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Review of  A Student Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

Reviewer: Rebecca Molloy
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: 16.2636

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Date: Tue, 06 Sep 2005 13:15:37 -0400
From: Rebecca Molloy
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

Rebecca B. Molloy, unaffiliated scholar

In what follows is a description of the contents of a grammar guide for
Modern Standard Arabic. This description, which essentially is a
revised table of contents, is a comment on the book's claim that it is
accessible, concise, practical and user-friendly. Enumeration was
added to the book's table of contents to help clarify the actual
structure of the book. Question marks were used to mark questionable
classification and are usually followed by a brief comment in brackets.

Part I: Letters, pronunciation, auxiliary signs, writing
1.1 The characters and their pronunciation
1.2 Auxiliary signs (vowels and other signs)
1.3 Alphabet
1.4 Spelling of Hamza
1.5 Stress
1.6 Radical, Root, Pattern

Part II: Verbs
2.1. Sound verbs
a. Perfect tense
b. Imperfect/indicative
c. Moods of the imperfect tense (subjunctive and jussive)
d. Imperative
e. Passive voice
2.2 Derived forms of the verbs
2.3 Hamza verbs
2.4 Doubled verbs
2.5 Weak verbs
2.6 Assimilated verbs
2.7 Hollow verbs
2.8 Defective verbs
a. Quadriliteral Verbs (?) [This group of verbs does not belong under
Defectives; rather it is a separate group]

Part III: Nouns
3.1 Primary and Derived Nouns (Deverbatives)
3.2 Infinitives (?) [Better described as verbal nouns, should be
discussed under Deverbatives, not under primary nouns and then
again separately here p. 58]
3.3 Participles (?) [Better described as agent and patient nouns,
should be under Deverbatives; the subsection on Participle as
Nominal Predicate pp. 72-74 should be discussed in the fourth part of
the book on Syntax]
3.4 Nouns of Intensity (?) [There is no real need to introduce these
nouns as a group at this point in the course of study p. 74]
3.5 Nouns of Place and Time (?) [should be under Deverbatives;
together with Nouns of Instruments these nouns are discussed again
in a section on Adverbial constructs pp. 151-153]
3.6 Nouns of Instruments, Vehicles and Vessels (?) [Should be under
3.7-3.11 Collective Nouns, Generic Collective Nouns, Collectives
Proper, Names of Nationalities and Proper Names (?) [This is a case
of over-classification pp 80-81. There is no need to introduce these
nouns as separate groups or patterns at this point in the course of
3.12 Diminutives
3.13 Adjectives
3.14- 3.17 Relative Adjectives, The Feminine Nisba, Adjectives of
Color and Defect (?) [These groups belong under Adjectives p. 83]
3.18- 3.19 Adverbs and Adverbial Constructions, Interrogative
Adverbs (?) [Adverbs should be discussed under a different section
on Particles and Conjunctions, mainly because of the way Adverbs are
constructed in Arabic, the most common are made of prepositions and
nouns of place, time, manner, and others. Unfortunately the book
introduces prepositions and particles later on beginning on p. 103.
Nouns of Time, Place and Purpose that make up the adverb are
introduced again in Part IV on Syntax pp. 151-153]
3.20 Pronouns
a. Personal Pronouns
b. Affixed Pronouns
c. Independent Direct Object Pronouns
d. Demonstrative Pronouns
e. Relative pronouns
f. Interrogative Pronouns and Particles
3.21- 3.22 Prepositions and Particles (?) [should not be discussed
under Nouns; A separate part in the book should have been devoted
to particles, prepositions and conjunctions.]
3.23 Gender and Number [this section includes a discussion on
3.24 Dual
3.25 Declension and Nunation (?) [was discussed already on p. 4
under Writing]
3.26- 3.28 Diptotes, Indeclinable Nouns and the Five Nouns

Part IV: Syntax
4.1 [no section title- this section introduces several different topics
indicating a conflation of formal, functional and grammatical categories]
a. The [definite] article
b. Construct (?) [better defined as Annexation] and Genitive
c. Improper Annexation
d. Genitive with /dhuu/ and /dhaat/ (?)[Better discussed in a section on
e. Comparison (elative)
f. Everybody, All, Whole (?) [Better discussed in a subsection of
g. Appositions
h. Quasi-, Semi-, half-, non- quarter- (?) [Also a subsection of
i. Accusative
i.1 Accusative object
i.2 Direct Object
i.3 Cognate Accusative
i.4 – i.6 Adverbs of Time, Place, and Purpose (?) [already introduced
under Nouns]
i.7 /Haal/ accusative
i.7.1 The /Haal/ clause
i.8 Accusative of Specification
i.9 Predicate Complement in the Accusative
i.10 Subject in the Accusative (?) [the author discusses this again two
pages later under Particles followed by the Accusative]
i.11-i.21 These topics introduce instances in which a noun is put in the
i.22 Doubly Transitive Verbs (?) [at this point in the discussion (p. 158)
the author has not yet introduced Transitivity except via the
presentation of the direct object p. 151]
i.23 The passive voice of the doubly transitive verbs (?) [should be
presented as part of the previous section and not as a separate
j. Negation (?) [Probably should be discussed in conjunction with
Particles and/or types of sentences]
4.2 Types of sentences (?) [as this section deals with basic concepts
and structures of Arabic it would be much better suited in the
beginning of the chapter on Syntax]
a. Nominal Sentences
b. Verbal Sentences
c. The Tenses and the use of /kaana/
d. The Sisters of /kaana/
e. The sisters of /kaada/
f. Objective Clauses (?) [this topic is introduced long after presenting
the uses of the Accusative, the Direct Object, and Transitivity; it is thus
yet another example of the conflation of categories and general
chaotic state of the book].
g. Word Order (?) [better suited for the beginning of the chapter on
Syntax rather than here p. 185]
h.- s. there are 12 more types of sentences, clauses and particles that
are introduced and need not be mentioned here.
4.3 – 4.4 Cardinal numbers and Ordinal numbers (?) [perhaps it is
better to discuss numbers in a separate chapter devoted to Numerals
or in a separate section in the context of nouns].

