Printer Friendly

Circumstantial Qualifiers in Semitic: the Case of Arabic and Hebrew.

Circumstantial Qualifiers in Semitic: The Case of Arabic and Hebrew. By BO ISAKSSON, HELENE KAMMENSJO, and MARIA PERSSON. Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. 70. Wies-baden: HARRASSOWITZ, 2009. Pp. xvii + 289. [euro] 68.

Under the aegis of Bo Isaksson at the University of Uppsala, this thematically focused volume on Arabic syntax was undertaken by three Swedish scholars--Helene Kammensjo, Maria Persson, and Bo Isaksson himself--based on a large-scale project funded by the Swedish Research Council. The self-proclaimed goal of this monograph is "to bring into focus circumstantial clause combining in Arabic and Hebrew by presenting corpus-based pilot studies on circumstantial qualifiers in a choice of language varieties: pre-classical and classical Arabic, classical Hebrew, modern literary Arabic and Gulf Arabic dialects" (p. 25). Following a methodological introduction by Isaksson, the volume subsequently unites three thematically coherent and mutually complementary larger sections: "An Outline of Comparative Arabic and Hebrew Textlinguistics" (Isaksson), "Circumstantial Qualifiers in Contemporary Arabic Prose" (Kammensjo), and "Circumstantial Qualifiers in Gulf Arabic Dialects" (Persson). The three sections are mutually compatible in their approach to subject matter and data, without slavishly following the same structure. Isaksson figures both as co-author and editor of the whole volume.

The main thrust of the project consists in broadening the perspective of what has traditionally been associated with circumstantial clauses in Semitic, namely, Arabic h[]l clauses. A typical trait of such h[]l clauses is their temporal coincidence with or immediate sequence to the head clause, e.g., in Akkadian p[]-su []pus-am-ma izakkar-am ana PN "he opened his mouth in order to say ("and says") to PN" (Old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh, passim); Biblical Hebrew way-y[]b[](') 'el[]s[]' dammeeseq u-ben-hadar melek-'ar[]m h[]le(h) "Elisha came to Damascus while ("and") Ben Hadar, the king of Aram, was ("is") ill" (I K 8:7); Classical Arabic 'aqbalat '[]run wa-nahnu nusall[] "a caravan approached while ("and") we were ("are") praying."

Accordingly, the team around Bo Isaksson prefers the term "circumstantial qualifiers" (henceforth, CQs), as instances of nominal complements, notably of the type maf'[]l min'ajli-h[], and other structure types are also included in their research. The team carefully defines its goals against the background of previous research on CQs (in German Zustandssatze), viz overviews in the classical surveys of Semitic syntax (e.g., Brockelmann 1913: 501-17 and Reckendorf 1921: 447-53) and in modern typological studies on the relationship between paratactic and hypotactic clauses (e.g., Lehmann 1988, (Givon 1991, and Fabricius-Hansen and Ramm, eds., 2008). Indeed, circumstantial clauses can he said to assume a borderline position between parataxis and hypotaxis, broadly defined as "enhancing clauses without explicit marking of a semantic relation to the head [clausel" (p. 7). In that this relationship can encompass final, causal, concessive, temporal, consecutive. and "comparative" nuances, Isaksson et al.'s definition is quite inclusive. On the other hand, the team pays attention to distinguishing CQs from other types of clauses, notably asyndetic relative clauses, conditional clauses, clauses involving the Hebrew particle k[], as well as serial verb constructions, which could be labeled "bleached" CQ-constructions. The threesome throughout employs notions of modern text linguistics, with a focus on the semantic linkage between clause constituents, as CQs are first and foremost semantically, not syntactically defined. A practical feature of the volume is the use of intuitive abbreviations for different kinds of verbal phrases; the same holds for the notation of the different Biblical Hebrew conjunctions ("we" for we- and allomorphs vs. "way" for way- and allomorphs), as being relevant for tense/aspect-related issues.

In his large section "An Outline of Comparative Arabic and Hebrew Textlinguistics," Isaksson evaluates the data in Classical Arabic (mainly from Ibn Ish[]q and al-Tabar[]) as well as in pre-exilic Biblical Hebrew' (mainly from the Book of Judges). He argues convincingly that the relative scarcity of subordination markers in the old strata engendered "the continuum of grounding" (p. 115) by both syndetic and asyndetic CQ clauses, typically marked by tense switching. Isaksson also pays attention to the specific relationship of the CQs to their respective heads, i.e., whether they refer to a participant or an activity (verb) in the head clause. Implicitly, lsaksson's section also develops into a discussion of notorious problems of tense/aspects in Semitic (cf. the charts on pp. 136 and 138). Thereby, he offers insight relating to both inner-Hebrew comparison (notably' oppositions such as way-yiegoi in "storyline position" and we- yigtol in "non-storyline position") and inner-Semitic (Hebrew-Arabic) comparison (functionally corresponding way-yiqtol in Hebrew and fa-qatala in Arabic).

