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Review of  A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic

Reviewer: Mary B. Shapiro
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: 16.1552

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Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 13:43:34 -0500
From: Mary Shapiro
Subject: A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic

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

Mary Shapiro, Division of Language & Literature, Truman State University

[For another review of this book see: --Eds.]

This reference grammar of Moroccan Arabic (MA), originally published in
1962, is "for the student who has already had an introductory course in
Moroccan Arabic." Following the table of contents, there is some
introductory information about Arabic Research at Georgetown University,
the Foreword to this new edition, and the author's preface to the
original. The reference grammar follows, divided into three main parts:
phonology, morphology, and syntax (each subdivided into many subparts,
outlined in detail in the 9-page table of contents). After the reference
grammar, there is an appendix of 43 short texts. There is an accompanying
audio CD, but there is no index.

According to the author's preface (xxi), "[a]ll that is attempted is an
orderly cataloguing of the principal grammatical facts of the language,"
an ambitious undertaking, and one in which the author succeeds quite
nicely. At times, however, the intended audience for this text seems
unclear. While I agree with Harrell that it could not serve as a primary
textbook for learning MA, I do think it could provide useful explanations
and supplementary material for students in introductory courses. I wish I
had had access to it when I was trying to figure out MA particles in the
field! On the other hand, if this book is to be used by linguists
(particularly English speakers already familiar with Arabic dialectology),
some of the glosses and explanations are redundant. Most readers will not
need a definition of complex sentence or a subordinate clause (162) or a
footnote to explain what it means for an adjectival modifier to
be 'restrictive' (164), etc, and those who do may find themselves in
trouble, as the glossing of such items is inconsistent.

Harrell's four "principal collaborators" were all educated Moroccan men
from northwestern cities, and presumably therefore well versed in both
Modern Standard Arabic and French (as the school system uses both
languages for instruction). Older, uneducated monolingual MA speakers
might have offered a purer form of MA. (Although increasing numbers of
women have access to education at all levels in Morocco, it is not hard to
find such older women, whereas monolingual Moroccan men are extremely
rare.) Harrell notes (p. 59) that there are "an increasing number" of
classicized participles (whose form is "an approximation of the form of
written Arabic participles"). With the research into code switching in the
last few decades, a current grammar would probably be better able to sort
out code-switching (which is common among the multilingual segment of the
population) from MA proper. This text addresses neither code switching nor
borrowing, apart from the 'classicized particles.' Anyone looking for
information relating to speech acts or discourse patterns will be
disappointed. There are no common expressions listed, no greetings or
leave-takings, no thanking or apologizing, etc. One final caveat: Anyone
looking for current usage should bear in mind that over forty years have
passed since this work was completed, a long time for an unwritten,
unofficial language with few standardization pressures.

"[T]heoretical considerations and professional terminology have been held
to an unavoidable minimum" (xxi), which is nice, as much of this would be
obsolete today. The descriptions here are complete enough that anyone so
inclined could apply his or her own theoretical apparatus at will. I did
notice a few scattered typographical errors in the text, and unfortunately
most of them are in the MA forms given as examples. The suffix on "with
us, at our place" (p. 156) is given as -a when it should be -na, and the
palatal voiceless fricative loses its diacritic mark (an important typo,
given that /s/ is a different phoneme in MA) in at least three places in
the text (in the indefinite article in examples given in pages 157 and
162, and in the negation suffix on p. 152).

Harrell does not give the provenance of his sample sentences, but some
seem so weird and unnecessarily complicated that they must be real:
e.g., "if a person happens to eat half a spoonful of it, or a whole
spoonful, he stays stretched out in bed out of his senses for a day or
two" (171, to illustrate 'it happens that') or "I told you to give me only
three dirhams, one dirham to rent an axe with, one dirham to give to the
notaries, and one dirham to buy a loaf of bread with" (188, to illustrate
numerical (as opposed to indefinite) use of 'one'). This is especially
noticeable, as the same complicated examples are often repeated to
illustrate different phenomena. The inordinate number of references to
greyhounds particularly perplexed and amused me, but other examples are
rather insensitive and would probably be avoided today (e.g., "Your father
is a Jew" (187), "that idiot of a woman" (202), or "When my father was a
(government) minister, we had some slaves" (212)). In a few cases, the
examples include vocabulary that Harrell's 1966 dictionary of Moroccan
Arabic deemed already obsolete, without any warning: e.g., 'sekwila' for
school (repeatedly: 176, 180, 215) instead of the more current 'medrasa'
(with emphatic d,r,s).

Despite a warning from the editors that the audio CD was "remastered from
the original audiocassettes, and the sound quality reflects the early
technology of the originals," the sound quality is actually quite good.
Unfortunately, however, only the forms of isolated words given as examples
in pages 3-19 of the text were included. The recording (23 minutes, 17
seconds) gives each word's English gloss once, then the MA pronunciation
three times. It is not surprising that, in this context, each word is
overpronounced. This certainly helps the reader understand how individual
sounds are pronounced, but it gives no idea of what the language sounds
like in connected speech -- an important omission, given that the
phonology chapter ignores suprasegmental issues altogether. Intonation is
mentioned only in passing on p. 151, where it is noted that interrogation
may be signaled by a "rising intonation... quite similar to English." It
is somewhat perplexing that the publishers took the time and trouble to
convert the 1960s recordings. It would have been a wonderful (and
presumably quite cheap) addition to have a Moroccan speaker read some of
the sentences given in the syntax chapter and a few of the short texts
included at the end of the book.

The forty-two short texts included at the end were collected and annotated
by Professor Louis Brunot. Harrell transcribed the texts into the phonemic
system adopted here and translated the notes (which point out some
interesting grammatical usages and explain idioms) from French to English.
Though these texts are interesting, they are not presented in a very
useful way. No translation is given, requiring anyone not fluent with MA
to flip back and forth between this text and Harrell's dictionary, and no
notes are given for texts 35 through 42. The texts contain some borrowings
and classicisms (which is typical of the code-switching I mentioned
earlier, but could confuse a reader of this text into thinking that these
are MA proper).

Since I have discussed a number of limitations of this work and pointed
out several minor flaws, I feel the need to reiterate that this is a very
fine descriptive grammar of (at least a particular dialect of) Moroccan
Arabic, with rich examples carefully chosen to clearly illustrate the
different morphological and syntactic features of the language. It will
certainly be of interest and use to anyone interested in Arabic
dialectology, and I am glad to see it back in print.


Harrell, Richard S., and Sobelman, Harvey (Eds.) (2004[1966]). A
Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University
Press. [Reviewed by Mary Shapiro in
1105.html --Eds.]


Dr. Mary Shapiro is an associate professor of linguistics at Truman State
University in Kirksville, Missouri. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer
in Morocco from 1986-1988.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589010094
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 288
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