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Review of  A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic

Reviewer: Fatima Badry
Book Title: A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic
Book Author: Richard S. Harrell
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 16.1363

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Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 17:25:04 +0400
From: Fatima Badry
Subject: A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic, with Audio

AUTHOR: Harrell, Richard S.
TITLE: A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic
SUBTITLE: with Audio CD
SERIES: Georgetown Classics in Arabic Language and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2004

Fatima Badry, American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, UAE


This book was reprinted in 2004 as part of the Georgetown classics in
Arabic language and linguistics series. First published in 1962, it was
one of the first books written in English -- about Moroccan Arabic (MA)
grammar -- that filled a gap in the study of an Arabic dialect for English
speakers. The author's stated aim was to provide a practical
reference grammar for an audience who has some knowledge of MA.

The book is divided into 3 major parts (phonology, morphology and
syntax) plus an appendix of 42 texts in urban Moroccan Arabic and a
CD with audio of words in the phonology section.

Part I, Phonology, contains two chapters. In chapter 1: the individual
sounds; the author provides information about the consonants of MA
in three sub sections which he labels individual consonants, emphatic
sounds and labialization of consonants. The consonants are
presented according to place of articulation (e.g. labials, apicals, and
fricatives) but the presentation seems to be based on a description in
terms of similarities and differences with corresponding English
sounds. In few cases sounds are illustrated in initial, medial and final
positions in words. The Arabic sounds not found in English are
pointed out and their place and manner of articulation is described in
relation to neighboring English sounds and or ease or difficulty for an
English speaker to produce the target sound. The emphatic
consonants manner of articulation is described in terms of pitch and
configuration of the vocal cavity with suggestions for the English
speaker as to how to produce these sounds. Assimilatory processes
of emphatization of neighboring consonants and vowels within the
word are pointed out without being identified as assimilation. Finally,
the environment in which labialization of some consonants occurs is
also described and illustrated. The next section deals with vowels and
diphthongs. The author classifies Moroccan Arabic vowels as stable (i-
a-u) which tend to be longer than the variable (e-a-o) ones and
illustrates some variations depending on neighboring consonants.
Again the frame of reference is English vowels with some comparisons
to French. In chapter 2: The interchange of sounds within words, the
author discusses variations of consonants, semi vowels and vowels
which includes, free and conditioned allophonic variation, elision,
inversion and base alteration. He illustrates each process with

Part II consists of seven chapters. Chapter 1 provides a brief sketch of
MA's derivational system. MA's root and pattern word structure and
the classification of the consonantal roots into trilateral and
quadrilateral roots (3 and 4 consonants respectively) and the patterns
into simple and complex patterns is introduced. The author then offers
the traditional ways of symbolizing the root pattern combination by
using the three letter sequence from the verb f-'-l (do) where f stands
for C1, 'for C2 and l for C3 with vowels inserted where appropriate. An
alternative representation is to use C to represent consonants and V
for vowels. Chapters 2 and 3 are devoted to verb derivation and
inflection. In chapter 3, the author introduces the "ten measures of the
trilateral verb." The term measure is a direct translation of the Arabic
term 'wazn' which is used in Arab grammar to refer to what is
generally refereed to as patterns in Semitic morphology today. The
measures are numbered as follows: I, Ia, II, IIa, III, IIIa, VII, VIII, IX and X.
in a break with traditional descriptions which usually label Moroccan
patterns (as well as other colloquial Arabic patterns) with the numbers
corresponding to those used to denote patterns in Classical Arabic.
Each measure is described in terms of how it combines with different
types of root. Underlying triconsonantal roots, both sound (regular)
roots (kteb 'write') and irregular roots which are roots with doubled C2
(medd ' hand over'), and roots with a semi vowel in C2 or C3 (xaf 'be
afraid' or bra 'be cured') are illustrated in terms how they combine with
elements of different patterns in terms of consonantal root doubling,
infixation and prefixation. The surface shape of each derived form is
given in both the perfective and imperfective. In addition,
morphophonological processes are illustrated for each measure and
root type.

In chapter 3: The verb-Inflection, the author offers general
characteristics of verb inflections and verb forms. He divides the verb
in Moroccan Arabic into two finite (perfect and imperfect) and two non
finite forms (active and passive participles). The MA verb is inflected
for tense, person, number and gender by combining verb stems with
affixes (prefixes, infixes and suffixes). The verb stem which usually
translates the English infinitive form corresponds to the third person
perfect form of the verb since MA has no infinitive form. Verbs are
categorized into four verb classes on the basis of their stem ending (-
eC, -aC, eCC, and a) for the perfective while a fifth class, the
invariable stem is added to imperfective verb forms which are
classified based on root type. The imperative is used only with the
second person and is inflected for number and gender. Stem and affix
combinations also vary according to the five stem categories
recognized for the imperfective. Several irregular forms are provided
along with several examples of imperative forms in each class.

