1
PUNCTUATION MARKS IN ORIGINAL ARABIC TEXTS1
1. Introduction
A linguistic description of the use of different punctuation marks in
the texts of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is hard to come by.
This seems partly due to the relatively late introduction of these
marks as we know them today into written Arabic texts which may
explain the absence of any comprehensive
treatment of punctuation
marks in books on Arabic grammar. 2 Even in the few modern
Arabic references which do touch on the rules for the use of
punctuation marks, the treatment is sketchy and the rules seem to be
mostly prescriptive, based on a number of contrived sentences
rather than on a linguistic description of the actual usage of
punctuation marks in authentic written samples representative of
MSA texts. I therefore intend to study how punctuation marks are
actually used in the written texts of MSA.
The objectives of the present study are, therefore, as follows:
(a) To describe the punctuation norms of Original Arabic (OA)
texts.3
(b) To observe and record newly-emerging trends in the use of
these punctuation marks.
(c) To assess the validity and comprehensiveness of the rules listed
in Arabic references on the use of punctuation marks.
1
This paper was originally presented at the XIV International Conference on
Language,Linguistics, Literature and Translation held at Yarmouk University Jordan, in
1998. It was first published in the German journal, Zeitschrift fur Arabiche Linguistik,
Wiesbaden, 40, 2001, 7 – 24.
2
It is said that the credit for introducing present-day punctuation marks into Arabic texts
goes to an Egyptian scholar named Ahmed Zeki who, during the first decade of the
20th century, adapted and adopted punctuation marks used in European languages and
introduced them into Arabic texts (AL-JUNDI 1963: 70-71).
3
Original Arabic texts are authentic texts written by Arab native writers to native readers
of Arabic.
2
The research corpus is a randomly selected Arabic text which
belongs to the literary genre of the short story. This OA text is a
short story entitled al-Hafila Tasir 'Bus Walk,' by MAHMOUD ALRIMAWI from Jordan. The corpus also contains a single passage
taken from the OA text which covers most of the short story. This
passage was depunctuated and presented to ten Arab teachers of
Arabic at the university level (henceforth, the ATAs), who were
asked to re- punctuate it. I closely examined the use of
punctuation marks in the OA text, as well as in the ten different
versions of the passage which was re-punctuated by the ATAs.
The research procedure used in this study can be summed up in
the following steps:
(a) Different punctuation marks used by the writer of the OA
text were sorted out first. For each punctuation mark, it was
noted whether each of the ATAs used the same mark, a
different mark, or no mark at all. The aim was to look for
instances of correspondence and divergence in the use of
punctuation marks by educated Arabs.
(b) The agreement of at least half of the ten ATAs with the OA
writer, or among themselves, on the use of a particular
punctuation mark in a given position was considered to
represent a case of correspondence in punctuation usage.
Conversely, the disagreement of at least half of the ATAs
with the use of a particular mark by the OA writer, and their
agreement to use an alternative punctuation mark, was treated
as an instance of divergence.
(c) Instances of correspondence between the OA writer and the
ATAs, or among the ATAs themselves, were taken to
represent indicators of the norms of usage agreed upon by
educated Arab writers, whereas cases of divergence were
interpreted as signs of punctuation variation, instability,
and/or newly-emerging trends in Arabic punctuation usage.
(d) High correspondance of usage with a given punctuation rule
listed in Arabic references was understood to constitute
evidence supporting the validity of that rule. On the other
hand, a high ratio of divergence was taken to indicate that a
given rule is not a true representative of the linguistic facts of
punctuation usage, and that it therefore needs either to be
rejected or modified.
The text analysis which I conducted revealed that the comma
and the period constitute about 85% of the total number of
punctuation marks found in the corpus. Other punctuation marks
were scarcely used. Only four significant instances of
correspondance were found in the whole set of data to represent
all the uses of the colon, the question mark and the dash
together. Likewise, only one instance of significant divergence,
involving brackets (parentheses), was found. Such a small
3
number of instances of these punctuation marks would be
insufficient to warrant arriving at any reliable conclusions and/or
generalizations in a study whose main objective is to find
punctuation 'norms,' which can be safely deduced only by
detecting as many cases of usage correspondence as possible. It
has, therefore, been decided to deal exclusively with the comma
and the period as representative of other punctuation marks, and
to leave the examination of the uses of the other marks to
researchers with larger corpora at their disposal.
2. RESULTS OF THE CONTRASTIVE TEXT ANALYSIS
The contrastive text analysis between the OA text and its ten
duplicate versions revealed that the ATAs retained only 38% of the
total number of the punctuation marks as originally used by the OA
writer. This shows the relatively low level of correspondence in the
use of punctuation marks between the OA writer and the ten ATAs.
