A student grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

A student grammar of Modern Standard Arabic. By Eckehard Schulz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xv, 248. ISBN 052154159X. $31.99.

Reviewed by Taras Shmiher, Ivan Franko National University

This book is a concise and user-friendly account of Modern Arabic. Keeping theory to a minimum, it is intended for students at various levels as well as for scholars in language studies. It may even be of use to those Arabs who have grown up in English-speaking environments. Designed more like a reference work than a textbook, this volume dispenses with the numerous drills and exercises so useful for students looking to master the practical elements of a foreign language. The book’s structure, however, is well suited for serving less introductory aims; scholars looking to undertake common revision tasks, for example, will find the book very useful, and its grammar tables exhaustively cover all cases of word formations and locations.

The grammar is based on the type of Modern Arabic used in contemporary professional practice, in newspapers, magazines, official and business communication, and on the internet, though Classical Arabic, still popular, is represented in this volume by quotations from the Koran and ancient belles-lettres. The Arabic dialects are not treated in this volume, a decision surely motivated by the level of complexity of such a pursuit and the inherent challenge of mastering dialects for second language students.

All of the apparati are written in two languages simultaneously, English and Arabic. This approach helps to connect the grammar with the traditional Arabic system of writing grammar as well as obviating the need to present a Semitic language in the terminology of an English grammar. Though some questions could have more eloquent explications (e.g. is ‘masdar/ ﺃﻟﻣﺼﺪﺮ’ an infinitive or a verbal noun? (58)), the explanations the text provides are most often adequate.

The book consists of five parts and two indices. A short introductory section includes the author’s ‘Preface’ and ‘Notes for the user’, which introduces the abbreviations the book uses and outlines the principles governing transliteration. In ‘Letters, pronunciation, auxiliary signs, writing’, Arabic characters are accompanied by the most closely equivalent English sounds or are followed by phonetic comments. This section also develops principles of Arabic writing, stress, and root definition. The section ‘Verbs’ covers all types of verbs in terms of tense, mood, and voice. Semantic commentary on the derived forms is rather limited. The grammatical categories of nouns, participles, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, and particles are illustrated in ‘Nouns’. ‘Syntax’ includes information about the use of articles, syntactic constructions, and sentence types, as well as a commentary on the uses of cardinal and ordinal numerals. The grouping of material about numbers alongside the other items that one would expect in a section called ‘Syntax’ reveals a feature of the Arabic linguistic tradition that is unusual, at least for the European reader. It is unlikely, however, to present a real challenge for a serious student to find the information s/he seeks. Additional data about time calculation, dates, and the Islamic calendar add a practical aspect to this reference book.

Two grammatical indices, of English and Arabic terms, help the reader to orient him/herself in this well-organized guide to the structure of Modern Standard Arabic.