In her section "Circumstantial Qualifiers in Contemporary Arabic Prose," Kammensjo carefully analyzes the distribution of the three main types of CQ clauses in Modern Written Arabic, namely, (1) participial noun phrase in the accusative; (2) asyndetic CQ clause introduced by a verb in the prefix conjugation; and (3) syndetic CQ clause with wa- and a subject pronoun followed by (a) a noun phrase (or prepositional phrase) or (b) a verb phrase. Kammensjo bases her deliberations on a geographically wide spectrum of modern Arabic prose fiction. She is especially interested in the grammaticalization of clause combining and the "choreographing" or "packaging" of discourse along the concepts developed in Halliday 2004. Interestingly, Kammensjo statistically arrives at the conclusion that modern "traditionalist" authors (e.g., the Saudi Turk[] al-Hamad) make wider use of type (1) and the syndetic type (3), whereas "non-traditionalist" authors (e.g., the Kuwaiti Layl[] al-'Uthm[]n) display an increased use of the asyndetic type (2) (ef. the overview on p. 203).

Finally, in her section "Circumstantial Qualifiers in Gulf Arabic Dialects," Persson reiterates the point that only a broad semantic definition of CQs is meaningful in both Standard and dialectal Arabic. In general, she supports the impression that in modern spoken Arabic the division of semantic weight between head clauses and CQs has shifted towards the CQs, as compared with the scenario in Classical Arabic (cf. p. 275). Thus, whole text segments can figure as CQs in her approach. Not surprisingly, oral discourse allows for an even wider array of syntactic possibilities, as intonation may support the mark-ing of a passage as a CQ, e.g., in the sentence fa ingul[]-na [ana 'umr-i tagr[]ban fi-l-hamst 'asr sine] ingul[]-na ila gum[]ra "so they moved us, [I was about fifteen years old], they moved us to Jumeirah" (cf. p. 213). In the latter example, a type of asyndesis occurs that would be ungrammatical in written Arabic. One finds a wealth of well-ordered recorded data in this section, reflected by an equally fine-tuned syntactic and semantic analysis. The interested reader may also be referred to Persson's lemma "Circumstantial clause" in the online version of the Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics.

In sum, the team around Bo Isaksson has produced a formally and thematically coherent study that truly advances current discussion in Semitic linguistics, a discussion not only of clause combining but also of questions related to tense, aspect, and mood. At the same time, the team fully acknowledges previous work on related issues from Andersen 1974 to Premper 2002. Throughout the volume, CQs (or CQ clauses) are placed between angled parentheses, thus enhancing the reader's ability to follow the argumentation. The volume caters not only to Semiticists but also to general linguists, in that all examples are provided with interlinear transcription. Isaksson, as opposed to Kammensjo, also marks case and mood endings in Arabic. A unified bibliography at the end would have been practical. To a certain degree, the lack of an index is outweighed by the detailed table of contents that facilitates the search for specific syntactic structures. All in all, one can only wish for a wide distribution and positive reception of this fine study.


Andersen, Francis 1. 1974. The Sentence in Biblical Hebrew. The Hague: Mouton.

Brockelmann, Carl. 1913. Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der semitischen Sprachen, vol. 2. Berlin: Verlag von Reuther and Reichard.

Fabricius-Hansen, Cathrine, and Wiebke Ramm, eds. 2008. "Subordination" vs. "Coordination" in Sentence and Text: A Cross-linguistic Perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Givdn, Talmy. 1991. The Evolution of Dependent Clause Morpho-syntax in Biblical Hebrew. In Approaches to Grammaticalization, vol. 2: Focus on Types of Grammatical Markers, ed. Elisabeth C. Traugott and Bernd Heine. Pp. 257-310. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halliday, Michael A. K. 2004. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd rev. ed. London: Arnold.

Lehmann, Christian. 1988. Towards a Typology of Clause Linkage. In Clause Combining in Gram-mar and Discourse, ed. John Haiman and Sandra A. Thompson. Pp. 181-225. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Premper, Waldfried. 2002. Die "Zustandssiitze" des Arabischen in typologischer Perspektive. Frank-furt a.M.: Peter Lang.

Reckendorf, Hermann. 1921. Arabische Syntax. Heidelberg: Carl Winter's Universitatsbuchhandlung.

COPYRIGHT 2011 American Oriental Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Edzard, Lutz
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2011
Previous Article:The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr.
Next Article:The Development of Arabic as a Written Language.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters