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Review of A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 08:39:48 +0200 (CEST) From: Otakar Smrz and Iveta Kourilova Subject: A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
AUTHOR: Schulz, Eckehard TITLE: A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2005
Iveta Kourilova, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of West Bohemia, Pilsen Otakar Smrz, Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics, Charles University in Prague
[Romanized transcriptions of Arabic forms are enclosed in square brackets, replacing the angle brackets in the original version of this review. --Eds.]
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 literature.
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 II. Verbs III. Nouns IV. Syntax
Part I covers the basic phonological and orthographic characteristics of Arabic.
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 describe it.
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 [ʾinna], [ʾanna], 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 [ʾaḫawātu ʾinna]'', 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 [ʾalif maqṣūra], found in this group of verbs, transforms into [ʾalif] 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 [tāʾ marbūṭa], the [tāʾ marbūṭa] 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 [tāʾ marbūṭa] -- 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 [sic] 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 [nī]; this fundamental form is simply missing in the book. [y], i.e. [ī] 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-fiʿlu ġayru ʼl-mutaʿaddīyu] instead of [al- mutaʿaddī], [bi-ṣūratin ġayri rasmīyin] instead of [rasmīyatin]), 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: [madʿuwun], [madʿuwatun], [mamšiyatun], [malqiyatun] should all include a [šadda] and become [madʿūwun], [madʿūwatun], [mamšīyatun], [malqīyatun].
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 [muʿallimūya], instead of [muʿallimīya] (page 95; cf. Fischer 2001, par. 269 c).
In addition, the book contains several other huge grammatical errors, such as [kataba lī ʾan sa-yaṣila ʼl-wafdu ġadan], 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 to 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-waṣl] / 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': [taʿāl], [taʿālī], [taʿālū], and [šūf], <šūfī], [šūfū]. Arguably, such a departure is not didactical at all. In MSA, one can use [taʿāla], [taʿālay], [taʿālaw], and [unẓur], [unẓurī], [unẓurū].
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 Verlag Enzyklopädie.
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 University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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 Pennsylvania.