Monthly Archives: September 2009

Qur’anic stylistics: A linguistic analysis

Qur’anic stylistics: A linguistic analysis. By Hussain Abdul-Raof. (Languages of the world 32.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. 251. ISBN 3895868175. $106.68.

Reviewed by †Alan S. Kaye, California State University, Fullerton

This volume is a detailed description of stylistic variation in the Qur’an. The author states that this phenomenon ‘is a prototypical feature of Qur’anic genre’ (236). To cite an example, let me mention tense (or, better, aspect) shifting (Arabic ʔiltifaat), illustrated by the following verse (Q25:10): tabaaraka llaðii ʔin šaaʔa jaʕala laka xayran min ðaalika . . . wa yajʕalu laka quuuran ‘Blessed is He, if he willed, could have made for you something better than that . . . and could make palaces for you’. Here it is important to note that the first verb jaʕala ‘made’ is in the perfect (author’s ‘past tense’), while the second yajʕalu ‘makes’ is in the imperfect (author’s ‘present tense’). While I agree with Abdul-Raof that ʔiltifaat is ‘frequently encountered’, I am reluctant to accept his analysis that it ‘is employed as a rhetorical means that aims to achieve psychological comfort for the reader’ (236). The reason for my skepticism is that the term ‘psychological comfort’ is vague, difficult to describe and explicate, and therefore unscientific.

The next example A-R discusses of the very same stylistic shift, however, is explained in more convincing terms (Q22:25): ?inna llaðiina kafaruu wa yuadduuna ʕan sabiili llaahi ‘Indeed, those who have disbelieved and avert people from the way of God’. As in the first example, the first verb is in the perfect, but through the use of the second, imperfect yuadduuna, ‘the componential feature of [+Continuity of Action] can be attributed to the subject’ (236). Here, English is capable of rendering this stylistic shift; however, there are numerous occasions where English does not translate the stylistic flavor of the original Arabic. This has been pointed out by A-R, who correctly asserts: ‘This is due to the fact that Arabic and English are linguistically and culturally incongruous languages’ (12), although this is not explained in detail here or elsewhere in the publication.

Let me take up a general conclusion, viz., that each and every instance of stylistic variation ‘occurs for a good reason and is context and co-text sensitive’ (8). In Q 16:70-83 ‘And God created you . . . and God has favoured some of you over others . . . and God has made for you from yourselves mates . . . and they worship besides God that which does not possess for them . . . God presents an example’ (15), we note that the first three sentences begin with Allaah ‘God’, the next three start with a verb, and the following three begin with a noun Allaah, and the tenth with a verb. I do not believe much can be made of this variation. Even A-R himself states that ‘stylistically, the Arabic sentence starts with either a verb or a noun’ (15).

The book abounds in typographical and other errors. Let me mention but a few instances: ‘semantically-oriented’ should not be hyphenated (8); ‘situaltionally-distinctive’ for ‘situationally distinctive’ (9); ‘pbonetic’ for ‘phonetic’ (10); ‘agiven’ for ‘a given’ (10); ‘stylsitic’ for ‘stylistic’ (11); ‘sigular’ for ‘singular’ (11); ‘reads’ should be ‘read’ in ‘In order to make the English sentence reads smoothly’ (11); and so on. As for the short bibliography (247–48), the transcriptional diacritics are left off, rendering the Arabic inaccurate.

Let me conclude with some stylistic remarks of my own. Many sentences in this tome detract from its overall usefulness and effectiveness and contribute to a wordiness, causing the reader to lose interest in the subject matter. Consider the opening and closing sentences of the work: ‘Language is a complex entity’ (9). Of course it is! And: ‘Variation in Arabic linguistic structures is an intriguing stylistic phenomenon that merits a linguistic analysis’ (246). A good editor would have clipped both of these statements as ‘stylistically infelicitous’.

Consonance in the Qur’an: A conceptual, intertextual and linguistic analysis

Consonance in the Qur’an: A conceptual, intertextual and linguistic analysis. By Hussein Abdul-Raof. (Languages of the world 34.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2005. Pp. 339. ISBN 3895868019. $204.12.

