LINGUIST List 21.4268

Tue Oct 26 2010

Review: General Linguistics: Versteegh et al. (2009)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.     Nadia Hamrouni , Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Volumes 1, 2 & 5)

Message 1: Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Volumes 1, 2 & 5)
Date: 26-Oct-2010
From: Nadia Hamrouni <>
Subject: Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Volumes 1, 2 & 5)
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

EDITORS: Kees Versteegh, Mushira Eid, Alaa Elgibali, Manfred Woidich, Andrzej Zaborski TITLE: Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Volumes 1, 2 & 5) PUBLISHER: Brill YEAR: 2009

Nadia Hamrouni, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, University of Arizona


The Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (hereafter the EALL) is the outcome of a long process of deliberation, design and compilation that started as early as the 1990s. Volume 1, initially published in 2006, is the first installment of the EALL and contains 122 entries arranged alphabetically (A-Ed) in addition to an introduction. Volume 2 appeared a year later, in 2007, and contains 134 entries, which picks up where Vol. 1 leaves off (Eg-Lan). In both, the entries have within a rather consistent length (3 to 4 double-columned pages). Each entry is supplemented by an extensive bibliography divided, in some cases, into primary and secondary sources. Vol. 1 was written by 102 contributors from twenty nine countries (across Europe, Africa, USA, Canada, the Middle East, the Gulf, Japan, etc.). Vol. 2 includes 112 contributors from twenty seven countries (from Europe, Africa, USA, Canada, the Middle East, the Gulf, Australia). Each volume contains a list of contributors, their countries and institutional affiliations.

The EALL encompasses a wide range of topics ''covering all relevant aspects of the study of Arabic and dealing with all levels of the language (pre-Classical Arabic, Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Arabic vernaculars, mixed varieties of Arabic), both synchronically and diachronically'' (p. vi) across different linguistic domains like sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, psycholinguistics, theoretical linguistics, cognitive linguistics, etc. Each of the entries is written and signed by a specialist in the relevant field. The titles are straightforward, with a mean number of words per title of only two.


In the preface, the editors draw a distinction among three types of entries in the EALL. The first is what they regard as 'central articles', entries intended to act as a general introduction to the field and supply the reader with a synthesis of the most recent research related to Arabic linguistics. Some examples of introductory articles are 'diglossia,' 'functional grammar,' 'case theory,' etc. The second type is what the editors refer to as 'essays', entries like 'language and culture,' 'language policies and language planning,' etc. The third type is technical, with entries like 'argument,' 'ellipsis,' etc. I use the term 'article' throughout this review regardless of this distinction.

The articles provide thorough reference material for an introduction to the subject matter due to their highly comprehensible writing style, and their content, which is both clear and reasonably concise. The articles do not include suggestions for further readings, but throughout the encyclopedia they contain extensive lists of references, as well as cross-references to related topics elsewhere in the encyclopedia. Both volumes include pictures, maps, tables and graphs, all in black and white. In the case of entries that were not allocated specific articles the reader is directed to cross-reference to other related entries elsewhere in the Encyclopedia, e.g. Adjunct --> X-bar-Syntax, Arabic Sign Language --> Sign Languages.

The volumes do not include tables of contents, but the editors have devoted a whole volume (Vol. 5) to an index. The index starts with a lemma list where entries are listed alphabetically by chapter. Every entry is supplemented by the name of the contributor and page numbers. The second part of the index volume is the actual comprehensive index, also organized alphabetically. In their introduction, the editors indicate that the topics that were not allocated special entries in the EALL, mainly due to lack of specialized contributors in the related fields, were mentioned in more general entries and, accordingly, included in the index. The index, by itself, extends to 275 pages. The index volume is undoubtedly a sine qua non tool that makes search for specific entries, related terms, and/or particular contributors more accessible and more invaluable.

There is a concentration on the different dialects of Arabic. This concentration is also evident throughout the content and organization of the EALL. In fact the encyclopedia not only delves into very nearly all possible dialects of Arabic -- ranging from Afghanistan Arabic (Central Asia Arabic), to Antiochia Arabic (spoken in the province of Antioch), North African Arabic (spoken in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, etc.), Andalusi Arabic, Bedouin Arabic, just to name a few -- but it also covers other languages and dialects that have been influenced by Arabic and vice versa. This way, relationships between Arabic and other Semitic languages as well as languages in the Islamic world are interconnected. To make this arrangement easy for the reader to grasp and navigate, the editors introduce the languages that have been influenced by Arabic as single entries, where the name of the language serves as the title (e.g. Indonesian/Malay, Persian, Somali). In the case of languages that have influenced Arabic (e.g. English, Greek, Ivrit, Latin), the term 'loanword' has been used as a ''blanket term, covering all levels of interference'' (p. vii).

Another interesting feature of the EALL that I personally find very helpful is that the editors have set a prearranged format for the entries covering the different dialects of Arabic. The related essays collectively contain a general introduction and a detailed linguistic description of the dialect's phonological, morphological and syntactic structure. This feature, as stated by the editors, should facilitate cross-dialectal comparisons.

One objective of this work is a comprehensive scope. It includes articles drawing on different theoretical approaches and schools namely traditional, Functionalists, Minimalists, etc. The editors also specify that 'indigenous Arabic traditions' have been allocated a significant space in the encyclopedia, mainly in entries with Arabic titles. In some cases, the same entry has been included more than once but approached from different linguistic perspectives. For instance both entries 'construct state' (Vol. 1, pp. 477-482) and 'id̥afa' (Vol. 2, pp. 294-298) refer to the same syntactic structure. The former has been framed within the Minimalist approach whereas the latter was formulated within the Arabic linguistic tradition.

There are two major divisions in the way entries have been presented in the EALL. Some of them are introduced using English terminology, e.g. 'Apophony', 'Gemination', 'Labiovelarization'. Some other entries are in transcribed Arabic, e.g. 'ficl' (verb), 'id̥afa' (annexation structure, construct state), 'd̥amir' (pronoun). As mentioned earlier, this difference in notation is meant to single out the entries that are treated within the 'Indigenous Arabic linguistic tradition'. However, this feature may limit access to some readers who are not familiar with Arabic terminology.

Missing in the EALL are entries related to prominent seminal thinkers who had significant influence in the field of Arabic linguistics. The editors acknowledge: ''there is no major reference tool to represent the state of the art in all aspects of Arabic linguistics''. (p. vi) The EALL is, in this regard, set up to fill this gap. Entries relating to eminent linguists and their contributions to the field of Arabic linguistics would be an effective way of establishing historical connections between the two.

Despite these quibbles, I find the EALL a valuable and authoritative reference tool that reaches out to a wide range of readership. Its comprehensive scope, lucid writing style and manageable design and layout make the EALL useful, initially and foremost, to linguists but also to scholars from various fields that have connections to Arabic language and linguistics, as well as to advanced students.


Nadia Hamrouni is a PhD candidate in the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) program at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include psycholinguistics, language acquisition, language processing, language production, speech errors, Semitic morphology, and gesture.

Page Updated: 26-Oct-2010