LINGUIST List 23.3661

Mon Sep 03 2012

Review: Linguistic Theories; Phonetics; Phonology; Syntax; Arabic, Standard: Broselow & Ouali (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 03-Sep-2012
From: Inas Mahfouz <>
Subject: Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics
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EDITORS: Broselow, Ellen I. and Ouali, HamidTITLE: Perspectives on Arabic LinguisticsSUBTITLE: Papers from the Annual Symposia on Arabic Linguistics. VolumeXXII-XXIII: College Park, Maryland, 2008 and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2009SERIES TITLE: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 317PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Inas Y. Mahfouz, Ain Shams University, Egypt.


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

The second section of the introduction is centered on current trends in Arabiclinguistics. It concentrates on three subfields in Arabic linguistics, similarto the division of the entire volume. It explains what each part is about andprovides a brief summary of the papers included in each part. The introductionends with a closing remark that points out that the papers in this volume areconcerned with providing explanations for structural patterns. Arabic data haveplayed a clear role in encouraging researchers to include statisticalregularities in language models. The editors also pinpoint that the chaptersincluded rely on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for transcription.

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

“Regressive voicing assimilation in Cairene Arabic,” by Rawiah S. Kabrah, is thesecond contribution in this part. Kabrah investigates voicing in CA, reachingthe conclusion that both word-initial and word-final assimilation can bedetected in this variety. This supports the following two positionalconstraints: “Correspondent input and output word-final obstruents must have thesame 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 paperinvestigates syncope, defined as ''the deletion of unstressed short vowels fromopen syllables'' (p. 36), and pinpoints some of the generalizations about MakkanArabic. Abu-Mansour concludes that the same constraints produce word-level andphrasal syncope and that Makkan Arabic is among the languages that exhibitright-edge effects.

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

The second part of the book is entitled ''Morphology & syntax.'' It contains fivepapers dealing with a wide range of issues such as subject-verb agreement,comparative adjectives, case, and the structure of complementizers. The firstpaper in this part, ''Arabic agree, silent pronouns, and reciprocals,'' iscontributed by Abdelkader Fassi Fehri. The paper asserts that subject verbagreement is not a phonological form (PF) phenomenon, but rather a logical form(LF) one. Other phenomena, such as subject pronoun deficiency and reciprocaldistinctions, 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 paperfocuses on three observations: Ɂinna and her sisters (defined as “a class ofconnectives that functions as the subordinating or coordinating conjunctions”(p.139)); pronoun clitics; and mood-case correspondence. Leung concludes thatunlike English, structural case assignment in Arabic stems from the formalfeatures of complementizers.

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

The fourth paper in this part, ''The verb kan 'be' in Moroccan Arabic,'' by NizhaChatar-Moumni, probes into the nature of the Arabic verb ‘kan’ and clarifiesthat it should not be treated as a copula, but rather as a connective verb. Theauthor concludes that although the verb exhibits some of the features of anauxiliary verb, it is not classified as such. Through specific examples, theauthors 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 fromIraqi Arabic,'' is contributed by Murtadha J. Bakir. The researcher examines thestructural status of complementizers in relation to Rizzi's (1997) split-Chypothesis through an analysis of data from Iraqi Arabic. The paper concludesthat Rizzi's hypothesis may not be universal, as some languages like IraqiArabic exhibit free order and interability of dislocated elements.

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

The first paper in this part is ''Probability matching in Arabic and Romancemorphology,'' by Mary Ann Walter. The paper probes into loanwords and theirmorphology, as well as how these words are pluralized. The researcher relies ona corpus of loanwords from Arabic to Romance languages, and vice versa, toinvestigate how adults and children assign grammatical gender to loanwords.Adults tend to match per-existing percentages (of the borrowing language) ofmorphological variables in the lexicon, which contrasts with the behavior ofchildren, 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/ Englishbilingual children,” represents the second contribution in this part. The paperprobes into voicing contrasts between English and Arabic, as well as the role ofgender as a factor in distinguishing fine-grained phonetic/ phonologicalfeatures. This is done through two experiments. The first relies on sixbilingual children (three boys and three girls) and the second investigates theproduction of Voice Onset Time (VOT) for adult male and female Arabic speakers(two males and two females). The researcher investigates the production of stopconsonants /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 timingof voicing'' (Chao & Chen, 2008, p. 216). It is used here to clarify howbilinguals acquire two contrasting phonetic/phonological codes at the same time.The paper concludes that boys have higher VOT values for their voiced stops thangirls do, whereas the opposite is true for VOT values for voiceless stops.

