heavy stressed syllable followed by heavy unstressed syllable; 3.
Heavy but unstressed syllable followed by a light then a super heavy stressed
syllable. The researcher concludes that words are spotted faster in initial
stress contexts than in final stress contexts, which proves the hypothesis that
Arabic is a stress-timed language.

“Regressive voicing assimilation in Cairene Arabic,” by Rawiah S. Kabrah, is the
second contribution in this part. Kabrah investigates voicing in CA, reaching
the conclusion that both word-initial and word-final assimilation can be
detected in this variety. This supports the following two positional
constraints: “Correspondent input and output word-final obstruents must have the
same specification for voice” (Petrova, Rosemary, Ringen, & Szentgyorgyi, 2006,
p. 10); and ‘obstruent clusters should agree in voicing’ (p. 32).

The third paper in this part is entitled ''The phonology-syntax interface:
Phrasal syncope in Makkan Arabic,'' by Mahasen Hasan Abu-Mansour. The paper
investigates syncope, defined as ''the deletion of unstressed short vowels from
open syllables'' (p. 36), and pinpoints some of the generalizations about Makkan
Arabic. Abu-Mansour concludes that the same constraints produce word-level and
phrasal syncope and that Makkan Arabic is among the languages that exhibit
right-edge effects.

Dina El Zarka's contribution, ''Leading, linking, and closing tones and tunes in
Egyptian Arabic- what a simple intonation system tells us about the nature of
intonation,'' is the last paper in this part. The researcher depends on an
autosegmental framework to analyze the structure of the intonation system of
Egyptian Arabic. The paper considers primary intonation units as meaningful
configurations. El Zarka concludes that there are three tonal types and that
each of them achieves a pragmatic purpose. To articulate the topic of an
utterance, speakers rely on a rising contour. To emphasize focal parts of an
utterance, a falling contour is manipulated. Finally, given material is
expressed in a neutral tone. In a closing remark, the researcher points out that
the intonation system of Arabic requires further investigation.

The second part of the book is entitled ''Morphology & syntax.'' It contains five
papers dealing with a wide range of issues such as subject-verb agreement,
comparative adjectives, case, and the structure of complementizers. The first
paper in this part, ''Arabic agree, silent pronouns, and reciprocals,'' is
contributed by Abdelkader Fassi Fehri. The paper asserts that subject verb
agreement is not a phonological form (PF) phenomenon, but rather a logical form
(LF) one. Other phenomena, such as subject pronoun deficiency and reciprocal
distinctions, can be accounted for semantically rather than formally.

Tommi Leung, in ''Mood feature as case licenser in Modern Standard Arabic,''
investigates complementizers and their case-assigning capacity. The paper
focuses on three observations: Ɂinna and her sisters (defined as “a class of
connectives that functions as the subordinating or coordinating conjunctions”
(p.139)); pronoun clitics; and mood-case correspondence. Leung concludes that
unlike English, structural case assignment in Arabic stems from the formal
features of complementizers.

The nature of comparative structures in Arabic is the focus of Yaron McNabb and
Christopher Kennedy's contribution, ''Extraction and deletion in Palestinian
Arabic comparatives.'' The researchers investigate the complementizers used in
comparative structures, namely ‘ma’ and ‘illi,’ especially in Palestinian
Arabic. The paper illustrates that ‘illi’ necessitates the presence of a
resumptive pronoun while ‘ma’ does not. Finally, the contribution asserts the
difference in the distribution of quality and quantity adjectives in comparative

The fourth paper in this part, ''The verb kan 'be' in Moroccan Arabic,'' by Nizha
Chatar-Moumni, probes into the nature of the Arabic verb ‘kan’ and clarifies
that it should not be treated as a copula, but rather as a connective verb. The
author concludes that although the verb exhibits some of the features of an
auxiliary verb, it is not classified as such. Through specific examples, the
authors show that ‘kan’ is a bivalent existence-verb governing two arguments,
the second of which can be a verbal phrase.

The last paper in this part, ''Against the split-CP hypothesis: Evidence from
Iraqi Arabic,'' is contributed by Murtadha J. Bakir. The researcher examines the
structural status of complementizers in relation to Rizzi's (1997) split-C
hypothesis through an analysis of data from Iraqi Arabic. The paper concludes
that Rizzi's hypothesis may not be universal, as some languages like Iraqi
Arabic exhibit free order and interability of dislocated elements.

Part III is entitled ''Language acquisition, learning & contact.'' It is comprised
of four papers tackling language acquisition in Arabic-language speaking
communities from different perspectives. This area of study has attracted much
attention from researchers due to the wide spread of diglossia in Arab counties,
as the colloquial language is clearly distinct from the written variety. This
distinction affects language processing, acquisition, production, and loanword
adaptation. The purpose of this part is to rediscover the diglossic nature of
Arab communities within a linguistic framework.

The first paper in this part is ''Probability matching in Arabic and Romance
morphology,'' by Mary Ann Walter. The paper probes into loanwords and their
morphology, as well as how these words are pluralized. The researcher relies on
a corpus of loanwords from Arabic to Romance languages, and vice versa, to
investigate how adults and children assign grammatical gender to loanwords.
Adults tend to match per-existing percentages (of the borrowing language) of
morphological variables in the lexicon, which contrasts with the behavior of
children, who tend to over-regularize by relying on what the author calls a
‘morphological default’ (p. 205).

