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Sbahtu! A Course in San ani Arabic.

By JANET C. WATSON. Wiesbaden: OTTO HARRASOWITZ, 1996. Pp. xxvii + 324.

This is a comprehensive, pedagogically sound San ani Arabic textbook of twenty lessons. It complements the author's (1993) A Syntax of San ani Arabic by the same publisher (see my review in JAOS 117.3). Each lesson consists of authentic dialogues which Watson often recorded in the field. They deal with Yemenite culture, such as gat chewing, a national pastime. A big plus for the tome is that it contains a glossary of about fourteen hundred useful items (pp. 295-321), which happily gives important free variations, such as ala sibb [similar to] asibb 'for; because (of)' (p. 295); yirig/yirag 'he pours (' (p. 312); or the geminated zukkam for zukam 'cold; flu' (p. 321). The vocabulary for each lesson is presented after its related textual material. Then, too, there is a supplementary thematic vocabulary, such as one for food and drink (pp. 62-64).

One fault of the book is that some basic words are introduced towards the very end. For instance, lesson 16 cites rah 'to go' (p. 213), or lesson 19 includes jamil 'beautiful' and gaf 'to see' (p. 265 and p. 266 respectively). On the other hand, one is exposed to less utilitarian and surely less common or needed words, such as msamma 'plastic sheet' in lesson 3 (p. 17), or baxar 'incense', or murr 'myrrh' in lesson 5 (p. 42).

The grammatical notes are linguistically sophisticated. For example, Watson comments on the dissimilation of ma 'what' to b- in bismig 'what's your name (f. sg.)?' (pp. 11-12). Descriptive adequacy is often met as the definite article/all-/allomorph is carefully noted before nouns beginning with a vowel; e.g., allumm 'the mother' and allism 'the name' (pp. 18-19). However, as with many other textbooks of various Arabic dialects, there are no rules explicating the broken plural patterns (pp. 32-33). The student is left on his own, feeling, I fear, hopelessly lost, as the idea seems to be to memorize each singular together with its plural. Imagine frustration building as one notes marih 'woman', pl. niswan and nisa, or ism 'name', pl. asma (p. 32) and asami (p. 33). There are predictive tendencies of pluralization which would have been beneficial to students.

One well-known feature of San ani Arabic is its very conservative nature. The relative pronoun is alladi (plus variations without the interdental) and all examples contain it when its grammar is explained on pp. 118-19. An additional section on it (p. 182) notes that the author's Syntax does not consider alladi a relative pronoun but rather a "clausal definite article" (1993: 230). Other Yemenite preservations include various long vowels (e.g., the final vowel in hand 'here' or yada 'lunch'), the diphthongs (ay in usbu ayn 'two weeks' and aw in yawm 'day'), the interdentals, the ta marbutah (adih 'custom'), Form IV (axlas 'take off'), and various morphemes, such as ma 'water' or ka- 'like'.

The pragmatic and cultural notes on usage are particularly helpful. Let us consider but two examples: in sallah is well glossed as 'hopefully', and no one can argue with the author's statement that it "is used far more frequently in Arabic than 'hopefully' is in English" (p. 147). In fact, that is an understatement. Also, Yemenitc time is six hours ahead of English time (p. 153), so one o'clock = seven o'clock.

The exercises consist of substitutions of various sorts, rearrangements, and transformations and translations, many of which are less than exciting. By carefully studying this book, however, the student will have acquired the rudiments of vocabulary and grammar so as to be able to carry on a basic conversation on many subjects in .San a He will not be able to yithaka ssan ani 'to speak San ani Arabic' bulbul 'fluently' (lit., '[like a] nightingale'). This noble goal will surely require an extended stay.

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Author:Kaye, Alan S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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