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Review of  A Grammar of Dari


Reviewer: Troy E Spier
Book Title: A Grammar of Dari
Book Author: Rebecca Mitchell Djamal Naser
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Documentation
Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Dari
Issue Number: 30.2003

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Review:
SUMMARY

A Grammar of Dari presents to the reader a contemporaneous account of Afghan Persian (hereafter Dari) as spoken in Kabul, Afghanistan. Contrary to previous linguistic treatments of Dari, this grammar relies strictly upon linguistic exemplars from the Afghan context, i.e. without making recourse to the prestige dialect spoken in neighboring Iran. In pursuit of this task, this textbook is divided into six chapters that correspond to the sociolinguistic overview, phonology, morphology, syntax, the lexicon, and sample texts. Nevertheless, the authors assume no background knowledge of the Dari language and proceed accordingly.

The introductory chapter opens by establishing precisely why this descriptive grammar is even necessary, viz. by arguing that previous linguistic treatments of Dari have been overwhelmingly myopic in presenting linguistic data almost solely in opposition to, or with reference to, Iranian Persian (hereafter Farsi), the regionally more prestigious linguistic variety. Once this position has been established, the chapter shifts to a discussion of frequently (mis)used nomenclature and a general distribution of the three main varieties of Persian, which the authors perhaps somewhat peculiarly refer to collectively as “South-Western Iranian.” Hereafter, the reader is presented with a brief overview of the geopolitical and historical background of Afghanistan, beginning with the earliest inclusion of the nation into the Achaemenid Empire almost three thousand years ago and concluding with a discussion of the most recent decades of turmoil involving the Soviet Union, the Taliban, and the United States. Finally, the chapter ends by defining the current sociolinguistic status of Dari (in contrast to Farsi and Tajiki, for instance), engaging the previous research specifically on Dari, and providing a brief lesson on the primary orthography employed, i.e. the Perso-Arabic script.

Chapter 2 presents an introduction to the phonemic inventory of Dari, beginning with vocalic segments (eight monophthongs and five diphthongs). The differences in articulation of the back vowels are attributed to geographical differences, viz. that /ɑ/ becomes more rounded closer to the Tajik border, while /o/ and /u/ become merged closer to the Iranian border. Next, the twenty-four consonants contrastively used in Dari are presented according to manner of articulation before the discussion turns to syllabification more generally. The basic syllable structure consists of a vocalic nucleus that can be preceded by a single consonant or followed by up to two consonants; in any case, the syllable-timed nature of Dari results in predictable stress.

Chapter 3 is the longest section of the grammar and discusses in depth the morphological system. The first half describes all non-verbal lexical categories, including nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, numerals, and interjections; the second half focuses strictly on verbal morphology, dedicating greater time to conjugations according to tense, aspect, mood, and voice. Nevertheless, the true highlights of the first half are found in the extensive descriptions of the numeral classifiers used for marking plurals, the primary means of deriving adverbs from adjectives, the spatiotemporal distinctions made between simple and complex prepositional phrases, the manner in which mathematical operations and times of the year are expressed numerically, and the discursive functions of interrogatives. The second half, on the other hand, opens with a chart outlining the fifteen possible forms of all regular, non-defective verbs. Then, a detailed exemplification is undertaken of each of the six tenses (present, present perfect, preterite, imperfect, pluperfect, and future), the eight aspectual differences (progressive, non-progressive, perfective, imperfective, resultative, durative, iterative, and punctual), the three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative), and the two voices (active and passive). Finally, the chapter concludes with an examination of the two modal verbs (بایستن and شایستن) and the productivity of the most frequently used light verbs (کردن ,دادن ,شدن ,زدن ,داشتن, and کشیدن).

Chapter 4 presents a brief account of the syntactic structure and begins by presenting the six cross-linguistic tendencies of languages with a basic constituent ordering of SOV. The topic then shifts to specific aspects of syntax in Dari, including topicalization, interrogative constructions, subjunctive forms, subordinate clauses, coordination of clauses, and the use of conjunctions.

Chapter 5 foregrounds the Indo-European roots of Dari but also describes the presence and influence of loanwords in Dari from Arabic, Turkish, French, English, etc. before turning to a discussion of derivation through prefixation and suffixation.

Finally, Chapter 6 contains three transcribed, transliterated, glossed, and translated texts in Dari and English. Although limited in length, this section presents contextualized usage of the many morphosyntactic characteristics described in the preceding chapters, specifically by providing three very different texts alongside one another, viz. an international newspaper article, a lesson on life as recited by Sheikh ibn Sina, and a ninth-century love poem by Rabia Balkhi.