Reviewed by † Alan S. Kaye, California State University, Fullerton

This interesting, well-researched volume uses the framework of text linguistics, largely following Teun A. van Dijk’s Text and context (London: Longman, 1977) and M. A. K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan’s Language, context, and text: Aspects of language in social-semiotic perspective (Victoria: Deakin University Press, 1997) to analyze the Qur’an in Arabic. It focuses on consonance (translated inconsistently by the author as Arabic nasq (22), but also as munaasabah (25)), which is defined as a ‘text linguistic term that refers to the sequentiality and connectivity of propositions’ (16). This phenomenon refers to the cohesion and coherence of the sentences of the text of the Arabic Qur’an, the holy book for Muslims no matter what the native language of the Muslim happens to be. A significant point for non-Muslims to realize is that the faithful believe that the Qur’an is kalaamu llaah ‘God’s word’, and thus it cannot be translated into any other language (but paraphrases in another language are possible). The author is correct in his observation that although the Qur’anic text was revealed in both Mecca and Medina over a period of approximately a quarter of a century, there are conceptual and intertextual connections of ideas that have influenced consonance throughout the tome ‘at both micro and macro levels’ (16). The author has found the following types of consonance: between chapters; within one chapter; and at parable level, word level, phrase level, letter level, semantic level, phonetic level, and so on (17).

As illustrative of the methodology of text linguistics employed, the author compares two Qur’anic verses (ayahs) with identical lexical and semantic content (37): Q6:102 reads laa ’ilaaha ’illaa huwa xaaliqu kulli shay’in ‘There is no deity [‘god’—ASK] except Him, the Creator of all things’, and Q 40:62 has the reverse word order, xaaliqu kulli shay’in laa ’ilaaha ’illaa huwa ‘The Creator of all things, there is no deity [‘god’—ASK] except Him’. The first verse is embedded in a context of monotheism as major theme. Therefore, ’ilaaha ‘god’ occurs in first position (the author’s wording is: ‘made communicatively more salient in terms of information output’). The latter ayah has a ‘context of situation’ dealing with creation. Thus, xaaliqu ‘Creator’ occurs initially. Then the author adds the following explanation: ‘These variations are deliberately made for good communicative functions [sic]’ (37).

The tome is wordy in many places, and thus difficult and frustrating to read. Consider the following not untypical example: at the beginning of a section entitled ‘Consonance in text linguistics’ (25) we read: ‘In Arabic, the expression [sic] consonance means al-munasabah [sic] which is one of the derivative forms of the verb nasaba meaning “related or linked to someone or something” ’ (25). The next section, entitled ‘Consonance in Qur’anic studies’, begins: ‘The notion of consonance in Qur’anic studies is called al-munasabah [sic]. This word is derived from the verb yunaasibu “to be a relative to someone, to have a resemblance to someone, like two brothers, a cousin, a brother-in-law” ’ (25).

Occasionally, the author’s English is ungrammatical or awkward. Consider but two examples. He says that his book consists of seven chapters: ‘The book falls into seven chapters’ (17). And he writes: ‘The findings of this work is [sic] highly vital for text analysts as well as for those interested in text linguistics’ (20).

Finally, it should be noted that the bibliography lacks the diacritics necessary for an accurate Arabic transcription. Hopefully, these types of stylistic infelicities will be corrected in a subsequent edition.

An introduction to sociolinguistics

An introduction to sociolinguistics. 5th edn. By Ronald Wardhaugh. (Blackwell textbooks in linguistics.) Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. 418. ISBN 140513559X. $43.07.

Reviewed by Jan Holeš, Palacký University

The new edition of this popular textbook offers comprehensive information on this very rapidly developing branch of linguistics. The subject matter is organized into four main parts that present four major sociolinguistic topics. After the introduction, which explains basic sociolinguistic notions, Part 1, ‘Language and communities’, examines some traditional language issues, such as the essential differences between a language and a dialect, and between regional and social dialects, presenting their main features. Wardhaugh focuses on pidgin and creole languages, provides definitions for them, and explains their distribution and hypotheses about their origin. Two other chapters look at such terms as codes, diglossia, bilingualism and multilingualism, code-switching, and speech communities.

In Part 2, ‘Inherent variety’, W deals with issues that have been often regarded as core sociolinguistic problems, in particular the problem of regional and social variation. He explains why and how a language changes. Based on several famous examples drawn from the history of sociolinguistics, the reader learns how such changes can be discovered, explored, and evaluated.

