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Review of A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic
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 SUBTITLE: With Audio CD 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: http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-1363.html --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). A Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. [Reviewed by Mary Shapiro in http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16- 1105.html --Eds.]
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.