Several years ago I taught a course in newspaper Arabic at a highly-respected Middle East related institution in Washington, D.C. The students in the course came from university graduate programs in Middle East Studies, the government, and from private industry. All the students had studied Arabic for several years. I had been told that the class would have a number of advanced students and was looking
forward to doing some interesting work with them.
During the first class session, I discovered that none of the students could read even a paragraph of a newspaper article without considerable difficulty. I also soon discovered that if given a great deal of time, the best students could understand the gist of an article, but did not grasp significant portions of it. Diagnosing some of the major problems was a simple task. Class discussion revealed that most of the students had a weak knowledge of the verb system in Arabic, especially of hollow, defective, and doubled verbs. They were totally confused by these verbs, but had plodded along in their studies of the language hoping that these verbs would be rare and that they could get by.
Additionally, many of the students were weak in basic grammar, things which are taught in first-year university-level Arabic courses. Among the problems were the rules of agreement, the comparative and superlative, and case. Even the difference between an idaafa construction and a noun-adjective phrase was not clear in the minds of some.
Other problems were apparent as well. Some students could not read for context, but relied instead on a dictionary, the use of which was also unclear to them. Those who did try to read for context were so impeded by their weak overall control of the language that they often misinterpreted what they were reading.
In short, reading Arabic was sheer torture for many of the students in the class. It is hard to understand
why anyone would want to continue to study Arabic while operating under such limitations. However, the problems experienced by these students are typical, as far as I can tell.
In subsequent “advanced” courses which I taught, I saw the same phenomenon. This book is in large part a portion of my own response to what I have termed the “Arabic is Really Awful, Boring, and Incredibly Complicated Affliction” (ARABICA).
This book reviews the grammar which must be mastered by the non-native speaker of the language in order to be able to read, write, or speak Arabic. It is intended for students who have had at least two years of university-level Arabic and who need to solidify their grasp of the grammar. It is specifically not intended for ‘first-time learners of the language. The primary goal of this text is the student’s mastery of the fundamentals of Arabic grammar in order to help the student improve his or her ability to read Arabic. However, mastery of these fundamentals will also contribute to an increase in ability ir1 other skill areas.
The fundamental premise upon which the pedagogy of this book is based is that the Arabic grammar which must be mastered by a non-native adult learner of the language is not intellectually difficult to learn. I also maintain that once the student learns the body of grammar presented in this book (or in any of the standard introductory texts used in colleges and universities), the student will have almost all of the grammatical knowledge of the language he or she will ever need in order to read Arabic newspaper articles, editorials, modern literature, or academic works. That is to say, that while the student may still need to acquire the background, vocabulary, and technical terminology peculiar to such endeavors, grammar will cease to be an impediment in dealing with these materials and will become a tool facilitating the student’s understanding of them.
Following directly from the above-mentioned premise, this book differs in tone from other grammars of Arabic. I have tried to keep the style ofthe explanations straight forward and simple in an effort to make the language seem learnable – which it is. The explanations sometimes include light-hearted comments and examples, all
in an effort to make the language of Arabic more accessible to the American
A third premise vital to the production of this book is that many Arabic students, and no doubt students of other languages who need to shore up their knowledge, find that it is easier to review and master previously covered material through a new medium of instruction rather than returning to the texts with which they first started learning the language.
This book is divided into three parts. Part I is a review ofthe elements of grammar commonly taught during the first semester of Arabic study at a university. It starts with the most basic elements of the language in order to give the student a solid base for what is to come in Part H, and to help build the student’s confidence.
In addition to traditional-style drills, which have been included for each grammatical point covered, two “authentic Arabic” passages are included in Part I. The students are asked to look in these passages for grammatical items previously covered, and to use their discovery of these elements as an aid in understanding the passages. They are not asked to translate the passages, nor are they asked to look up all the words they do not know. They are expected to rely on their previous contact with Arabic, along with the grammar covered before each passage is introduced, to write a short English-language summary of the passage. They can check their comprehension by referring to the translations of these passages included in the annotated answer key at the end of the book. The answer key also includes answers for all of the drills in the entire text, along with a translation of each sentence in each drill.
Part H focuses in large part on the verb structure of the language, although many other items are introduced as well. The order of presentation of the verb system is different than is usually the case in most university classrooms or in programs such as that at the Defense Language Institute (DLI). The primary difference is that in this book the major categories of Form I verbs are taught before the
introduction of the derived forms. What that means is that the student masters Form I sound, hollow, defective, doubled, and assimilated verbs before going to Form H. Form H verbs in the various categories are then mastered before going on to Form III.
The reason for this is that the various categories of verbs which give the non-native student of the language difficulty include very common verbs which the student must master. It is better, in my view, to get right into these categories, instead of waiting until later and forcing the student to learn doubled, hollow, and defective verbs for all 10 forms in rapid succession, as is the case with many text books and in many classrooms.
Additionally, once all categories of Form I verbs are mastered, these same categories of verbs in the derived forms are easier to grasp. In terms of conjugations, derived verbs require learning very little new material if the student has mastered Form I.
