LINGUIST List 24.1459

Sat Mar 30 2013

Review: Historical Linguistics; Syntax: Sadan (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 24-Feb-2013
From: Dinha Gorgis <>
Subject: The Subjunctive Mood in Arabic Grammatical Thought
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

AUTHOR: Arik SadanTITLE: The Subjunctive Mood in Arabic Grammatical ThoughtSERIES TITLE: Studies in Semitic Languages and LinguisticsPUBLISHER: BrillYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Dinha Tobiya Gorgis, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC)

SUMMARYThis book, a revised and abbreviated English version of the author’s M.A. andPh.D. dissertations, treats one of the most controversial issues in Arabicgrammar, viz. the subjunctive mood in the verbal system of Classical Arabic(CA). The other two moods associated with the imperfective verb, theindicative and the jussive, are treated as options or alternatives to thesubjunctive according to various opinions attributed to mainly medieval Arabgrammarians. So the whole book is an elaborate overview and critical review ofwhat particles require the following imperfective verb to be assigned thesubjunctive mood or otherwise.

The author divides his work into a preface and eleven chapters, followed by adiscussion and conclusion, a bibliography, two appendices and three indexes.Each of the first nine chapters, all structured alike, presents one particle,whether bound or free morpheme. The particles, termed as either primary orsecondary, are generally believed to determine the form of the followingimperfective verb, sometimes called operators. The majority of medieval Arabgrammarians’ examples, notably those of the Basra and Kufic schools, are takenfrom spoken varieties of the Bedouins, the Qur’an, ancient Arabic poetry andvery much less on Prophet Mohammad’s speeches, i.e. ḥadīth.

Chapter One, ‘AN (pp. 1-35), is devoted to the primary particle ‘an, whichsyntactically Sībawayhi and a host of grammarians consider al-aamil (operator)that induces the following imperfective verb to take the subjunctive mood,e.g. qarrara ‘an yaktuba risaalatan li’ummihi ‘He decided to write a letter tohis mother’, where the final a (a diacritic called fatHa) in the verb yaktubais this mood marker. Such use expresses futurity. However, most grammariansargue that ‘an following verbs denoting fear and desire is followed by a verbin the subjunctive mood (this ‘an being referred to as ‘an al-xafeefa),whereas ‘an after verbs denoting certain knowledge is followed by a verb inthe indicative mood (this ‘an being referred to as ‘an al-muxaffafa). As for‘an after verbs denoting doubt, it can be followed by a verb in thesubjunctive or indicative mood (see pp. 29, 34-35). Still, “numerous examples,many of which are introduced by the grammarians themselves, in which the moodof the verb following ‘an is not as expected according to the grammarians’ ownrules” (p. 35) are attested as deviations.

Chapter Two, LAN (pp. 37-58), introduces the second primary particle, namelylan. This is also called an operator with some functions similar to ‘an. Butunlike ‘an, which I regard as a complementizer in generative terms, lan is anegator of the following imperfective verb with a future meaning, e.g. lan‘adxula l-maktabata ‘I won’t enter the library’, where the final fatHa in theverb is the subjunctive mood marker. The jussive mood is possible, but it isbelieved to be “due to poetic license” (p. 57). Except for its disputableetymology, this particle “has not been widely discussed by either grammariansor modern scholars. One of the reasons seems to be that the common way ofspeech requires the following verb in [the subjunctive]” (p. 57).

Chapter Three, KAY (pp. 59-77), discusses another important particle(operator), viz. kay and its free variant likay (generally meaning ‘in orderto’) and their two corresponding negative forms, kaylaa and likaylaa, e.g.saafara kay/likay yukmila diraasatahu ‘He traveled in order to continue hisstudies’. The general rule dictates that we should assign a fatHa, thesubjunctive mood marker, to the imperfective verb word-finally.

