By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Sat, 09 Jul 2005 06:11:43 +0200 From: Andrzej Zaborski Subject: Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties, rev. ed.
AUTHOR: Holes, Clive TITLE: Modern Arabic SUBTITLE: Structures, Functions, and Varieties EDITION: Revised edition SERIES: Georgetown Classics in Arabic and Linguistics PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press YEAR: 2004
Andrzej Zaborski, Jagellonian University of Cracow
This is a revised edition of the book which was originally published by Longman in 1995 and which is one of the really important books on contemporary Arabic discussing the grammar of Modern Standard Arabic as well as different complex sociolinguistic situations in several Arab countries. Holes himself (p. 7) identifies prospective readers as "advanced students of Arabic who have a good practical knowledge of the standard language and perhaps one dialect". Taking this into consideration it must be said that the basic introduction to Arabic script on pp. 391- 396 is not at all necessary. Professional Arabists profit from the book as it provides many original and important insights (nota bene found also in extensive footnotes!) and well-selected data, although the publication at the same time of the great Modern Written Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar by Elsaid Badawi, Michael G. Carter and Adrian Gully, London 2004, Routledge, and of the monumental Syntax der Arabischen Schriftsprache der Gegenwart by Hashem El-Ayoubi, W.Fischer and M. Langer (strangely not mentioned at all, although the first volume appeared already in Wiesbaden, Reichert Verlag in 2001 and second volume in 2003) has seriously diminished the usefulness of Holes' selective description of Modern Standard Arabic which constitutes the majority of his book. In short, I would not recommend the book for real beginners who should start with a grammar of Modern Standard and/or Classical Arabic such as K. Versteegh's The Arabic Language, Edinburgh University Press 1997, but I recommend Holes' book for all other readers as a kind of useful supplement.
Some flaws which could have been avoided: p. 1: it should be mentioned that Berber is still well represented in the Siwa Oasis in NW Egypt; p.2: "several hundred thousand native speakers of Kurdish" in Iraq is quite wrong since there are at least as many as three and a half million Kurds in Iraq; Modern South Arabian languages are spoken not only in Oman but also in Yemen; Nilo-Saharan and not Bantu languages are spoken in Southern Sudan; the Arabic dialect is still spoken in Kormakiti in northern Cyprus; it is not enough to say that "Maltese is undoubtedly structurally an Arabic dialect" -- it should be added that since centuries Maltese is a separate, independent language and although it is undoubtedly of Arabic origin, from the sociolinguistic point of view it is most interesting that many if not most of the Maltese including some linguists are not inclined to accept this fact; pp. 5 and 39: it is not correct to say that "Classical Arabic is no more a functional linguistic idiom for Arabs than liturgical Latin is a living language for Roman Catholics" since today apart from a very tiny minority Roman Catholics (including even many if not most French priests!) do not have any knowledge of Latin at all and apart from a very small margin Latin has not been a liturgical language for almost five decades -- the situation in Arab countries is rather similar to the situation in Romance countries about c. 1100 when Latin was still the main or even the only written language and a language of culture in general while 'Neolatin' or Romance, e.g. Italian dialects were already normally spoken and their speakers still could understand some Latin even without studying it; p. 15: it is not correct to explain the meaning of the name 'Koran' as 'reading, recitation' (p. 15) -- al-Qur'a:n means rather 'The Recited Text'; pp. 36-40: far too little attention is paid to Middle Arabic in the 'Brief History of Arabic' in which we miss a reference to Ignacio Ferrando's 'Introduccion a la historia de la lengua arabe -- nuevas perspectivas', Zaragoza 2001: Portico, which is an important contribution; pp. 50-51: contrary to Holes' claim, also Ugaritic has --u for 'Imperfect', -a for 'Subjunctive' and zero for 'Past/Jussive' as well as 'Energetic' -an and -anna - the latter not mentioned by Holes; even in Akkadian we have zero ending for the Past, a survival of --am < *-an as well as --u and even traces of -a.
Holes, like many other Arabists, underestimates the profound differences between the language situation, language use, language policy etc. in particular Arab countries which is not surprising since very few Arabists really know the situation in all Arab countries. Holes provides some very limited data on the situation in Tunisia which he visited in the year 2000 but otherwise his characteristic of the problems of Arab West is minimal. He knows the situation in Egypt quite well but although more or less directly he admits that Cairo Arabic is a de facto national language of Egypt he underestimates the existence of Cairo Literary Arabic represented since decades by copious, mainly modern drama and poetry but also prose writings, mentioning only 'certain erstwhile leftist Egyptian writers such as Yusuf Idris' (p. 50) and underestimating tens of others, especially those active in the last decades. The fact is that in Egypt there is both Modern Standard/Literary Arabic a n d Cairo/Egyptian Literary Arabic! Certainly in Egypt 'written Egyptian' does n o t "conventionally convey multiple associations of the 'domestic', 'homely', 'amusing', and 'nonserious' " (p.50), it is just the 'normal', viz. non-artificial means of modern artistic literary communication for so many writers. Thanks to Egyptian films and satelite television Egyptian Arabic influences Arabic varieties in other countries. Holes does not mention the problem of the official arabicization in the Maghreb and underestimates the use of French which is still very intensive (although decreasing for several reasons) in the Arab West. It is surprising that Holes uses past tense saying that 'many (Arab specialists -- A.Z.) continued to use English or French' which is still a reality especially among engineers and medicine doctors. The language situation in the most multilingual Arab country, viz. Sudan is not discussed at all.