Chapter 4: Noun and adjective derivation, begins with the participles
which are adjectives derived from verbs. Participles are inflected for
number and gender. Those derived from transitive forms have both
active and passive forms while those derived from Measure I
intransitive verbs have only a corresponding active participle. The
author points out that not all measures (verb patterns) have
corresponding derived participial forms. For example, verb measures
which express semantic roles of inchoativeness and passivity have no
corresponding passive participles. Frequent forms whose participles
are irregular because they are derived from weak roots are given. The
author goes on to give other adjectival forms and verbal nouns
categorized based on the verb measure and the root type (trilateral
and quadrilateral) they are derived from and the general semantic role
associated with them (e.g. nouns that denote action, profession,
personal characteristic, instance, place, relation, etc.). The chapter
also provides several examples of regular and irregular forms of
collective nouns, diminutives, comparatives, abstract nouns and

Chapter 5: Noun and Adjective inflection describes gender and
number inflections. Both adjectives and nouns are marked for
masculine or feminine and singular or plural, although some are also
used in dual forms. Morphophonological processes of elision and
vowel insertion and inversion are illustrated in the lists of examples
provided. The major part of this chapter is devoted to the plural. In
MA, as in other varieties of Arabic, nouns and adjectives have either
sound (regular) or broken (irregular) plural forms. Sound plurals are
formed by an addition of a suffix [-in], [-a] for masculine and [-at] for
feminine. Tables illustrate plural formation based on type of noun or
adjective, phonological shape of the stem and phonological processes
resulting from the addition of the plural suffix. There are about forty
different broken plural patterns and one cannot predict which singular
forms takes which broken plural pattern. In some cases one singular
noun can be derived in more than one broken plural pattern
sometimes with the same meaning and sometimes with different ones.

Chapter 6: Pronouns are divided into four categories, personal,
demonstrative, interrogative and indefinite pronouns. Personal
pronouns can be either unbound or bound. Bound pronouns are
suffixed to nouns for possession, verbs and prepositions (object
complements), or even some particles (e.g. the presentational particle
ra 'here is' takes the pronominal suffix -k as in rak, 'there you are').
Allomorphic variations of both stems and suffixes and the conditions
for their applications are illustrated with several examples. Reflexive
pronouns do not combine with other suffixed pronouns and are
expressed with the reflexive ras 'self' and the suffixed bound personal
pronoun, e.g. dreb-ni 'he hit me' vs. drebt rasi 'I hit myself.'

Chapter 7: The articles. MA has both definite and indefinite articles.
Definite articles are prefixed to nouns and undergo assimilation to
initial alveolars and liquids. Two quantifiers serve as indefinite articles.
The demonstratives are also classified as articles and their distribution
is sketched out.

Part III: Syntax is divided into two sections: Each section is further
subdivided into chapters. The first section, devoted to the sentence,
includes three chapters: General procedures, the simple sentence
and the complex sentence. Section two, the parts of speech includes
five chapters which deal with the verb, the noun, the adjective,
numerals and particles.

Chapter 1 of the first section, titled 'general procedures', discusses
interrogative and negative sentences by providing examples and
comparisons to the corresponding English constructions. Negation is
illustrated with different sentence types. Examples of gender and
number agreement within the noun phrase as well as at the sentence
level are provided.

Chapter 2 deals with the simple sentence which refers to equational
sentences. These are sentences in Arabic that have a subject and a
predicate with no linking verb and generally correspond to English
construction with linking verbs 'be' and 'have.'

Chapter 3 presents the complex sentence and discusses different
types of subordination in MA including different complementation and
relativization structures.

In the second section in part three each chapter is devoted to a word
class. Chapter 1 "the verb," classifies MA 'simple verbs' into four types
which seem to cut across tense (perfect- imperfect), mood
(imperative) and aspect (durative). These verb forms are presented in
terms of syntactic context of occurrence. The second section deals
with the verb phrase and focuses on verb combinations where the first
verb functions as an auxiliary denoting time, manner, motion, habit,
progressive activity, duration, etc.

Chapter 2, "the noun," begins with identifying the functions of nouns in
MA and illustrates how they are modified. Nouns are modified with
bound affixes for definiteness, possession and used with adjectives
and numerals in different types of noun phrases. Description and
restrictions of the construct state, an Arabic noun phrase where two
nouns, an adjective and a noun or a noun and a pronoun are
combined, are detailed with many examples.