Chapter Four, ‘ḎAN (pp. 79-109), presents conflicting opinions about theidentity of the particle ‘iḏan, also spelt with tanween (nunation).Disagreements concern not only its two spellings, but also “its definition,the necessary conditions for its influence on the following verb, [and] itsetymology” (p. 107), among other things. Although the author proposes thatthis particle “was originally used as an adverb meaning ‘therefore’ or ‘well’with no syntactic effect” (p. 107), he admits that it can fulfill twodifferent roles: that of adverb and operator.

Chapter Five, ‘AW (pp. 112-125), is devoted to the particle ‘aw, basically aconjunction meaning ‘or’. Sadan, however, states that “[all] grammariansemphasize that in most sentence types in which ‘aw is followed by a verb in[the subjunctive], it denotes a meaning other than ‘or’” (p.111). In certainsyntactic configurations, and with semantic similarities/dissimilarities, ‘awmay have meanings such as ‘unless’ and ‘in order to’; lines of poetry andQur’anic verses are offered to support the argument. In the author’s words:“in most examples in this chapter the meaning of ‘aw followed by [animperfective verb in the subjunctive mood] is indeed [‘illaa ‘an] (p.117).

Chapter Six, FA- (pp.127-171), which Sadan admits is “quite lengthy andinvolved” (pp.127-171), is devoted to another conjunct, viz. fa- , because“[the] mood of the imperfect verb following fa- is one of the most complexsubjects in Arabic syntax” (p. 170). A number of semantic and syntacticreasons, including modality (a term which the author does not mentionexplicitly), are documented, especially those offered by Sībawayhi andal-Farrā’, where the former’s presentation is described as “more systematic”than the latter’s and hence more widely circulated and accepted by latergrammarians.

Chapter Seven,WA- (pp. 173-195), handles the question of wa- when “it denotesa meaning other than ‘and’” (p. 174) and thus functioning as an operator whichinduces the following imperfective verb to take the subjunctive mood in asimilar fashion to the preceding conjuncts. And as before, Sadan explores theideas of Sībawayhi, al-Farrā’, other grammarians and those found in secondarysources (kept in that order) for the sake of comparison. Although it is saidthat “[the] mood of the imperfect verb following wa- has received considerablyless attention than the mood of the verb following fa-'' (p. 194), yet itremains to say that both conjuncts can function as operators “in the samesyntactic environments” (p. 195).

Chapter Eight, ῌATTᾹ (pp. 197-248), is concerned with the subjunctive mood ofthe imperfective verb following the particle ḥattā, bearing in mind that itcan be followed by a verb in the indicative mood as well, in addition to beingused as a preposition followed by a noun or an adverb meaning ‘finally’ (seep. 248) and as a conjunction meaning ‘and’ or an adverb meaning ‘even’. Onemay also add to this list the fact that it can be a discourse markerfunctioning as an empty category in sentence-initial position. Other meanings,such as ‘so…that’ and ‘such…that’, are additionally reported in the literature(see p. 217). Due to its multifunctional nature, arguments andcounter-arguments are expected among grammarians, whether medieval or later,especially between Sībawayhi and al-Farrā’ and their supporters. And this iswhat the author tries to demonstrate using ample examples from varioussources.

Chapter Nine, LI- (pp. 249-270), is the final chapter that deals with anotherparticle, namely lī- and its four variants, which most grammarians reduce totwo while only three are said to be dealt with by Sībawayhi (see p. 249).Apart from the two variations in pronunciation, all analyses are generallysemantically-oriented. Sībawayhi, however, “maintains that the verb followinglī- is [in the subjunctive mood] not due to its direct effect but to [asuppressed] ‘an” (p. 266). This is the claim made by the Basrians, whereas theKufic school believes lī- to be an operator; that is, it has a direct effecton the following imperfective verb and hence assigning the subjunctive mood toit (p. 267).

Chapter Ten, FREE NAṢB (pp. 271-282), traces the tradition of assigning thesubjunctive mood to an imperfective verb in the absence of an operator andhence the word “FREE” in the title of the chapter. Sadan refers to some rareinstances whereby the mood of the associated verb is accounted for in terms ofa suppressed ‘an residing in the speaker’s mind, perhaps due to poetic licenseas justified by Sībawayhi, for example, in two places in his work (see p.271). The majority of grammarians, past and present, are of the view that themood of the verb must be the indicative, not the subjunctive; rarity cannot bethe rule (p. 282).