The book describes itself as an accessible grammar that provides a
concise and user-friendly guide to the structure of Modern Standard
Arabic. Using familiar terminology and keeping theory to a minimum,
the description continues, it is suitable for beginners as well as
students at a more advanced level. The hope is expressed that being
clearly organized and practical, the book will be a reference resource
for all learners and teachers of Modern Standard Arabic.

Unfortunately, however well-intentioned, the author's "keeping theory
to a minimum" hampers rather than helps. With the above description
of the book in mind, it appears that refusing to introduce "theory" does
not simplify the material at all. Instead, it breaks the logic of the matter
and makes it impractical and harder to follow especially for a beginner.
Furthermore, some of the material is defined and categorized in
sections and sub-sections that are not clearly or properly marked for
their level in the text. This becomes apparent in the table of contents
which is supposed to be a precise skeletal depiction of the material,
but alas it betrays the lapses in the book's organization. For starters, it
would be a much easier read if chapters, sections and subsections
were numbered and itemized in the text and in the table of contents.
Currently levels are merely noted in the table of contents with two
different font styles and indents. Titles of the four main parts of the
book are bold and centered, while the titles of the sections within are
bold and aligned left. This format makes the table of contents "user-
unfriendly" and no doubt overwhelms the reader.

Symptoms of this major problem of poor ordering of information and
insufficient internal references abound. Many of them were noted in
the description of the contents above. The survey of nominal
declension paradigms appears in the middle of the book, the definite
article is introduced rather late in the fourth part on Syntax, and the
discussion of nominal morphological categories starts on page 113,
long after the discussion on concordance began on page 83. On page
157, there is a subsection on "Subjects in the Accusative" after the
particles ['inna], ['anna], etc. It is followed by ten more subsections
dealing with other uses of the accusative. Then on page 160, the
author revisits the topic and devotes a subsection to "Particles
Followed by the Accusative ['akhawaatu 'inna]", the kind of information
the reader should have been given while being taught about subjects
in the accusative.

In a previous review of this book on LINGUIST
(, the reviewers O.
Smrz and I. Kourilova note that bound or dependent pronouns seem
to be confused by the author. the book introduces bound pronouns
as "direct object pronouns" (93). Within that context the reader is told
[y] is the 1st person singular form for direct object pronouns, which is
incorrect. It should be [nii]; unfortunately, this form is missing all
together in the discussion of bound pronouns and in fact, as far as
this reviewer can tell, it is missing entirely from the book. Rather [y],
i.e. [ii] and [ya], are possessive pronouns and the discussion should
have been entitled as such. Not only do we find here lack of proper
classification which of course hurts the order of the material, but it also
results in a fairly big error in the description of the grammar. Separate
subsections under Pronouns should have been allotted to unbound
(independent, free) pronouns, direct object (dependent) pronouns
and possessive (oblique) pronouns.

On page 45 concerning the past tense of defective verbs, the author
sidetracks to explain how ['alif maqsuura], found in defective verbs,
transforms into ['alif] in nouns followed by dependent pronouns. This
explanation is irrelevant to the description of the verbs in these
circumstances, and as Smrz and Kourilova mention in their review, the
transformation itself is governed by over-arching rules of Arabic
phonology and orthography which are not discussed under a separate
subsection in the book.

Two last comments. First, it is rather surprising that there is no
bibliography referring to the grammars, dictionaries and other sources
used by the author during the preparation of the book. Neither is there
any reading list of recommended literature for advanced study.
Second, the book contains dozens of spelling mistakes and
vocalization mistakes in the Arabic script, e.g. /al-fi'lu ghayru al-
muta'addiiyu/ instead of /al-muta'addii/, and /bi-.suuratin ghayri
rasmiiyin/ instead of /rasmiiyatin/, while there is no transliterated
counterpart that might otherwise settle the questionable cases and
explain some as inadvertent typographical error. For a student, there
is no way of discovering that for instance the patterns of passive
participles /mad'uwun/ and /mad'uwatun/ on page 65 are wrong. Both
forms should have had shaddas (emphasis marker) on the /w/.

There are some positive aspects that should be noted. The book
gives a detailed description of all types of sentences, and numerous
tables provide a pretty thorough presentation of verbs and nouns. The
most familiar grammatical terms are given in Arabic as well as in
English in order to help students identify them, and the index is also
presented in both languages for cross referencing. Each pattern or
rule described is in fact illustrated with plenty of examples from what is
defined in the preface as contemporary Arabic used in newspapers,
magazines, business communication and the internet, as well as from
Arabic literary texts.


M. G. Carter (1991), Arabic Reference Tables: A manual of the
Essential Features of Arabic Grammar, New York University:

O. Smrz and I. Kourilova (2005), Review of E. Schulz, A Student
Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic. LINGUIST List 16.2221.


Rebecca B. Molloy, Ph.D. is an unaffiliated scholar. Her main research
interests are medieval Arabic grammatical theory (particularly, aspects
of Transitivity), Islamic legal reasoning, Qur'an, and Arabic semantic

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