The third paper in this part, ''Phonological processing in diglossic Arabic: Therole of linguistic distance,'' by Elinor Saiegh-Haddad, assesses the impact ofdiglossia on children's language processing. The chapter focuses on thephonological distance between spoken Arabic and the linguistically relatedvariety, standard Arabic, in order to reveal how this distance affectsphonological processing in children on one level and literacy failure of Arabicnative speaking children on a deeper level. Saiegh-Haddad builds on her previousexperimental studies to prove that language acquisition is related to andinfluenced by the context in which language is learned.

The last paper in this part and the book, ''Early acquisition of SVO and VSO wordorders in Palestinian Colloquial Arabic,'' is contributed by Reem Khamis-Dakwar.The researcher builds upon the fact that Arabic has two distinct sentencestructures: Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) and Verb-Subject-Object (VSO). The paperinvestigates children's acquisition of sentence structure through a repetitiontask assigned to fifteen children whose ages range between 1:7 and 3:0. Thechapter concludes that children prefer VSO structures over SVO ones, though thelatter are more frequent in adult language, which can be interpreted in terms ofthe 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 accountof stress in Cairene Arabic based on empirical evidence, while the rest of thepapers do not provide a clear account of the research methodology followed togather the data or reach the conclusion. Aquil provides a detailed account ofthe steps she followed to reach her conclusion and clarifies that she relies ona set of 109 informants. Although Kabrah also points out her researchmethodology, 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 morphologyand syntax. In spite of its length, this part lacks empirical evidence thatclarifies or supports all the theoretical information which the authors condensein their papers. Though the authors of the papers included rely on examples toclarify their point of view, the source of these examples is not mentionedexplicitly. The merit of this part is that it tackles different varieties of theArabic language: Modern Standard, Moroccan, Palestinian, and Iraqi. Leung’scontribution views mood in Modern Standard Arabic from a totally newperspective. The paper brings into focus the case-assigning capacity ofcomplementizers in a distinct fashion from traditional views, which argue thatthe case of a noun phrase (NP) is determined by its structural relation with acase assigner. Similarly, McNabb & Kennedy provide a new explanation for somestructural violations in Palestinian Arabic. Their explanation goes beyond thetradition of interpreting structural violations in terms of syntax to arguethat, in some cases, structural violations can be interpreted as phonetic formviolations.

Part III is dedicated to language acquisition and is the richest part of thebook. Unlike the rest of the book, most of the papers in this part not onlytheorize about linguistic features, but also rely on empirical evidence. Thepapers give detailed accounts of language processing, acquisition andproduction, especially Walter’s paper, the longest in the entire volume. Waltergives a thorough analysis of probability matching in Arabic and compares it withRomance languages such as Spanish and Portuguese. It is quite rich withexamples, 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, asit sheds light on various linguistic patterns and attempts to provideexplanations for many of them. It is not an introductory book, as it requires asolid knowledge of several linguistic issues. In most of the papers the authorsdo not give detailed definitions of the linguistic concepts discussed, whichmakes it inappropriate for beginners. However, any researcher interested in theArabic 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 OnsetTime in Stop Consonant Productions. Computational Linguistics and ChineseLanguage ProcessingVol. 13, No. 2, June 2008, pp. 215-232.

Petrova, O., Rosemary, P., Ringen, C., & Szentgyorgyi, S. (2006). Voice andaspiration: Evidence from Russian,Hungarian, German, Swedish, and Turkish. TheLinguistic 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.

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