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Review of  The Feature Structure of Functional Categories: A Comparative Study of Arabic Dialects

Reviewer: Abdelgawad T. Mahmoud
Book Title: The Feature Structure of Functional Categories: A Comparative Study of Arabic Dialects
Book Author: Abbas Benmamoun
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 14.2011

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Description of the Book:

The main focus of this book is to investigate the relationship between
functional categories and lexical and phrasal categories in Standard
Arabic and Modern Arabic Dialects. Specifically, the author of the book
deals with the interaction between verbs and noun phrases, on one hand,
and tense, negation and agreement, on the other. By using data from
Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, and Moroccan Arabic, the author of this
book proposes that universally functional categories are specified for
categorial features which determine their relation with lexical
categories. More specifically, he argues that a head that carries a
noninherent categorial feature can be paired with that feature on another
head. I would recommend this book for graduate students and researchers
who are interested in the comparative morphosyntax of Standard Arabic and
Modern Arabic Dialects. Below is a chapter by chapter run-down of the
contents of this book:

Chapter one introduces the main empirical generalizations concerning
tense and negation in Arabic, as well as the main theoretical assumptions
that arises from the minimalest framewark of Chomsky (1995).

Chapter two deals with the morphology of the two main verbal paradigms in
Arabic: the perfective and imperfective. The main conclusion in this
regard is that the perfective verb carries abstract past tense while the
bare imperfective is not specified for temporal or aspectual features.
Imperfective verbs, on the other hand, exhibit an important asymmetry:
positive imperatives, unlike negative imperatives, do not carry person
agreement features.

Chapter three, entitled the categorial features of tense, explores the
feature structure of the elements that occupy the head of the tense
projection. The main conclusion in this respect is that the elements in
tense do not have the same catigorial feature specification . Thus, the
catigorial features of the elements in tense are not uniform .

Chapter four, is entitled "checking the catigorial features of
Here the author proposes that the functional category Tense Phrase (TP)
is specified for different catigorial features depending on tense type .
Thus, asymmetries characterizing the morphosyntax of verbs in the present
and past tense can be accounted for.

Chapter five explores sentential negation in Modern Arabic Dialects. In
this regard, two main properties of sentential negations are
investigated: its syntactic status and its catigorial feature structure.
Specifically, with respect to the syntactic status of negation, the
author argues that the two morphemes responsible for the sentential
negation constitute a complex head, with one morpheme being a proclitic
and the other an enclitic. With respect to the categorial features of
negation, the author argues that it is specified for the categorial
feature (D), which must be paired with the subject, a nominal head or a
head that carries subject agreement features.

Chapter six, entitled negation in Standard Arabic, is concerned with the
distribution of the main sentential negation devices in Standard Arabic.
Specifically, the author proposes that the inventory of sentential
negatives can be reduced to two devices: "laa" and "maa". On
the basis of
this proposal "lam", "lan", and "laysa" are
variants of "laa" that carry
either tense (lam and lan) or agreement "laysa". Thus, a part from
and the ability of "laa" to inflect for tense, sentential negation in
Standard Arabic patterns with its counterpart in the Modern Arabic

Chapter seven investigates the syntax of imperatives in Standard Arabic
and Modern Arabic Dialects. In particular, emphasis is placed on the
morphological asymmetry that arises in the context of positive and
negative imperatives. More specifically, only negative imperatives carry
the person feature.

Chapter eight addresses the well-known issue of agreement asymmetry
between the verb and the subject in standard Arabic due to word order.
Specifically, the author provides an alternative analysis of this
phenomenon that attributes the absence of the number suffix when the
subject is postverbal to the ability of the verb and the subject to merge
and spell^out number agreement. Thus according to this hypothesis,
number agreement is not realized by an affix when the postverbal subject
position is null.However, merger as a spell-out mechanism is an option
that may or may not exist in a particular language. Hence, the author
points out that in Moroccan Arabic number agreement between the verb and
the subject is always realized by an affix, regardless of word order. As
far as I know as a native speaker of Egyptian Arabic this is exactly the
case in both Cairene Arabic and Upper Egyptian Arabic.