The above percentage also raises many relevant questions. Do these
abundant cases of disagreement fall within the range of the
permissible linguistic variation which is characteristic of normal
language usage? If so, what are the rules which govern this wide
variation in the use of punctuation marks in Arabic texts? In this
variation catered for by the rules on the use of punctuation marks
listed in Arabic references? These questions, and many others, are
crucial for linguistic research on this yet unexplored territory of
punctuation marks and their use conventions in Arabic texts. The
present study is but an altempt to tackle some of these questions.
Hence, it is important to carefully examine the following findings
drawn from the contrastive text analysis of punctuation marks in
original Arabic texts.
Results of the contrastive text analysis are reported separately
below for the comma and the period. This section of the study is
therefore divided into two major subsections, each reporting the
results of the constrastive text analysis for one of the two
punctuation marks as used in the OA text as well as by the ATAs in
the ten versions of the OA duplicate passage. This means that the
unit of analysis and discussion is a given punctuation mark. The
rules of usage listed in Arabic references for each of the two major
punctuation marks are listed first in every subsection. These rules
are used as a background against which the actual usage of that
punctuation mark is checked. The different uses of each mark are
then examined as found in all the research data. Exemplary
sentences are quoted from the corpus to illustrate specific uses of
the given punctuation mark. It is perhaps necessary to point out that
for the purposes of the OA text analysis undertaken in the present
study, a sentence is defined as the minimum stretch of text which is
structurally independent or self-sufficient in a way that would, at
4
the end of it, allow a long pause in speech
or a period, a question
mark, or an exclamation mark in writing. 4
2.1
THE COMMA
Arabic references list many different rules for the use of the
comma. It soon becomes clear from these rules that the comma is
used in Arabic texts both in-tersententially, viz., to join one
sentence to another, as well as intrasententially to set off different
components within the same sentence. More specifically, the
comma is
used, according to the rules in Arabic references,
between:5
a) short sentences which are semantically related and which
together make up a complete and
useful utterance;
(b) subordinate
adverbial,
adjectival
phrases/clauses and their main clauses;
or
conditional
(c) items in a series, like days of the week, seasons of the year,
etc.;
(d) the addressee in a vocative structure and the rest of the
sentences; and
(e) the two constituents in a structure of apposition.
It was found from the text analysis that the comma was the
punctuation mark most frequently used both by the OA writer
and the ATAs. The comma represented 65% of the total number
of all punctuation marks in the OA text. This was followed by
the use of the period, which accounted for 20%. The remaining
15% of the punctuation marks was found to be shared by all
the other marks used in the data. This high frequency of
occurrence of the comma in the OA text should attract the
attention of scholars, writers, teachers and learners of Arabic to
the importance of the correct use and proper teaching/learning of
this punctuation mark. The present paper, accordingly, seeks to
give attention to the description of the different uses of the
comma found in the corpus, as well as to arrive at an
interpretation of the frequent occurrence of the comma in
Arabic texts.
Out of the 28 commas originally used by the writer of the OA
text passage which was presented, in a depunctuated form, to the
ten ATAs, the ATAs used 11, 16, 17, 7, 16, 15, 14, 13 and 5
commas, respectively. Thus, the average number of commas used
4
This working definition of the sentence is based on views from modern linguistics as
well as from ancient Arab rhetoricians such as al-Jurjani.
5
For a listing of these rules, see MUHAIDAT and BORINI (1989: 68), AL-RAWSAN
(1989: 79), AL-SHEJKH (1993: 151) and ABU HALTAM (1988: 66), among others.
5
by the ATAs was 13. This represents a little less than 50% of
comma agreement between the writer's and the ATA's uses of
the comma in the original Arabic corpus. The above figures
also show a wide range of disagreement among the ATAs
themselves, with ATA «10 showing only 5 instances of
agreement with the OA writer, and ATA «3 having 17
matches. It can be concluded from this that the range of
discrepancy in the use of the comma by educated Arabs is wide
indeed. But, as the principal objective of the paper is to discover
the norms of use, instances of correspondence
are to be given
priority over those of divergence.6
2.1.1
INSTANCES OF CORRESPONDENCE
Table 1 below shows that there are 17 instances in which the OA
writer and at least half of the ATAs agreed to use a comma in the
same position (positive correspondence). On the other hand, there
are 8 instances in which half or more of the ATAs used a comma in
the same position where the OA writer used a different punctuation
mark (negative correspondence).