Eman Saadah's paper, ''Gender differences in VOT production of Arabic/ English
bilingual children,” represents the second contribution in this part. The paper
probes into voicing contrasts between English and Arabic, as well as the role of
gender as a factor in distinguishing fine-grained phonetic/ phonological
features. This is done through two experiments. The first relies on six
bilingual children (three boys and three girls) and the second investigates the
production of Voice Onset Time (VOT) for adult male and female Arabic speakers
(two males and two females). The researcher investigates the production of stop
consonants /p b t d k g/ vs. /b t d k/ in English and Arabic,
respectively, using VOT, defined as ''the acoustic cue used to measure the timing
of voicing'' (Chao & Chen, 2008, p. 216). It is used here to clarify how
bilinguals acquire two contrasting phonetic/phonological codes at the same time.
The paper concludes that boys have higher VOT values for their voiced stops than
girls do, whereas the opposite is true for VOT values for voiceless stops.

The third paper in this part, ''Phonological processing in diglossic Arabic: The
role of linguistic distance,'' by Elinor Saiegh-Haddad, assesses the impact of
diglossia on children's language processing. The chapter focuses on the
phonological distance between spoken Arabic and the linguistically related
variety, standard Arabic, in order to reveal how this distance affects
phonological processing in children on one level and literacy failure of Arabic
native speaking children on a deeper level. Saiegh-Haddad builds on her previous
experimental studies to prove that language acquisition is related to and
influenced by the context in which language is learned.

The last paper in this part and the book, ''Early acquisition of SVO and VSO word
orders in Palestinian Colloquial Arabic,'' is contributed by Reem Khamis-Dakwar.
The researcher builds upon the fact that Arabic has two distinct sentence
structures: Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) and Verb-Subject-Object (VSO). The paper
investigates children's acquisition of sentence structure through a repetition
task assigned to fifteen children whose ages range between 1:7 and 3:0. The
chapter concludes that children prefer VSO structures over SVO ones, though the
latter are more frequent in adult language, which can be interpreted in terms of
the late acquisition of Noun Phrase (NP) movements.


In the first part of this volume, the focus is explicitly on Cairene Arabic
(CA). However, only Aquil’s paper stands out, as it gives an excellent account
of stress in Cairene Arabic based on empirical evidence, while the rest of the
papers do not provide a clear account of the research methodology followed to
gather the data or reach the conclusion. Aquil provides a detailed account of
the steps she followed to reach her conclusion and clarifies that she relies on
a set of 109 informants. Although Kabrah also points out her research
methodology, she neither provides clear reasons for using it nor explains it fully.

The longest part of this volume is the second one, which focuses on morphology
and syntax. In spite of its length, this part lacks empirical evidence that
clarifies or supports all the theoretical information which the authors condense
in their papers. Though the authors of the papers included rely on examples to
clarify their point of view, the source of these examples is not mentioned
explicitly. The merit of this part is that it tackles different varieties of the
Arabic language: Modern Standard, Moroccan, Palestinian, and Iraqi. Leung’s
contribution views mood in Modern Standard Arabic from a totally new
perspective. The paper brings into focus the case-assigning capacity of
complementizers in a distinct fashion from traditional views, which argue that
the case of a noun phrase (NP) is determined by its structural relation with a
case assigner. Similarly, McNabb & Kennedy provide a new explanation for some
structural violations in Palestinian Arabic. Their explanation goes beyond the
tradition of interpreting structural violations in terms of syntax to argue
that, in some cases, structural violations can be interpreted as phonetic form

Part III is dedicated to language acquisition and is the richest part of the
book. Unlike the rest of the book, most of the papers in this part not only
theorize about linguistic features, but also rely on empirical evidence. The
papers give detailed accounts of language processing, acquisition and
production, especially Walter’s paper, the longest in the entire volume. Walter
gives a thorough analysis of probability matching in Arabic and compares it with
Romance languages such as Spanish and Portuguese. It is quite rich with
examples, tables and graphs that illustrate the objectives of the author.

All in all, the book is a must-read for those working on Arabic linguistics, as
it sheds light on various linguistic patterns and attempts to provide
explanations for many of them. It is not an introductory book, as it requires a
solid knowledge of several linguistic issues. In most of the papers the authors
do not give detailed definitions of the linguistic concepts discussed, which
makes it inappropriate for beginners. However, any researcher interested in the
Arabic language, striving to understand it better, must have a copy of this volume.


Chao, Kuan-Yi & Chen, Li-Mei (2008). A Cross-Linguistic Study of Voice Onset
Time in Stop Consonant Productions. Computational Linguistics and Chinese
Language ProcessingVol. 13, No. 2, June 2008, pp. 215-232.

Petrova, O., Rosemary, P., Ringen, C., & Szentgyorgyi, S. (2006). Voice and
aspiration: Evidence from Russian,Hungarian, German, Swedish, and Turkish. The
Linguistic Review 23, pp. 1-35.

Inas Y. Mahfouz is an Assistant Professor of Language and Linguistics at Ain Shams University. Her primary research interests include discourse analysis, computational linguistics, and Systemic Functional Linguistics.