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  • Arabic rhetoric: A pragmatic analysis
  • James Dickins
Arabic rhetoric: A pragmatic analysis. By Hussein Abdul-Raof. London: Routledge, 2006. Pp. 256. ISBN 9780415386098. $170 (Hb).

The Arabic linguistic tradition makes a fundamental distinction between grammar, as a discipline dealing with the formal structures of Arabic, and rhetoric, dealing with the effective employment of these structures in communication. This book provides an outline of the major scholars and developments of Classical Arabic rhetoric and discusses the main practical analyses of Arabic developed by the Classical Arabic rhetoricians. The title Arabic rhetoric: A pragmatic analysis suggests that the book might have a somewhat different orientation than the one it has—providing either an account of the rhetoric of Arabic (in practice) as understood using a modern pragmatic model, or an account of the principles and/or specific analyses of traditional Arabic rhetoric (as a discipline) understood through the prism of one or more modern approaches to pragmatics. As noted, the book does neither of these things. Some reference is made at various points to modern pragmatic theories, but this is rather cursory in nature. For example, Abdul-Raof states: ‘Al-Jurjānī’s theory of word order is echoed by Relevance theory developed by Sperber and Wilson in 1986 which refers to the form of the speech act and its main explicature of the proposition. In other words, the different propositional forms of the speech act lead to different propositional attitudes and contextual implicatures’ (72). This line of enquiry is not, however, subsequently pursued. A does not, for example, attempt to demonstrate how modern pragmatic theories can illuminate traditional Arabic rhetorical ideas, or, conversely, how traditional Arabic rhetorical theory might go beyond modern pragmatic theories, providing insights that these latter lack. The overall orientation of the book is confirmed by the fact that out of a total of seventy-two references in the bibliography, forty-four are Arabic (including a large number of works by Classical Arabic rhetoricians), while twenty-eight are English-language works, the majority not specifically works on pragmatics.

As an exposition of Classical Arabic rhetoric, this work is both competent and extensive. Ch. 2 provides a historical review of the major concerns, phases, and scholars of Classical Arabic rhetoric. It also includes sections on the relationship of Classical Arabic rhetoric to the notion of the iʿjāz ‘inimitability’ of the Quran, and on modern Arab scholars working within the overall perspective of the Classical Arabic rhetorical tradition. Ch. 3 provides an account of the distinction between ‘eloquence’ (faṣāḥa) and ‘rhetoric’ (balāgha). Chs. 4–6 provide an account of the three branches of rhetoric as these came to be recognized in the mature phase of Classical Arabic rhetoric: ʿilm al-maʿānī (translated rather misleadingly by A as ‘word order’; see below), ʿilm al-bayān (‘figures of speech’), and ʿilm al-badīʿ (‘embellishments’).

Ch. 4 considers the pragmatic differences between different word orders, and notions that can be allied to this, such as the use of emphatic particles (inna, sometimes translated as ‘verily’, and the verb/verb-phrase intensifier qad). A discusses the notion of naẓm (translated rather unilluminatingly as ‘order system’), as developed by Al-Jurjāniī. A looks at different types of utterances: propositional and nonpropositional (interrogatives, imperatives, etc.), considering basic and nonbasic (illocutionary or similar) uses of these. The use of the emphatic particles in relation to propositional utterances is considered. The latter part of Ch. 4 deals with the functions and manipulations of the two parts of the utterance as recognized by the Arab rhetoricians: the musnad ilaihi and the musnad. Traditional Arabic grammar recognizes two types of sentences/ clauses: (i) nominal sentences/clauses, and (ii) verbal sentences/clauses. A nominal sentence/ clause is a sentence/clause that in its basic word order does not begin with a verb. A nominal sentence/clause consists of two elements: (a) what is known as a mubtada’ (more properly al-mubtada’ bih ‘that which is begun with’), translated by A as ‘inchoative’ and by some other writers (e.g. Watson 1993:96) as ‘predicand’; and (b) a xabar, translated by many writers, including [End Page 908] A, as a ‘predicate...


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