Table 1: Type, and frequency of comma correspondence7
Frequency
9
7
6
5
Positive Correspondence
Negative Correspondence
S1, S21, S26
S12, S18
Sl2, S23, S28
S11, S26
S14
S2, S7, S8, Sl0, S14, Sl6, Sl7, S6, S9, S15, S24
S20, S27, S28
The above table shows instances of comma correspondence, both
positive and negative. The fact that the same sentence, e.g. Sl2,
appears under both positive and negative correspondence means,
firstly, that the OA writer has used a comma in this sentence for
which at least half of the ATAs also used a comma in the same
position. This is a case of positive correspondence. Secondly, it
means that the OA writer has used a different punctuation mark
elsewhere in the same sentence where half or more of the ATAs
used a comma instead (hence, negative correspondence). The
figures under 'frequency' show, for example, that nine ATAs used
the same comma as the OA writer in S1, compared with five in S2.
It also shows that seven ATAs have agreed to use a comma in S28,
where the OA writer used a different punctuation mark. All twentyfive instances of comma correspondence given in the above table
6
See Section 1 for the definition of ‘correspondence’ and ‘divergence’.
The letter S refers to 'Sentence' and the subscript which follows indicates the sequence of that
sentence in the OA text. For determining sentence boundaries, see footnote 5, and related
definition on the same page.
7
6
are considered to be representative of agreed-upon usage of the
comma in the Arabic punctuation system and are, therefore,
examined closely below. Sentences with higher frequencies of
agreement are tackled first.
A quick overview at the above twenty-five sentences in the OA
text shows that the commas in these sentences can be subdivided,
according to their position, into (a) sentence-final commas, and (b)
sentence-medial commas. Commas in group (b) usually appear
within sentences after dependent clauses, whereas those in (a) occur
at the end of sentences. Table 2 below shows this positional
distribution of the commas: ____
Table 2: Position of comma correspondence
Sentence-final
Sentence-medial
S1, S6, S7, S8, S9, Sl0, S2, Sl2, Sl4, S26,
S11, Sl2, S14, SI5, Sl6, Sl7,
S26, S28, S28
S18, S20, S21, S23, S24, S27
It thus becomes evident that the single major use of the comma in
Arabic is to mark the end of a sentence, a function typically
reserved for the period in the English punctuation system. It is to
be recalled that the first rule cited from Arabic references in
Section 2.1 above states that the comma is used to set off, or join,
'short' sentences which together make up a 'long' utterance. The
following are sample sentences from the corpus which demonstrate
the above use of the comma in sentence-final positions:
(S1)
(S20)
،‫ – في المرة األولى كنت أقود سيارتي‬a ) 1(
،‫ فقد سلموا أمرهم لب كما يبدو‬،‫ – أما هؤالء الركاب‬b
‫ – وانصرفوا يتبادلون فيما بينهم أحاديث صاخبة مفعمة بالرضا والفضول‬c
(S21) ،‫والمرح‬
Nine ATAs agreed with the OA writer on using a sentence-final
comma in each of the above sentences. Similarly, seven ATAs,
together with the OA writer, concluded the following sentence with
a comma:
(S18)
،َ‫ ) إال أن المفاجأة تمثلت في احتجاب الرؤية كليا‬2 (
7
Seven ATAs, however, used a sentence-final comma to end the
following two sentences whereas the OA writer has used a period to
terminate both sentences:
‫ كحال‬،‫ – ولم يكن هناك سوى مقاعد قليلة متناثرة ومساحات فسيحة خالية‬a ) 3 (
،‫الحافالت التي تستخدمها المطارات لنقل الركاب بين صالة المطار والطائرة‬
(S12)
‫]…[ ربما ألعتقادهم أن الحافالت عندنا هي على هذه الشاكلة أو لثقتهم في‬8 – b
(S23) ،‫براعة قيادتي‬
It is to be noted that the six sentences in (1), (2) and (3) above vary
in their length. The number of words in them ranges between six
words in (l.a) to twenty-one in (3.a). Therefore, the reference to the
use of the comma in Rule (a) in Section 2.1 after 'short' sentences is
either unfounded or, at least, fuzzy. Yet, the fact that the OA
writer, together with three ATAs, chose to conclude the 21-word
sentence in (3.a) above by a period, rather than a comma, seems to
suggest that there is a growing tendency in Arabic to terminate
single, but long, sentences, with a period.
The above conclusion gains more credence when we look at the
following sentence, for example, with respect to which the subjects
were divided whether to use a sentence-terminal comma or a
period:
‫ ) ومع ذلك فما ان اعتليت كرسي القيادة حتى تمكنت على الفور من تشغيل الموتور‬4 (
(S16) ‫واألنطالق بالحافلة على الطريق المستقيم الذي أعرفه من قبل‬
The above sentence is fairly long. In (4), the OA writer, as well as
five ATAs, used a sentence-final comma whereas the other five
ATAs used a terminal comma.