EVALUATION

The authors of A Grammar of Dari must be applauded for producing with such clarity an account of Kabuli Persian, which has come to be recognized as the standardized form of Dari. Moreover, it is remarkable that this linguistic variety has been given an equal platform to both Farsi and Tajiki in this series, thus reinforcing the authors’ position that each variety is different enough to warrant separate descriptions. Additionally, while primarily intended as a linguistic account of Dari, this grammar also introduces the reader to the complex historical, sociocultural, and geopolitical context surrounding Afghanistan and shares with the reader eight color images that, although not directly related to the neighboring content, provide the reader with a glimpse of life in Qunduz, Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Qandahar.

Still, one of the most exciting aspects of this grammatical description also coincides with the primary goal of the authors, i.e. to demonstrate the independence of Dari by using language data specifically from Afghanistan. For example, some regional varieties utilize word-final /n/ elision that results in near-minimal pairs (as in the pronunciation of من vs. ما), most saliently among speakers of Hazaragi. On the other hand, there exists in the northern provinces a dual participle progressive construction that requires the use of a semantically functional verb, the past participle of ستادن (‘to stand’), and the present tense of بودن (‘to be’). Such linguistic phenomena are at best rarely discussed and at worst completely obscured by other studies that privilege non-Afghan varieties of Persian.

Another benefit of this reference grammar, as demonstrated most directly in the final chapter, is that every example word or sentence analyzed is given initially in the Perso-Arabic script and subsequently transliterated into the Latin script. This breaks with tradition, since many such grammars typically employ only one of the two writing systems, not both. Nevertheless, in a text intended for readers who are unfamiliar with the language, the constant marking of vowel diacritics would mitigate the need for the Latin script altogether—or simply make the transliteration more transparent.

The organization of the text is generally concise and straightforward; however, there are a few areas where restructuring could result in greater cohesion. For instance, the chapter on morphology is bifurcated into nominal and verbal morphology, the former which seemingly subsumes lexical categories that could otherwise have been allocated separate subsections, e.g prepositions do not adhere to the same patterns or exhibit the same behavior as nominals in Dari (or even cross-linguistically in many languages); consequently, it feels somewhat odd to place them within the same section. Furthermore, sentential negation seems similarly ill-suited to the chapter on morphology and better located within the chapter on syntax. Still, although exemplified with precision, lexical categories are not otherwise defined. As a result, one must determine solely on the basis of the exemplars provided what actually constitutes a particular lexical category as opposed to the specific distributional criteria—whether syntactic and/or semantic (as in Wahab 2013 and Baker 2017)—that serve to characterize them. Finally, the penultimate chapter on the lexicon might not be necessary as an independent chapter, viz. if the etymological exploration is incorporated into the sociolinguistic overview; the illustration of prefixation and suffixation, in the chapter on morphology.

Lastly, although not explicitly intended as a learning resource, the pedagogical limitations are readily apparent through the lack of exercises, which one finds even in traditional reference grammars (see Yousef and Torabi 2013) but also in academic textbooks (see Khojayori 2009a, 2009b) and resources used by philanthropic organizations (see Glassman 1971). Moreover, the inclusion of additional texts and/or a dictionary of all lexical items would greatly increase the pragmatic value of this text as more than a reference for consultation.

REFERENCES

Baker, Adam. 2017. A Learner's Grammar of Dari. https://www.iamafghanistan.org/lcp/downloads/dari-grammar.pdf


Glassman, Eugene H. 1971. Conversational Dari: An Introductory Course in Dari as Spoken in Afghanistan. Kabul, Afghanistan: The Language & Orientation Committee, International Afghan Mission.


Khojayori, Nasrullo. 2009a. Tajiki: An Elementary Textbook, Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

———. 2009b. Tajiki: An Elementary Textbook, Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Olson, Randall B. 1994. A Basic Course in Tajik: Grammar and Workbook. http://talktajiktoday.com/documents/ABasicCourseInTajik.pdf

Wahab, Shaista. 2013. Beginner’s Dari. (Hippocrene Beginner’s Series). New York: Hippocrene Books.

Yousef, Saeed and Hayedeh Torabi. 2013. Basic Persian: A Grammar and Workbook (Routledge Grammar Workbooks). New York: Routledge.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Troy E. Spier is Ph.D. Candidate in Linguistics at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He previously earned an MA in Linguistics at Tulane University and a B.S. in Secondary English Education at Kutztown University. He is interested primarily in language documentation and description, specifically with a focus on Bantu languages. He has secondary research interests in computational linguistics and in the construction, maintenance, and loss of ethnolinguistic identity.