Part 3, ‘Words at work’, investigates the relationship between language and culture. In the first place, it describes the history and the current state of the so-called Whorfian hypothesis (or linguistic relativity hypothesis). Several chapters in this part are concerned with areas in which language and culture have been said to be related, such as kinship and color terminology and the domain of language taboo. This part also does not neglect expressions of solidarity and politeness, such as forms of address or the distinction between singular you’ and plural you’ (corresponding to the : "Times New Roman",&quottu – : "Times New Roman",&quotvous distinction in French).

Finally, Part 4, ‘Understanding and intervening’, acquaints the reader with gender issues, especially with differences between the use of a particular language by men and women. Using English usage as an example, the reader learns about the social and educational consequences of the use of a different language or a variety of a language. The last chapter focuses on language planning and contains an abundance of examples of well-known as well as lesser-known planning decisions adopted throughout the world.

Each chapter concludes with a discussion section, which stimulates further reflection on the matter and is usable by teachers as a source of various assignments, and a further reading section, which comments on main works in the field. In addition, the book contains an immensely rich bibliography, covering almost thirty pages, and a reliable index.

The text is complemented by a number of examples taken from widely known Indo-European languages as well as from more exotic languages, often offering highly interesting solutions to the theoretically described problems. The book is written in a clear and student-friendly language. This feature, combined with the quantity of examples given, a pleasant graphic design, and various charts and tables, makes this publication an excellent textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses. This overview of sociolinguistics may also, however, interest many teachers and research workers in the field of linguistics and sociology.

Språkdannelse og -stabilisering i møtet mellom kvensk og norsk

Språkdannelse og -stabilisering i møtet mellom kvensk og norsk. By Hilde Sollid. (Tromsø studies in linguistics 24.) Oslo: Novus, 2005. Pp. 302. ISBN 8270994103. €266.

Reviewed by Nanna Haug Hilton, University of York

Språkdannelse og -stabilisering i møtet mellom kvensk og norsk is the publication of Hilde Sollid’s doctoral thesis on language contact in a multicultural area of northern Norway. The community investigated, Sappen, has traditionally been a point of contact for three languages: Saami, Kvensk (a dialect of Finnish found in northern Norway), and Norwegian. The book deals with the contact between the latter two.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century the most widely spoken language in Sappen was Kvensk. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the Norwegian state instituted a policy of ‘Norwegianization’ (fornorsking), which aimed to assimilate Saami and Kvensk speakers culturally and linguistically into mainstream Norwegian society. S argues that this policy led directly to processes of language shift whereby many communities in northern Norway changed from being bi- or trilingual to becoming monolingual in Norwegian. This is also the case for Sappen, which today is nearly completely monolingual in Norwegian.

Nevertheless, S argues that Kvensk has left its mark on the local variety of Norwegian through borrowing. In particular, she describes certain features of the local dialect found in Finnish but absent from other varieties of Norwegian. S argues that these features were borrowed from Kvensk, in a process of change consisting of two stages: a ‘creation phase’ (dannelsefase) and ‘stabilization phase’ (stabiliseringsfase).

S proposes that the creation phase began around 1900 when schools started teaching in Norwegian only. The dialect was then formed by the Kvensk second-language speakers of Norwegian and their children. Based on apparent-time speech data and grammaticality-judgment data from informants born around 1920, the author argues that the dialect in its creation phase exhibited a variety of features absent from varieties of Norwegian not in contact with Finnish. Drawing on theories of creolization and language acquisition, S argues that these speakers used Kvensk as a resource when learning Norwegian, and that syntactic structures and functional categories from Kvensk were thereby incorporated into the local Norwegian.

In its subsequent stabilization phase, Sappen Norwegian has undergone a process of leveling, according to the author. Speech data and grammaticality-judgment data show that the younger the informants are, the more likely they are to reject structures not found in Standard Norwegian. Seen in a bigger picture, these data suggest that the dialect is becoming increasingly similar to other dialects in the northern region of Norway. S points out, however, that the reason for leveling is not as much regionalization as youngsters’ greater contact with Norwegian through media and new migrants to Sappen. As S notes, these social changes also have consequences for language shift: younger generations increasingly encounter Norwegian more than Kvensk in their daily life, which further imperils intergenerational transmission of Kvensk.