We now move to examine sentences in the data where a comma is
used medially to set off either (a) a main clause from a subordinate
clause, or (b) a main clause from a fragment, viz., a phrase. A quick
look at Table 2 above shows that there were seven sentences
showing correspondence with instances of such commas in the
corpus. Let us examine these medial commas in more detail, starting
8
Three dots within square brackets represent my deletion of irrelevant elements in OA
sentences when quoted as examples.
8
with instances of correspondence and moving on to those of divergence.
All four sentences below consist of main clauses preceded or
followed by subordinate clauses:
‫ ولما لم أكن قادراَ على متابعة‬،‫ – ولما لم يكن أحد سواي مدركا َ لجسامة الخطر‬a ) 5 (
(S26) ‫ فقد قررت أن أترجل‬،‫أداء هذه المهمة المستحيلة وهي القيادة دون رؤية‬
‫ كحال‬،‫ – ولم يكن هناك سوى مقاعد قليلة متناثرة ومساحات فسيحة خالية‬b
(S12) ‫الحافالت التي تستخدمها المطارات لنقل الركاب بين صالة المطار والطائرة‬
‫ فيما حقائبهم ملقاة كيفما اتفق هنا وهناك‬،‫ – لكن الهرج والمرج كان يسودهم‬c
(S14)
‫ وكأطول ما تكون عليه هذه الحافالت‬،‫ – ]…[ كنت أقود حافلة فارهة عريضة‬d
(S2) ‫الحديثة‬
In (5.a) above, nine ATAs agreed with the OA text writer on using
the first medial comma and six ATAs on the second. Seven, six, and
five ATAs agreed with the writer on the use of the medial comma in
(5.b), (5.c), and (5.d), respectively. It thus seems that one of the
standard uses of the comma in Arabic is to set off a subordinate
clause from its main clause. This use is indeed listed in all Arabic
references on punctuation marks cited in the bibliography (see ALRASAN 1989: 23, MAHAIDAT and BORINI 1989: 68, ABU AJMIYA
1998: 66; among others). There are many other instances in the
corpus, however, which seem to run counter to the above rule and
conclusion, as will be argued in section 2.1.2 below.
Finally, it remains to say a word on medial commas which are not
used to separate two clauses as in the above sentences. In the
following sentence:
(S28)
[…] ‫ الى شارع ترابي‬،‫ ) ]…[ فقد قفزت بلمح البصر الى الخارج‬6 (
the OA writer used a medial comma to separate the noun phrase ‫الى‬
‫الخارج‬and ‫ الى شارع ترابي‬where the two NPs stand in apposition to
each other. Half of the ATAs also used a comma, like the OA writer
in the above sentences but the other half did not. The use of a
comma to mark the boundary of the appositive relation thus seems
only optional. Many Arabic references list this function of the
comma among its standard uses in Arabic texts (see AL-RAWSAN
1989: 23, MUHAIDAT and AL-BORINI: 1989: 68; among others).
However, the rules do not seem to account for this 'optionality' in
the use of the comma. Such rules are, therefore, in need of
modification.
9
2.1.2
INSTANCES OF DIVERGENCE
Before concluding this discussion on the different uses of the
comma in the sample data, it may be worthwhile to look quickly at
instances of divergence where the OA writer has used a comma, but
at least half of the ATAs used a different punctuation mark instead.
The following table shows these instances of divergence:
Table 3: Frequency of comma divergence9
Frequency
9
7
6
5
Sentences
with of Divergence
S20
Instances
SS, Sl3
S28
S2, Sl0, Sll, Sl6
Examining the above instances of comma divergence may, as was
said earlier, shed light on areas of high punctuation variation and/or
new punctuation tendencies in Arabic.
A quick look at the actual sentences listed in Table 3 above will
reveal that in four out of the eight sentences, the OA writer's
commas were replaced with zero punctuation marks by the ATAs,
including those which appear with the highest frequencies in Table
3. The highest frequency of divergence is found in (S20) below:
(S20)
‫ فقد سلموا أمرهم لي كما يبدو‬،‫ ) أما هؤالء الركاب‬7 (
Nine out of the ATAs used a zero punctuation mark instead of the
comma used by the OA writer. This is a strong indication that a
comma is not commonly used in Arabic to set off subordinate
phrasal elements in sentences despite what the 'prescriptive1 rules
on Arabic punctuation claim.
