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Review of  The Jibbali (Shaḥri) Language of Oman


Reviewer: Kevin T Schluter
Book Title: The Jibbali (Shaḥri) Language of Oman
Book Author: Aaron D. Rubin
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Shehri
Issue Number: 26.2324

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Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Ashley Parker

INTRODUCTION

Rubin presents an overview of Jibbali grammar in 14 chapters along with a large selection of short Jibbali texts. This is a sorely needed resource for this understudied modern Semitic language. The book now serves as a valuable introduction for students and scholars of Semitic languages in general and those interested in further documentation of Jibbali and other Modern South Arabian languages.

SUMMARY

This book is a grammar and set of texts in Jibbali, one of the Modern South Arabian languages of Oman. The grammar is morphologically focused, giving us chapters on topics such as pronouns, nouns, adjectives, numerals, adverbs, interrogatives, particles, and verbs. Jibbali phonetics and phonology get one chapter as does examples of syntax that do not fit in other chapters. The texts are numerous and short (generally less than one page), and largely drawn from the previously unpublished work of T.M. Johnstone.

Chapter 1 presents an overview of the language, detailing the history of Jibbali scholarship, the place of Jibbali in historical and comparative Semitic studies, and the sources used in the grammar. The review of previous literature is extensive covering works from the 1800s to the present day, with a brief commentary surrounding the importance and context of the various works. While the sources are revealed to be primarily the texts and recordings of T.M. Johnstone, the author supplements them with limited data from native speakers.

Chapter 2 covers both the phonetics and phonology of Jibbali. These are still poorly understood, but Rubin carefully notes when the phonetic or phonological nature of the sounds and alternations are unclear and await further study. The chapter includes discussion of consonants, vowels, the loss of some labial and coronal consonants in some environments, the effects of nasals on vowels, and word stress.

Chapters 3 through five deal with pronouns, nouns, and adjectives. Chapter 3 details independent and bound pronouns, as well as direct object pronouns, demonstratives, indefinites, reflexives, reciprocals, and relative pronouns. Chapter 4 deals with nouns and their associated properties: gender, duals, plurals, definite articles, diminutives, and construct state. Chapter 5 covers adjectives: agreement, declension, substantivization, comparatives, and quantifiers. Syntactic information is spread between these topics.

Verbs are dealt with in Chapters 6 and 7. First, Chapter Six gives an overview of the basic and derived stems of Jibbali. There are two basic stems (Ga and Gb, with internal passive of Ga), a D/L (with internal passive, corresponding to Arabic forms II and III), an H-prefix causative, two Š-prefix stems, and two T-infix stems along with quadriliterals. Then, Chapter 7 details inflected forms for tense and mood, along with the inflected and derived forms of phonologically weak verbs.

Chapters 8 is a list of prepositions along with their suffixed forms and usage. Chapter 9 describes numerals (both cardinal and ordinal), fractions, and numbers used in daily life including days of the week and telling time. Chapter 10 details the few adverbs of Jibbali: there are no productive ways of deriving adverbs, but a few adverbs of place, time, and manner exist.

Syntax is described in chapters eleven through fourteen. Chapter 11 discusses interrogatives, focusing on the list of interrogative words. Chapter 12 lays out a variety of particles: conjunctions, exclamations, vocatives, the genitive marker, and miscellaneous other particles (most of which appear to be mood markers). Chapter 13 gives us “Some Syntactic Features,” including copular sentences, negation, expressing possession, conditionals, and a few types of subordinate clauses. Finally, Chapter 14 presents a few greetings and basic phrases.

Part Two presents over 70 short texts, mostly drawn from the work of T.M. Johnstone. The Johnstone texts remained unpublished for over 40 years due to Johnstone’s untimely death. These texts were mostly drawn from one consultant and some have Mehri equivalents in Johnstone’s Mehri texts. Rubin’s publication of these texts alone is a welcome addition to the field.

The texts present the Jibbali in the author’s transcription system -- largely familiar to Semiticists and those who worked with Johnstone’s Jibbāli Leixcon (1981) -- as well as an English translation. One of the texts is presented with an interlinear gloss and Arabic script (Appendix A and B), and it serves as a good entry to the texts themselves. Johnstone (1981) will be needed to understand these texts, and it is supplemented in Appendix C.

Finally, Appendix D presents additions and corrections to Rubin’s “The Mehri Language of Oman” (2010) and a Mehri version of one of the texts (Appendix E). The extensive bibliography includes relevant works which were not cited in the introduction. There are two indexes: an index of original text passages and one of select Jibbali words occurring in the work.

EVALUATION

As an introductory grammar of Jibbali, this work largely succeeds at providing an entry point to the Jibbali language for students and scholars of Semitic languages and linguists in general. Any future work on Jibbali or comparative studies on the Modern South Arabian languages will benefit from this text.

The organization of the text is based on the word and the morpheme (roots and stems specifically). While this morphology-based organization is useful for the students and Semiticist, the organization may leave linguists or advanced users wondering why three particles were presented along with the prepositions (Chapter 8) or whether there are active participles or infinitives in the language. Unfortunately, there is no grammatical index to clarify these issues.

While the grammar is largely based on the texts collected over 40 years ago, Rubin also notes important aspect of language change. For example, older forms found in texts are recognized but not used by younger speakers (e.g. the dual, various contracted forms, etc.) and where Jibbali differs from Omani Mehri (e.g. distinction of gender in second person pronouns, prefix t- with D/L and H-stem verbs, etc.) are covered, and the work clarifies points of historical origin (e.g. the Š-stem in Jibbali is not descended from the Proto-Semitic Š-stem, but is an ST-stem). This is a huge boon not only due to the age of the texts but the age of previous scholarship on Jibbali (which Rubin covers extensively in chapter 1). A few more comparisons with more commonly studied Semitic languages (e.g. Arabic or Hebrew) or historical studies of Semitic in general may have improved the usability of the grammar, particularly in the discussion of verbal stems in Chapter 6.

Perhaps due to the text-based nature of the grammar, there are few interlinear glosses and literal translations, and quite limited segmentation of morphemes outside of Appendix A. This makes the grammar more difficult to use for students or general linguists who are not accustomed to examining Semitic data. Luckily, Appendix A does serve as a good entry point to the study of the Johnstone’s texts.

The prose is, in general, quite clear though there are a few repetitive phrases and oddities. For example, “there are two types of prepositions, the first of which are the three which attach to a noun (l-, b-, k-).” We never learn what the second type is, though it is not hard to figure this refers to independent, rather than bound, pronouns.

Overall, the grammar is an excellent contribution to the growing literature on the Modern South Arabian languages of Oman and Yemen. This work is now one of the main sources of information on the Jibbali language. Along with Johnstone’s Jibbali Lexicon (1981), it is an excellent springboard for students or scholars working on Jibbali and related languages, and there is still ample room for documentation and linguistic analysis.

REFERENCES

Johnstone, T.M. 1981. Jibbāli Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rubin, Aaron. 2010. The Mehri Language of Oman. Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics. Leiden: Brill.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Kevin Schluter is a post doctoral associate in the Division of Science (Psychology) at New York University Abu Dhabi. His work, both formal and experimental, focuses on lexical representations and processing, with a particular emphasis on the unusual morphophonology of Semitic languages.

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Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9789004262843
Pages: 748
Prices: U.S. $ 269