Chapter Eleven, THE POSSIBLE INTERCHANGEABILITY OF RAF’ AND NAṢB (pp.283-290), covers the possibility of assigning the subjunctive or indicativemood interchangeably to the verb following the conjuncts ‘aw, fa- and wa- andtheir pertinent meanings. The Kufic school maintains that meaning remainsstable irrespective of mood; their evidence comes from Qur’anic verses. TheBasrians, on the other hand, defend their position in saying that each moodconveys a different meaning (see p. 290).

The last six pages (291-296) which round out the book’s whole argument underthe title “DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION” (pp. 291-296). These pages summarize thedifferences in approach between early grammarians, especially Sībawayhi andal-Farrā’, and later ones. Dialectal differences and historical developmentsin CA are reiterated; the Old Iraqi School, mainly represented by Kuficthought, is once more brought up. In the end, the speaker’s intention cannotbe ignored in any grammatical analysis.

EVALUATIONLet me start from the bottom line: the book is without any doubt an excellentpiece of work that took the author a decade to complete. This book, likeSaliha’s (2010) dissertation, which is written in Arabic, is a worm’s eye viewof the “subjunctive” mood overview/review of the verb in CA.

As any book is far from perfection, a number of remarks ought to be made here.First of all, I am not happy with the title of the book; it is intriguing. Iwish the generic word Arabic was converted into CA so that an average readerwould be aware of what variety of Arabic is intended right from the start.Alternatively, the author could have included discussions related to ModernStandard Arabic (MSA) in order to give a more comprehensive picture. Forexample, textbook writers introducing MSA to non-native speakers do notdistinguish between case such as ‘accusative’, assigned to nouns, and thecorresponding mood, e.g. subjunctive, assigned to verbs. Like all Arabgrammarians, ancient and modern, only one grammatical term is given for bothcase and mood, viz. manṣūb, and this is what instructors erroneously teach atthe American DLIFLC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center), forexample, right now, whereas Sadan does make the correct distinction butwithout a comment about such confusion. He is, however, to be thanked forclarification.

Secondly, footnoting as well as cross-referencing is overused; the reader isdisrupted now and then, especially with the overused “See”, to the extent thatone loses focus and interest to go on reading smoothly. An average reader inparticular is likely to get bored; s/he will have to leave out what might becalled ‘redundancies’.

Four more issues are worth noting: (1) some explanations are not supported byexamples (see, for example, pp. 156-157); (2) examples in Arabic script are sorare (but see chapter 4); (3) transcription that is intended as phoneticrepresentation that should not start with Roman capital letters as if we werestarting an English sentence; and (4) the inclusion of tribal variations inpronunciation is unnecessary for the purpose of generalizations; a fewinstances do not count that much in accounting for any grammatical system.

Last but not least, the only lexical mistake which I found is the word“literary” (p. 316 line 10), which ought to be ‘literally’; otherwise, theproduction quality is an amazing.

REFERENCESSaliha, Amal Mahmood. 2010. Operators inducing the subjunctive mood in theimperfective verb as documented in the book of Saḥīḥ al-Bukhāri (in Arabic):An applied syntactic study. Unpublished M.A. dissertation. Ghazza Strip:Islamic University. Retrieved on 4 Feb. 2013:

ABOUT THE REVIEWERDinha Gorgis is a former professor of linguistics who has taught at a numberof Arab universities since 1973 and is currently an Assistant Professor ofArabic at DLIFLC in Monterey, California. He is also ex-editor-in-chief ofSayyab Translation Journal, published in London, and a reviewer on theeditorial board of linguistik, The Linguistic Journal, and Glossa. He hasreviewed for the LINGUIST List and for eLanguage. His most recent contributionis: “Academies of the Arabic Language and the Standardization of Arabic.Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, ed. Chapelle, C. A. Oxford, UK:Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Page Updated: 30-Mar-2013