(See AL-RAWSAN 1989: 23,
MUHAIDAT et al. 1989: 68, and ABU AJMIYA 1998: 66, among
others)
Likewise, five ATAs used no punctuation mark in the place of the
two commas in the following sentence:
9
The fact that some sentences like S20, for example, appear both in this table as well as in
Table 1 earlier, means that the OA writer has used two commas in such sentences and that
one of the two represents a case of 'correspondence' while the other represents a case of
'divergence' .
10
(S2)
[…] ‫ كنت أقود حافلة عريضة‬،‫ بعد أسبوعين على األولى‬،‫ ) في المرة الثانية‬8 (
Only one ATA used two commas as the OA writer had, while four
used two dashes instead of the commas. Rules on punctuation usage
in Arabic references do not, in fact, list this use of the comma.
Rather, they state that double dashes are used to set off
parenthetical sentence elements in Arabic texts (see AL-SHEIKH
1993: 156, AL-RAWSAN 1989: 25, and ABU-HALTAM 1988: 67, among
others). The fact that five ATAs agreed not to use any punctuation
marks around the parenthetical phrase ‫ بعد اسبوعين على األقل‬shows
that the above rule concerning the punctuation of parenthetical
elements needs to be modified so as to accommodate such
punctuation facts as the above. Moreover, the use of double
commas, by the OA writer and one ATA, to mark off the
parenthetical phrase in (82) seems to reflect a growing tendency in
Arabic texts. This is probably due to the influence of punctuation
norms in European languages, especially English, where setting off
parenthetical sentence
elements is one of the standard uses of
double commas. 10 The above conclusion concerning parenthetical
sentence elements gains more credence from the following two
sentences:
‫ – على أني فوجئت منذ البدء وقد صعد الركاب قبلي أن كرسي القيادة‬a ) 9 (
(S10)
[…]
‫[ الكرسي ( ومعه المقود طبعا ً ) وياللغرابة يقع في منتصف ا‬sic] ‫ – إذ أن هذه‬b
(S11) َ ‫لحفلة تقريبا‬
In (9,a) above, five ATAs used double dashes to set off the
parenthetical clause, ‫ وقد صعد الركاب قبلي‬while two used commas.
Similarly, in (9.b), five ATAs used double dashes around the
parenthetical phrase ‫ وياللغرابة‬whereas two ATAs used commas.
2.2
THE PERIOD
Arabic references explain that the period represents a long pause in
speech, longer than that
of the comma. Its main uses, according to
these references, are to:11
10
See, for example, the Guide to Punctuation in: Webster's New World Dictionary
(New College Edition 1993: 1680).
11
See, among others, ABU AJMIA 1998: 98, AL-KHULI 1988: 169, AL-SHEIKH 199ABU
HALTAM 1998: 65, and MUHAIDAT et al. 1989: 69.
11
(a) Conclude a sentences which is 'complete' and 'independent'.
(b) Terminate an 'utterance' so as to signal its completion.
(c) Signal the end of a paragraph.
It seems from comparing the above uses with those previously
cited for the uses of the comma that the only clearly exclusive use
of the period is given in Rule (c) above, viz., to ‘signal the end of a
paragraph’. According to the same Arabic references, a comma can
replace the period in both (a) and (b) above. The use of a period or
a comma in these rules seems to depend on the relative length of
sentences. Commas are to be used to separate ‘short’ sentences,
whereas periods are to terminate longer ‘complete’ and
‘independent’ sentences. But, how short is a ‘short’ sentence and
how long is an ‘utterance’? And, what is a ‘complete’ and
‘independent’ sentence? Thus, the distinction between the use of
the period and that of the comma, according to rules like those
above, seems fuzzy, at least as far as their use at the end of
sentences is concerned. To investigate the matter further, let us
examine how the period is actually used in Arabic texts both by the
OA text writer and the ATAs.
The OA writer has used the period only nine times in the 29sentence passage given to the ten ATAs for repunctuation.
Similarly, the ATA’ s use of the period in the same positions as the
OA writer was low; it ranged from five periods by one of the
ATAs to only one period by another. The above figures on the frequency of use of the period in the analyzed OA texts reflect the
marginal status of the period in Arabic texts as well as the wide
range of discrepancy among native writers of Arabic. Below is a
quick survey of the nine positions at which the OA writer used a
period and how these positions were repunctuated by the ATAs.
