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Review of  A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

Reviewer: Otakar Smrz
Book Title: A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
Book Author: Eckehard Schulz
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 16.2221

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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

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

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

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.

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

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