Drills are provided, of course, on all of the categories and forms ofthe Arabic verb. There are also drills on all of the other grammar points covered in Part H. As stated above, the answers to these drills are in the key at the end of the book.
The grammar presented in Part H is also taught with an eye to helping the student’s reading comprehension. Students are encouraged to read contextually, using the grammar they are learning to help overcome deficiencies in vocabulary, and to help them determine the roots of words which may need to be looked up in a dictionary. In Chapter Four of Part II, there is an extended discussion of reading strategies, dictionary use, and vocabulary acquisition. Ten more “authentic Arabic” passages are provided throughout Part H. The student is again asked to find speciic grammatical structures, to read for comprehension, to use the dictionary sparingly, and to summarize the passages (the student is asked to translate one of these passages). Again, the passages are translated in the key, so the student can check his or her comprehension.
Part IH itself can be divided into three parts. The first part is Chapters One through Four. These chapters contain material which, based upon my own experience as a student and teacher of the language, are either not essential for non-native speakers of Arabic to learn in a classroom, or that seldom interfere with a student’s comprehension of the written language, especially a student who has studied the language previously and needs to concentrate on regaining the fundamentals. Therefore, in these chapters the student will find sections on such items as telling time, diptotes, a review of defective nouns and adjectives, and a complete discussion of the rules of the Arabic number system. Chapter One of Part HI focuses on the use of selected words and phrases. This section could easily be greatly expanded and I may expand it in the future. No drills are provided for the items discussed in these chapters. The student is encouraged to look at these chapters from time to time, but is not expected to work through them systematically.
Chapters Five and Six form a second section of Part IH. Chapter Five is a discussion of the mechanics of how to use the Hans Wehr dictionary. The student is encouraged to read this chapter as soon as he or she begins to seriously work through parts I or H of tl1is book.
Chapter Six is a discussion of how to be a good Arabic student. It is filled with advice and exhortation all based on my experiences as a student and teacher of Arabic. I strongly encourage all students who use this book to read that section, either before beginning Part I of this book, or very soon thereafter.
The ‘final section of Part III begins with a chapter containing verb charts for all of the major categories of verbs taught in this text. The final chapter is an annotated key to all of the drills and Arabic passages in the book. The key provides the answers to the drills, translations of either each model sentence in each drill or of the answer to that sentence, commentary on certain grammatical points, and translations of each of the authentic Arabic passages
On one level, this text is intended for use by the student entirely on his or her own. The book is intended to benefit students who have had at least two years of university-level Arabic but who either stopped studying the language and wish to get back into it, or who have realized that their grammatical skills are weak and need to shore them up in order to make the most out of their study of the language.
However, this book can also be used in a classroom setting. I have used earlier drafts of this text in such a setting many times. Outside of being used in some sort of grammar review course, this book would also be useful as a back-up tool in advanced classes. Often, students in Arabic media, literature, or religious studies courses, have started to forget some or even many ofthe items covered in this text. An instructor of an advanced class may find it useful to have students review certain portions of this text while they are also doing the work for the class.
Although this text differs considerably from standard introductory Arabic texts, I am very much indebted to a number of them in producing this book. First and foremost among these sources is Elementary Modem Standard Arabic, (EMSA) vols. I and II, edited by Peter Abboud and Emest McCarus. This book became the bible of university Arabic classes during the l970’s and 198O’s and is still widely used to this day. I have chosen many of the grammatical topics in this book based on their being presented in EIMSA, incorporated some of EMSA ‘s grammatical temtinology, and have used a fair amount of the basic vocabulary found in EMSA throughout this book, especially in Part I. Since many potential users of this text will have used EMSA in the past, the vocabulary and grammatical links to EMSA should make re-entry into the language a bit easier.
A New Arabic Grammar, by J.A. Haywood and H.M. Nahmad was also of considerable value as a source. A more traditional Arabic text than EMSA, A New Arabic Grammar contains elements of grammar that EMSA does not cover. Even with regard to items EMSA does cover, Haywood/Nahmad sometimes provides information not included in EMSA.
Vincente C8.l’lt3.IiI1O’S Syntax of Modern Arabic Prose, a marvelous three-volume work, was also an important source. His technical terminology is rather obscure, however his examples are superb and his coverage of the language is very broad, far eclipsing the material in this book. I often found myself referring to him in order to verify specific points mentioned in other texts, or to verify points which I could not find in those texts.
A work called Adawat Al-Rabt ,ll Qlyl) by Naiman Waraqi and Abbas Tunsi was also a useful source. This work focuses on connecting words in the Arabic language and is very popular among students at The American University in Cairo and in other places. This book is highly accessible to the average American student and I highly recommend one’s working through it.
Finally, the mother of all grammars available in English, W. Wright’s A Grammar of the Arabic Language, was consulted on a number of points. While Wright contains very much that is beyond the scope of the text, and has a style which renders the work inaccessible to many students, it was through writing All the Arabic I learned to enjoy reading Wright’s grammar. Perhaps a few of those who work through my text will later find pleasure thumbing through Wright.