The following table shows the instances of correspondence
(positive and negative) in the use of the period in the analyzed text
passage as well as their respective frequencies:
Table 4: Instances of period correspondence and their frequency
Frequency
Positive
Correspondence
7
S25, S28
5
4
S9
Negative Correspondence
S5
S16
S2, S7, S19, S27
Table 4 above shows that only in two sentences did more than five
ATAs use the same period as the OA writer, viz., S25 and S28.
These are, as was explained in the comma section earlier, instances
which represent positive correspondence. Besides, four ATAs
agreed with the OA writer in S9. Because both the sample of the
data and the use of the period are limited, we will also include, in
12
our discussion these four instances of frequency correspondence. On
the other hand, we will also examine cases of negative
correspondence in positions where a significant number of ATAs
agreed to use the period despite the fact that the OA writer has used
a different mark. The frequency of correspondence in these
instances also ranges from seven in S5 to four in S2, S7, Sl9, and
S27 respectively, as shown in Table 4.
On the other hand, Table 5 below reports instances of divergence,
where the OA writer used a period while a significant number of
ATAs agreed on using another punctuation mark:
Table 5: Instances of period divergence and their frequency
Frequency
7
6
5
Representative Sentences
Sl2, S23
S14
S9, SIS, S24
As the above table shows, there are six cases in which the frequency
of divergence ranges from five to seven.
2.2.1 INSTANCES OF PERIOD CORRESPONDENCE
As was just mentioned above, a fairly significant number of ATAs
agreed on the use of the period in the nine cases specified in Table
4. Three of these cases of correspondence, both positive and
negative, are of special importance since they involve the vast
majority of the ATAs. It is to be remembered that in our search for
punctuation norms, we are more interested in instances of
correspondence, and especially in those of high frequency. Hence,
let us examine S2S, S28, and S5 first, since in each of them seven
ATAs were in agreement on using a period in the same positions as
the text passage.
In both S25 and S28 below, seven ATAs have used a period in
the same position as has the OA text writer:
13
‫ – ]…[ ان العجالت الضخمة للحافلة أخذت تطحن أجساما َ ما في‬a ) 11 (
(S25) .‫طريقها‬
‫ – حيث استيقظت ألجدني متيبس األطراف مخطوف األنفاس ودقات‬b
(S28) .‫قلبي تتسارع بصوت مسموع‬
The vast agreement among Arab writers on the use of a period to
conclude sentences like the two above is worthy of special attention,
since it seems to spotlight a candidate for a punctuation norm in
Arabic texts in relation to the use of the period. This high ratio of
correspondence is especially important since, as was pointed out
above when commenting on the rules on the period cited in Arabic
references, it is more common to join full sentences in Arabic texts
with a comma than to set them off by a period. So, how can we
account for the agreement of the seven ATAs with the OA writer
on the use of sentence-final periods in (10. a) and (10. b) above?
A quick look at all the OA text passage is sufficient to suggest
an answer to the above question. Both sentences above arc located
at the very end of the respective paragraphs in which they occur.
Hence, it can be safely concluded that one of the standard uses of
the period in Arabic texts is to conclude sentences which appear in
paragraph-final positions. As was said above in Section 2.2, it is
to be remembered that this is the only exclusive use of the period
among the three rules on its use listed in Arabic references. The
other two uses of the period, as we have pointed out, are shared
with the comma as can be seen from a quick comparison with the
rules listed in Section 2.1 above. Consequently, Rule (c) in
Section 2.2 above can be said to be verified by evidence drawn
from the actual use of the period in the OA text.
In (Ss), which is reproduced in (11) below, seven ATAs have
also agreed on the use of a period where the OA text writer used a
comma:
(S5)
.‫ ) نحن ضيوف وال سائق لهذه الحافلة المخصصة لنا‬11 (
The period in the above sentence is sentence-final, but the sentence
it terminates docs not conclude a paragraph. So, how can we
explain the large agreement among the ATAs? The OA writer,
along with three ATAs, used a comma. This use of the comma is
normal according to the rules in Section 2.1 cited earlier. However,
the fact that seven out of ten ATAs have alternatively used a period
rather than a comma to terminate Ss in (11) above reflects a
noteworthy consensus. Is there anything which is especially
characteristic of this particular sentence? This question becomes
more relevant when we notice that all seven ATAs have in fact
used commas to conclude other sentences which occur earlier than
this sentence in the passage, but have chosen to terminate (Ss) with
14
a period instead. It seems worthwhile to note that (Ss) is the final
sentence in a series of three sentences which make up an utterance,
viz. a semantic chunk in a given discourse or text, as can be seen
from (12) below:
‫ نحن ضيوف‬،‫ نريد منك هذه الخدمة‬. . . ‫ ) أحدهم قال لي ]…[ هل ستقودها‬12 (
(S3 , S4, S5) ‫وال سائق لهذه الحافلة المخصصة لنا‬
The sentence in (13) below, which directly follows (Ss) in (12)
above in the OA text, indicates a shift in the flow of the text and
the beginning of a new semantic unit:
(S6)
‫ لم ال ؟‬:‫ ) ودون أن أفحص األمر قلت دون تردد‬13 (
The use of a period rather than a comma to conclude the last
sentence in a series of coordinate sentences which are
complementary in a textual semantic chunk seems to represent
another punctuation norm of the period. It is noteworthy that this use
of the period is listed in most Arabic references, as can be seen from
Rule (b) in Section 2.2 above.
