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The Semitic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions.

The Semitic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. Edited by ROBERT HETZRON. New York: ROUTLEDGE, 1997. Pp. xx + 572, maps. $200.

Robert Hetzron was the most influential Semitist of the last three or four decades. The editor and driving force behind the fine volume under review here, he sadly never saw the final product, having died, at the age of 65, just weeks before its publication.

The volume is divided into three parts. Part I, "Generalities," contains four chapters: a clear and thorough overview of the "Genetic Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages" (Alice Faber), an excellent survey of "Scripts of Semitic Languages" (Peter T. Daniels), and brief but very informative chapters on the Arabic and Hebrew grammatical traditions (Jonathan Owens and Arie Schippers, respectively). Inclusion of the latter, while welcome, is somewhat unexpected (the companion Routledge volume The Indo-European Languages, edited by Anna Giacalone Ramat and Paolo Ramat [1997], does not, e.g., have a chapter on the Sanskrit grammatical tradition), and it is not clear why Arabic and Hebrew were singled out, while the Mesopotamian (Sumero-Akkadian), Ethiopian, and Syriac grammatical traditions were not covered. More significant omissions are an introductory chapter or chapters covering the Semitic family in general, its essential characteristics, and its Afro-Asiatic relatives, and a discussion of Proto-Semitic (com pare the three introductory chapters in the just-mentioned Indo-European volume: "The Indo-Europeans: Origins and Culture"; "Proto-Indo-European: Comparison and Reconstruction"; "The Indo-European Linguistic Family: Genetic and Typological Perspectives").

Parts II and III cover all the major ancient and modem Semitic languages in chapters written for the most part by recognized experts. Part II, "Old Semitic," contains eight chapters. Akkadian (Giorgio Buccellati), Amorite and Eblaite (Cyrus H. Gordon), Aramaic (Stephen A. Kaufman), Ugaritic (Dennis Pardee), Ancient Hebrew (Richard C. Steiner), Phoenician and the Eastern Canaanite Languages (Stanislav Segert), Classical Arabic (Wolfdietrich Fischer), Sayhadic (Epigraphic South Arabian) (Leonid E. Kogan and Andrey V. Korotayev), and [Ge.sup.subset]ez (Ethiopic) (Gene Gragg). Part III, "Modern Semitic," contains eleven chapters: Arabic Dialects and Maltese (Alan S. Kaye and Judith Rosenhouse), Modern Hebrew (Ruth A. Berman), The Neo-Aramaic Languages (Otto Jastrow), The Modern South Arabian Languages (Marie-Claude Simeone-Senelle), Tigrinya (Leonid E. Kogan), Tigre (Shlomo Raz), Amharic and Argobba (Grover Hudson), Harari (Ewald Wagner), The Silte Group (East Gurage) (Ernst-August Gutt), and Outer South Ethiopi c (Robert Hetzron). The volume concludes with a very thorough and useful subject index.

While the coverage of the ancient languages in Part II is generally excellent (and I would single out in particular Richard Steiner's superb chapter on Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew), what most students interested in the Semitic family will find invaluable is the extensive coverage of the modern languages. Never before, to my knowledge, have the modern forms of Semitic been so thoroughly and reliably treated in one volume; the writers are, in most cases, scholars who have worked with these languages for years and carried out much of the primary field work on them.

The writers were asked to follow a "template" in writing the grammatical descriptions of their assigned languages. Thus there is a certain uniformity of presentation that will be welcomed especially by non-Semitists who use the volume; and Semitists, too, will often be intrigued to find familiar data displayed in new ways. Despite this underlying uniformity there is much variation among the chapters, as evidenced, for example, by the ranges in the chapter lengths: among the ancient languages, Aramaic is covered in seventeen pages and [Ge.sup.subset]ez in nineteen, while the Hebrew chapter has twenty-nine pages and the Arabic has thirty-three; among the modern languages, Tigre has only thirteen pages, versus twenty-nine for Amharic (and Argobba), and the Outer South Ethiopic languages receive only fifteen pages, versus forty-four for the Neo-Aramaic languages, forty-six for the Modem South Arabian, and forty-nine for the modern Arabic. No single transliteration system is used, a fact that may well befuddle so me readers, especially non-Semitists, particularly since there is no introductory chapter that might have harmonized the disparities. We find, e.g., both h and x used, and both q and k. Long vowels are transcribed V by some writers, VV by others, and V: by still others; similarly, geminate consonants are transcribed either CC or C:. The treatment of syntax also differs widely among the chapters: for example, Buccellati and Steiner both present nearly a dozen insightful pages on Akkadian and classical Hebrew syntax, and Simeone-Senelle and Gutt each offer nine very useful pages on MSA and Silte syntax; but the complicated Amharic syntax gets short shrift (five pages), as does the syntax of Tigre (two pages), Tigrinya (four), and ancient Aramaic (three), while the Neo-Aramaic chapter has no separate syntax section (although that chapter is already one of the longest in the volume, and provides a wealth of information on the many modern Aramaic languages, a few complete sentences from one or two of the languages would have been helpful).

Each of the chapters ends with a (usually) brief bibliography for "further reading"; most of these contain six to eight references, but some are shorter (three items for Aramaic and four for Phoenician) and some are much longer (forty-three for NeoAramaic and forty-four for Modem South Arabian), for no apparent reason. The bibliographies naturally include the standard reference grammar(s) of the language(s) treated, but often not the standard dictionaries. In only one or two cases ([Ge.sup.[subset]]ez and NeoAramaic) are introductory or learning grammars mentioned.

There are very few maps. Two each accompany the chapters on modern Arabic and Modern South Arabian, one of which, showing the geographical location of the latter (p. 381), is particularly helpful. There is also a map (p. xiv) showing the general location of the ancient and modem Semitic languages, a map that is unfortunately marred by a number of errors ("Other Canaanite" in the font used for living languages; "Gelez" for Ge'ez/[Ge.sup.[subset]]ez"; "Gunaan" for "Gunnan"). But there are no others, and that is unfortunate, particularly in the chapters that cover a range of dialects, for which the geographical names mentioned in the descriptions of dialect distributions will be unfamiliar to many readers, such as Neo-Aramaic, Sayhadic, and most of the chapters on the modern Ethiopian languages.

Although nothing is said in Hetzron's preface about translations of chapters for the volume originally written in languages other than English, it seems clear that Hetzron himself must have undertaken the task. While they are generally clear, there are frequent infelicities in these translations, e.g., in the translation from the French original of the chapter on Modem South Arabian: "missing at the suffix Conjugation" for "missing in" (p. 400), "a particular conditional form" for "a special" (p.401), "at p1." for "in the p1." (p. 405), "the same rules that" for "the same rules as" (p. 419); in the translation from the German original of the chapter on the Silte group: "used for the generic statement" (delete article; p. 513), "has often" for "often has" (p. 515), "eats all the time butter" for "eats butter all the time" (p. 525), "preposition portions" for "preposition components" (p. 529).

Despite such drawbacks and the presence of too many typographical errors, the appearance of so many up-to-date and reliable synopses of the various languages in one volume ensures that this will be a much-consulted work for years to come. It can be recommended without reservation both to general students of language and to students of Semitic who want to know more about members of the family with which they may be less familiar. The reliability and usefulness of the volume makes all the more lamentable its exorbitant cost, which will surely keep many from adding it to their personal libraries.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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