Chapter nine includes an argument to account for an important asymmetry
that arises in the context of the so-called Construct State (CS). The
author argues that the absence of the (in)definiteness marker of the head
noun of the CS can be accounted for if we assume that the members of the
CS sequence merge postsyntactically, which amounts to the spelling^out
of the relevant features on the noun.

Critical Evaluation

Benmamoun's book does indeed offer a very valuable contribution to the
study of the morphosyntax of Standard Arabic and Modern Arababic
Dialects. The book is richly illustrated, not only from Standard Arabic
and Modern Arabic Dialects, but also other languages such as English,
Hebrew and French. Especially valuable is the application of principles
and theoretical assumptions derived from contemporary syntactic theories
to Standard Arabic and Modern Arabic Dialects. Thus, the analysis and
arguments presented in this book bring new insights to issues related to
the syntax of functional categories and comparative syntax of modern
Arabic Dialects. I believe that the book is a useful reference and is an
asset to any library. However, the following remarks should be taken into

First, I think there is a lack of consistency with respect to case
markers on nouns that occur at the end of sentences. For example, these
case markers are observed on page 98, item 15, whereas on page 103, items
27 and 28 they are missing.

Second, In Egyptian dialects there are two main variants for the
pronunciation of the word "Muhammad": maHammad and emHemmad. The
is in the Cairene dialect while the latter is in the Upper Egyptian
Dialect. The one used in this book (miHammad) does not exist in any
Egyptian Dialect. (See for instance, the Egyptian Arabic constructions on
page 84).

Third, on page 127, items 22.a, the fourth consonant in the relative
pronoun should be the "interdental voiced fricative" instead of the
"alveolor voiced stop". The gloss for "?awlaad" should be
"boys" instead
of "children". The latter remark applies also to item 37.a on page
and item 51.c on page 136.

Fourth, on page 141, item 6.b, the indefinite marker attached to the word
"Kitaab-u" should be crossed out, otherwise 6.b would be inconsistent
with the argument the author makes in this regard. I think the best
solution for the construction in 6.b is to insert a star in front of it
and leave it as such. In this case, it will be consistent with the
argument since it is marked as ungrammatical.

Fifth, in chapter eight the issue of partial versus full agreement in
Standard Arabic depending on word order seems to be somewhat
controversial. For instance, the starred constructions in 1.b, 2.b and
7.a on page 121-122 are acceptable according to my informants who are
professors of Standard Arabic syntax. The reason for this is that
according to certain schools of thought of Standard Arabic syntax these
constructions are acceptable. A piece of evidence supporting this claim
comes from the Holy Qur'an: "wa asaruu nnajwa llathiina ?aamanuu"
(Al-Anbiyaa?, verse3). In this verse, the verb "asarruu" exhibits
agreement even through it precedes the subject. Another piece of evidence
comes from Al-NaHw Al-Waafi by Abbaas Hassan,which is one of the
references cited by Benmamoun. Elaborating on this issue, Hassan
mentioned this well-Known construction: fa lamma aqbaluu DDuyuufu
SaafaHtuhum. (Hassan Abbaas 1969:357) "When the guests arrived, I shook
hands with them". The verb "?aqbaluu" here is again in full
with the subject despite the fact that the verb precedes the subject.

Sixth, on page 162, note 11, the "emphatic interdental voiced
is missing.


The Holy Qur'aan.

Hassan, Abbaas. 1969. Al-NaHw Al-Waafi, Vol.3, third edition, Dar
ul-ma'aarif, Cairo.

About the Reviewer: Abdelgawad T. Mahmoud has obtained his Ph.D. degree in Linguistics from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has worked for ten years as Associate Professor at the Department of European Languages and Translation, King Saud University. Currently, he is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the Faculty of Arts, Assiut University, Egypt, He has published a number of articles on "The Syntax and Semantics of the Middle and Unaccusative Constructions in English and Arabic", "The Syntax and Semantics of the Locative Alternations and psych-Verbs in English and Arabic", "Lexical Incorporation and Resultative Predication in English and Arabic" and "Implicit objects in English and Arabic". His current research interest is the interface between lexical semantics and Syntax with reference to its implications for Arabic/English translation.