In the chapter on 'Phonology' Holes mentions the traditional pronunciation conventions of Koranic and Classical poetry recitation (p. 57) but it is impossible to agree with his allegation that 'none of the reading conventions currently in use for the pronunciation of MSA has any historical validity' (p. 59) since the obligatory traditional pronunciation of the Koran certainly has at least some historical validity. There is no need to suspect that the this traditional pronunciation of the holy text has not been transmitted as accurately as possible, inevitable influence of colloquial phonetics being only marginal. There is nothing on the pronunciation of 'ayin which was analyzed rather as a stop than as a fricative by al-Ani years ago but which, nevertheless, is pronounced as a fricative in most varieties. It is strange that Holes does not even mention the alternative stress on the first syllable, e.g. in mádrasa (p. 63, cf. pp. 79-81) and does not mention even the problem of stress in the genitive construction (status constructus). The discussion of syllable types in Arabic dialects is limited to Cairo and Bahrain Sunni dialects and the special structures of e.g. Mesopotamian. and Maghrebian dialects are not mentioned at all. Actually the discussion of pausal forms (pp.63-68) as well of the different use of verbal forms (p. 86-89) does not belong to phonology but rather to morphology (or morphonology) and syntax. In the subchapter on 'Dialect and orthography' only examples from Bahraini poetry as written by one Bahraini poet are given and analyzed. Why the author has refrained from discussing problems of Cairo Arabic spelling which he knows so well? There should be at least a mention of the Lebanese as a l a n g u a g e (!) distinct from Arabic promoted by Sa'id 'Aql and Maurice Awad as well as by several other younger Lebanese writers who use Arabic script and/or special good Latin orthographies.
In the chapter on verb morphology Holes misses important publications by Larcher summarized and updated in his book 'Le Systeme verbal de l'arabe classique', Aix-en-Provence 2003, Université de Provence which is valuable also for Modern Standard Arabic. On the other hand Holes provides a good supplement to Larcher when he presents verbal derivation in dialects which was the subject of my paper read at the Third International Conference of Association Internationale de Dialectologie Arabe in Malta in 1998. Holes emphasizes correctly that in both Modern Standard Arabic and in the dialects the verbal system is evolving toward a tense system but he explains the opposition between the 'Perfect' and 'Imperfect' (his use of the name 'p-stem' for the latter is objectionable since p-stem occurs also in the 'Apocopate' which is a past tense!) as that between 'completed' and 'noncompleted/ongoing' actions and states and argues that the use of the 'Perfect' in conditional sentences, in optative phrases as well as with resultative function (e.g. fahimt "I understand'; cf. Latin Perfect novi which means 'I know' and not 'I knew') shows that "'pastness' is not central to the s-stem" (p. 218). This last assumption cannot be accepted because in many languages, even in English (!), real past tenses are used in the same way.
The discussion of dialect structures is practically limited to Cairo and Bahraini Arabic with some occasional references to a few other dialects, e.g. Damascus, Baghdadi, Jordanian varieties. In the chapter on noun morphology there is an important statement that "In uneducated dialectal speech relatively unaffected by MSA, the verbal noun does not figure very often, other locutions being preferred" (p.147). It is a widely spread phenomenon that nominalizations are avoided in many spoken languages but it is a pity that we are not told what 'other locutions' actually are. On p. 149 we do have an example of a nominalization ('eating of the things') in 'the plain colloquial of the Gulf'. The use of the quite idiosyncratic term 'broken plurals' (a calque translation from Arabic!) has a long tradition in Arabic studies but it has a big disadvantage since it separates Arabic linguistics from all other branches of linguistic sciences. "Broken plurals" are just internal plurals called also plurals with Ablaut or with apophony having good typological counterparts e.g. in English plurals 'feet', 'teeth', 'geese' and also 'oxen' and 'children' etc. Holes does not mention internal plurals of the type furs-a:n 'riders' corresponding to 'active participle' forms like sing. fa:ris 'rider' although he does mention bi'b-a:n 'doors, gates'. I have not found a mention that internal plurals are, at least in their majority, collectives since in well known circumstances they require a verb in singular.
Final conclusion: this is still an important book presenting both descriptive linguistic and sociolinguistic analyses that every Arabist must take into consideration.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
I am chair of Afroasiatic linguistics, Jagellonian University of Cracow specializing in comparative Afroasiatic linguistics including Arabic dialectology and history of Arabic. I am coeditor of the Encyclopaedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (forthcoming at Brill, Leiden) responsible among others for morphology and comparative problems. I was visiting professor at the universities of Vienna, Heidelberg, Torino, Udine and Mainz, fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Chief editor of "Folia Orientalia" published by the Polish Academy of Sciences.