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Pronouncing Arabic, vol. 2.

Readers may recall my enthusiastic reception of Mitchell's Pronouncing Arabic, vol. 1 (JAOS [1992]: 127-28), an exceptional book. This book, years in the making, is even better, being the end-product of a lifetime of fieldwork and careful note-taking on a wide spectrum of Arabic dialects. The tome is far too rich for any short review to do it justice. Suffice it to mention right at the outset, however, that Mitchell's vast experience of working with many native speakers, collecting details about their phonologies as well as their different pronunciations of Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, easily puts Pronouncing Arabic, vol. 2, ahead of all other comparative works which focus on Arabic phonetics and phonology. His great erudition in both general linguistics and Arabic studies is manifest on almost every page of the volume, as there is a plethora of minute information on a host of interrelated synchronic and diachronic topics, easy to locate by consulting the thorough index (pp. 285-307). Whereas Pronouncing Arabic, vol. 1 concentrated on various renditions of the artificial Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, this book directs its attention to Moroccan, Cyrenaican bedouin, Egyptian, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti dialects. The author deliberately makes no mention (p. vi) of Yemenite, Sudanese, Chadian, Cameroonian, and Nigerian dialects; one can only hope, when revised versions of the book are published, that the aforementioned dialects (plus those of Mauritania, Afghanistan, Khuzistan, etc.) be included, making the book even more comprehensive.

An introductory chapter (pp. 4-12) discusses some details of comparative Arabic dialectology, mentioning the tremendous homogeneity of the Arabic bedouin dialects (hence the nomadic/sedentary split). Mitchell stresses that his bifurcation plus the rural/urban dichotomy "take precedence, from an historical point of view, over those of a regional kind . . ." (p. 6). Furthermore, sociolectology subdivides urban dialects on the basis of "socio-economic class, professional standing, degree and type of education, religious affiliation, ethnic origin, generation, and even sex" (p. 10). Sociolinguists usually marvel at the Shiite /f/ in falafa 'three' in Bahrain, corresponding to Sunnite [Greek Text Omitted], and to women's (tarqiq) speech (documented for Egypt) dirs for male (tafxim) dirs 'molar,' and women's heavy imala for the low front vowel [ke:tib] 'clerk' for [kae:tib] (p. 9). Switching to ethnic origin, Mitchell is right to emphasize that one of the major reasons Maghrebine dialects are so different from the Mashriqi ones - they are often mutually unintelligible - is due to the Berber substratum. This certainly accounts for the general phenomenon of vowel loss in the western dialects when compared with eastern ones.

Chapter 1 presents a wealth of information on consonantal correspondences and differences among the dialects (pp. 13-54). Perhaps the best-known shibboleth in the consonantal realm is the manifestation of the jim (Cyrenaican bedouin and general North African z, Cairene g, Gulf States j [IPA]). The reader is referred to my "Arabic /ziim/: A Synchronic and Diachronic Study," Linguistics 79 (1972): 31-72 for comparative details. However, Mitchell's statement that it is a [d] in the Sudan is inaccurate (p. 14). It is usually a voiced lamino-palatal stop [??], although in some words, chiefly those containing sibilants, there can be a dissimilation to [d] (e.g., des 'army', sadara 'tree'). For details, see my Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in the Light of Comparative Arabic Dialectology (1976), 25, 57.

One of the more problematic consonants is the glottal stop, because of the elidability variation. The hamza in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, e.g., remains in an iznak 'with your permission', yet elides in the Classical expression bi zni llah 'God willing' (p. 15). Martin Hinds and El-Said Badawi (A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic [Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1986], xviii) report that 'he made a mistake in my name' may be pronounced ghilit fi ismi or fismi, whereas 'he made a mistake in my share' is ghilit fi ismi. I checked this out in Cairo and Alexandria, asking many Egyptians. Almost all thought the aforementioned fismi was very acrolectic or artificial, while few liked the meaning of the second sentence because they thought that the gloss 'my share' (= nasibi) should have been pronounced qismi, even though nasibi was preferred. The second sentence could also mean 'he made a mistake in my department' or '. . . in my police station'. If a hamza comes from a qaf, as happens in Egypt, the Levant, and to a certain extent in Fez, Morocco, it does not elide. Mitchell's discussion of the reflexes of qaf is about the best in all Arabic linguistic literature (pp. 33-39), whereas his commentary on the elision of hamza breaks new ground in its sweeping comprehensiveness (pp. 116-126). Any Arabist can appreciate the following Levantine minimal pair: su ismu(h) 'what's his name?' vs. su smu(h) 'thingummy' (p. 125), or the fact that one can distinguish a Syrian's bi isim ali 'in Ali's name' from a Palestinian's bisim ali (p. 122). It is the gathering and understanding of minute details such as these which eventually make the grand syntheses possible.

Mitchell is usually quite good about furnishing telling examples for the points he is trying to make; however, there was one place in which I would have been particularly interested in seeing his data illustrating Form IV verbal nouns' deleting the initial hamza in Educated Spoken Arabic, although Mitchell does specifically note this happens "rarely" (p. 117). What are the exact circumstances in which this deletion does occur?

The book is excellent in terms of giving the details of the major phonological properties of Arabic. Gemination is well known, of course, in Arabic and Semitic, and not unsurprisingly, there are many pages in this book devoted to it (I count 37 pages, according to the index, p. 292). The opposite process, degemination, is not mentioned in the index, although Mitchell manages to include some information on it. The process is called 'reduction' by the author, who cites Syrian a ur(r)fak 'I tell you', Kuwaiti yjas(s)mun 'they divide up', Levantine mit as(s)fin 'we're sorry', Kuwaiti m az(z)bak 'your boss,' etc. (pp. 95-97). We certainly agree with Mitchell when he writes: "Though there is a clear tendency towards reduction in all the eastern vernaculars, the fact of fluctuation as clearly underlines the need for further research" (p. 96). As an interesting parallel, English immature is pronounced without geminated m (referred to as degemination by John Harris, English Sound Structure [Oxford: Blackwell, 1994], 20).

Finally, let me conclude my positive assessment of this superb treatise by informing the reader that everything of importance on the nature of Educated Spoken Arabic can be found in chapter 5 (pp. 252-80). Mitchell is right to emphasize that "Modern Standard Arabic is not a spoken language, far less [a] mother-tongue" (p. 253), and perceptive to notice that "the distance between the written language and Educated Spoken Arabic is shown by the considerable amount of editing at all linguistic levels that is necessary for the publication in writing of an informal radio discussion programme with educated participants . . ." (p. 255). The fluctuations observable in Educated Spoken Arabic are best described by utilizing the notion of a linguistic continuum.

After reading Mitchell's book, it becomes clear that linguistic variation within Arabic is extremely complicated. Mitchell states there is a hybridization possible at the levels of the sentence, phrase, word, morpheme, and phoneme (p. 258). The nature of the Arabic speech continuum is worthy of semiotic theorizing at all levels (for an attempt, see my "Formal vs. Informal Arabic: Diglossia, Triglossia, Tetraglossia, etc., Polyglossia-Multiglossia Viewed as a Continuum," Zeitschrift fur arabische Linguistik 27 [1994]: 47-66). The concept of "ill-defined system" characterizing Educated Spoken Arabic is still, in my opinion, a valuable one.

This book has been carefully proofread. I have noted only one instance of possible confusion (p. 117): there is an erroneous gloss given twice for listi la(a)maat 'the uses' (it means 'the inquiries'). Or perhaps listi ma(a)laat 'the uses' was the intent of the author.

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Author:Kaye, Alan S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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