This also seems to apply to the punctuation of (S9) below, which
is shown under the heading of positive correspondence in Table 4.
(S9) .‫ ) وبودي حقا َ أن أخوض التجربة لمجرد خوضها‬14 (
In the above sentence, five informants, including the OA writer
together with four ATAs, used a sentence-final period. It is to be
noticed that (S9) above is a short sentence. Such sentences are
normally not granted the status of orthographic independence and
arc consequently not terminated with periods. This seems to explain
why the other five ATAs used a sentence-final comma rather than a
period. Yet, similar to (S5) in (11) above, (S9) comes as the last
sentence in a series of seven short sentences which together make
up one long 'major' sentence which realizes a discoursal semantic
unit within the text. As was just said above, the rules allow for this
use of the period. Yet, these rules do not. seem to account for the
alternative use of a comma as represented by the usage of the five
ATAs just referred to above.
In (S16) below, five ATAs agreed on using a sentence -final
period, while the other five together with the OA writer have used a
sentence-final comma instead .This can be seen from Table 4 in the
column of negative correspondence:
‫ ) ومع ذلك فما أن إعتليت كرسي القيادة حتى تمكنت على الفور من تشغيل‬15 (
(S16)
‫الموتور واألنطالق على الطريق المستقيم الذي أعرفه من قبل‬
15
It is to be noticed that the sentence above is fairly 'long'. As was
already me-tioned earlier in Section 2.1.1 when discussing this
sentence together with other similarly long sentences, there is a
powerful, growing tendency to use periods to terminate such
sentences in Arabic. The alternative punctuation of this sentence
also shows that native writers are divided over whether to use a
comma or period to terminate such 'long' sentences in Arabic. The
punctuation of even the same writer may vary when dealing with
such sentences. While the OA writer used a comma to terminate
S16 in (15) above, he opted to conclude the similarly long sentence
of (S12) in (3) earlier with a period.
Finally, Table 4 above also shows that in each of the following
four sentences, four ATAs chose to use a sentence-final period
while the OA writer has used a comma:
،‫ كنت أقود حافلة فارهة عريضة‬،‫ بعد اسبوعين على األولى‬،‫ – في المرة الثانية‬a ) 16 (
(S2) ‫وكأطول ما تكون عليه الحافالت الحديثة‬
‫ كنت كعادتي ال أستطيع رد طلب بوسعي تلبيته ألحد‬- b
‫ – فأخذت أقود ببطء آمالَ أن تتجنب السيارات حافلتنا التي تقل غرباء كما هو‬c
(S19) َ ‫الحال دائما‬
(S7)
‫ –]…[ لم يكن هناك ما يلزمني بمثل هذه التضحية التي ستؤدي بي وبالركاب‬d
(S27) َ ‫معا‬
It may be worthwhile to examine these four sentences in an attempt
to understand the reasons behind the agreement among the four
ATAs and their disagreement with the OA writer.
It is to be noted that (S2), (Sl9), and (S27) above are fairly long
sentences. This, as was pointed out earlier, may explain why four
ATAs have chosen to give each an independent orthographic status
by marking each with a sentence-final period. A shorter sentence is
not normally given this status in Arabic texts. This is evident, for
example, in the punctuation of (S1) in (17) below which directly
precedes (S2) just quoted in (16).
(S1)
،‫ ) في المرة األولى كنت أقود سيارتي‬17 (
Nine ATAs, together with the OA writer, agreed on using a
concluding comma. It thus becomes clear that the use of a period to
terminate fairly long sentences is gaining currency in Arabic.
Shorter sentences, however, like (S1) above and (S7) in (16), are
still terminated by commas in the vast majority of cases. Nevertheless, the fact that four ATAs used a period to conclude (S7)
above is indicative of a modern tendency by Arab writers, probably
16
under the influence of English punctuation, to use periods to
terminate even short sentences.