Chapter 3, "the adjective," includes different functions of the adjective
serving as a noun or noun modifier. Adjectives and comparatives are
used as attributive or predicative modifiers Chapters 4 and 5 deal with
numerals and particles. Ordinal and cardinal numbers function as
nouns and adjectives and are marked for gender. The term particle is
used to refer to function words that correspond to prepositions,
conjunctions, pronouns, adverbs and adverbs as well as
presentational and vocative particles.


The editors of the series in the preface point out, that "some of the
material is dated in terms of theoretical approaches, [but] the content
and methodology of the books considered for the reprint series is still
valid and, in some cases unsurpassed."

In the original preface written by the author, the aim of the book is
clearly stated as "a practical reference grammar for the student who
already had an introductory course in Moroccan Arabic." The book
achieves the author's stated goal of a practical reference grammar by
providing a wealth of examples to illustrate different uses of
grammatical points in MA. Using a descriptive approach, the author
makes important observations about MA grammar (cf. Brustad, 2000)
supported by speech samples from native speakers. The stories in the
appendices and the audio CD are a valuable resource offering a
wealth of language data and all the examples used in the phonology
part are included in the CD and pronounced by a native speaker of
MA. The book is particularly helpful to native speakers of English as it
draws the reader's attention to similarities and differences between
MA and English specifically in terms of phonetics and syntax. Others
familiar with Eastern dialects of Arabic can also benefit from
descriptions of certain properties that are unique to MA such as
labialization of consonants and vocalic elisions and the resultant
consonant clusters not permissible in other Arabic varieties. Reflecting
the importance of morphology in MA, more than half of the book (122
pages out of 215) is devoted to its detailed description.

However, for the reader who already knows Arabic, the description of
MA roots and patterns in an approach that breaks away from the
common method of using Standard Arabic (SA) as a reference
baseline to show where MA follows or departs from it ends up being
disconcerting. This departure is particularly disturbing in the
description of derivational morphology where, instead of using the
prevalent numbering of verbal patterns in Arabic, the author creates a
new numbering system which tries to show certain correspondences
between patterns but ends up confusing the reader. Where MA
patterns seem to depart from Standard Arabic, patterns can better be
understood if phonological processes that are proper to MA are
explained. As most learners of the dialects have some knowledge of
Standard Arabic, lack of reference to equivalencies to the Standard
form is a major weakness in the exposition of MA grammar. The dated
theoretical approach is apparent in the lack of explanation of various
linguistic properties of MA. There is little recourse to semantics to
explain linguistic patterns. This is troubling in the case of word
derivation because each pattern is generally associated with a
semantic function (e.g. Pattern II expresses causation and pattern V
(Harrell's measure IIa) is associated with reflexive in both MA and SA).
Moreover, the lack of semantic explanation masks some of reasons
for the existence of some gaps in the derivational patterns in that not
all roots are derivable in all patterns.

To describe verb inflections, verbs are categorized as falling under
four classes based on their ending. Some of these classes are based
on stems others on roots. This approach misses many generalizations
and masks some explanations by not presenting verb inflections
affixes in terms of the type of roots (strong and weak) they are
attached to rather than verb stem endings. Much has been written
about these root types in grammars dealing with Standard Arabic and
a reference to these sources would have been very helpful. The
author describes verbs as falling under "four simple verb types The
perfect tense, the imperfect tense, and the imperfect tense....The
fourth simple verb type, the durative, is characterized by prefixing ka-
to the imperfect." (Harrell, p. 173, bold in original). The author then
goes on to establish equivalencies between these tenses with
corresponding English verb tenses. There has been much debate
about whether time reference in Arabic verbs is temporal or aspectual
and whether temporal reference can be determined at the level of the
verb or at the level of the clause or even discourse (Brustad 2000:
203). Even keeping in mind the time of original publication of this work,
the description of temporal references misses the complexity of the
issue by trying to fit Moroccan Arabic temporal reference into an
English mold.

In many instances, the author provides several variations of forms but
does not explain that these are regionally or socially conditioned. Data
from the memorized folk stories used in some of the examples are
specific to folk tales genres that make heavy use of idioms and do not
always represent the natural spoken varieties in modern MA.

Finally, despite the dated theoretical perspective and the purely
descriptive nature of the book, which at times masks certain
generalizations, the wealth of the data and the details provided are
invaluable, particularly to those familiar with Arabic grammar in
general and MA in particular.


Brustad, K. E. (2000).The syntax of spoken Arabic: A comparative
study of Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, and Kuwaiti dialects.
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.


Fatima Badry received her PhD from the University of California at
Berkeley in 1983. She is currently professor of English and linguistics
at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE. Her research
interests include first and second language acquisition, Arabic
morphology and sociolinguistic issues in the Arab world.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589010094
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Pages: 288
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