2.2.2
INSTANCES OF DIVERGENCE
It remains now to have a quick look at the cases where the OA
writer himself uses a period, but at least half of the ATAs do not do
so. Out of the nine sentences where the OA writer uses a sentencefinal period, the ATAs disagreed with him in six of them, as shown
in Table 5 above. Although these six cases were already discussed
earlier in the comma section, it would still be worthwhile to briefly
examine them here in relation to the period. It may be useful to try
to answer the negative question: Why did a significant number of
ATAs not use a sentence- final period in these sentences while the
OA writer has done so?
Seven ATAs used commas instead of the periods used by the OA
writer at the end of (Sl2) and (S23) below, six did so in (Sl4),
whereas five did so in (S9), (S15) and (S24):
‫ كحال الحافالت‬،‫ – لم يكن هناك سوى مقاعد قليلة متناثرة ومساحات فسيحة خالية‬a ) 18 (
(S12) ‫التي تستخدمها المطارات لنقل الركاب بين صالة المطار والطائرة‬
‫ – ]…[ ألعتقادهم أن الحافالت عندنا هي على هذه الشاكلة أو لثقتهم في براعة‬b
(S23) ‫قيادتي‬
‫ فيما حقائبهم ملقاة كيفما اتفق هنا وهناك‬،‫ – لكن الهرج والمرج كان يسودهم‬c
(S14)
(S9)
‫ – وبودي حقا َ أن أخوض التجربة لمجرد خوضها‬d
(S15)
(S24)
‫ – وقد أثارني وقوفهم وتنقلهم من مكان آلخر‬e
‫ – لكن قلقي سرعان ما أخذ ينمو ويتفاقم‬f
Sentences (18. a), (18.b) and (18. c) above are fairly long sentences
and, on the basis of length alone, could have been concluded by
periods. However, all three sentences bear a close sentence link to
the sentences directly following them in the OA passage. Sentence
(10. a), for example, is directly followed by (Sl3) below, which
clearly belongs to the same discoursal semantic chunk as (10. a):
(S13)
َ ‫ ) ولم يكن عدد الركاب كيرا‬19 (
This seems to have prompted the ATAs to use a comma rather
than a period to join the two sentences in each case. Thus, it is not
17
the ‘length’ of sentences alone which justifies concluding a
sentence with a period. The other three sentences, viz., (10.d, e, f)
in (18) above are all short sentences and are more likely to be
terminated by commas in light of the rules on comma usage in
Arabic texts. Nevertheless, the fact that the OA writer and some
ATAs marked them with sentence-final periods reflects the abovementioned fledgling tendency to end even short sentences with
terminal periods. It is noteworthy, however, that such cases are not
high on the scale of frequency in the ATAs* usage, as shown in
Table 5.
3. CONCLUSIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
The following conclusions have been drawn from the contrastive
punctuation analysis of original Arabic texts conducted in the
present study.
3.1 CONCLUSIONS ON THE COMMA
(a) The comma was found to be the most profusely used
punctuation mark in Arabic texts. In general, its frequency of
occurrence amounts to about 65% of the total number of all
punctuation marks used.
(b) There is a wide discrepancy in the frequency with which the
comma is used among educated Arabs, as can be seen from
Tables 1 and 3 above.
(c) The main use of the comma is to set off the boundary between
one sentence and another in a chain of related sentences. This
inter-sentential function was found to be the most common (see
Table 2). This use is referred to in the punctuation rules cited in
Arabic references (see Section 2.1), but the present study has
detected many counter-examples in the data. A strong growing
tendency has been observed, for example, to punctuate
sentences, especially 'long' ones, with sentence-final periods
rather than commas, as can be seen from sentences reproduced in
(4) above.
(d) The comma is also used in Arabic intra-sententially, viz., to
separate phrasal/clausal sentence elements from the main clauses
in sentences. Initial or terminal subordinate clauses, for example,
are set off by commas from their main clauses, as seen in (5)
above. Although this use of the comma is listed in most Arabic
references, the text analysis revealed that this 'rule' is not always
applicable, as was pointed out in Section (2.1.2). Commas were
also found to be used medially to set off parenthetical sentence
elements, as can be seen from (8) above. This use is not listed
among the uses of the comma found in Arabic references on
punctuation.
(e) The comma is also used in the data to separate two NPs in
appositions to each other, as seen in (6). This is one of the
18
recognized uses of the comma according to Arabic references
mentioned in Section 2.1, Yet, this use of the comma was not
adhered to in many instances found in the corpus, as seen in (6)
above.
(f) Despite the rules cited earlier in Section 2.1, the uses of the
comma listed above in (c), (d) and (e) have been found to be
optional. Many ATAs, as well as the OA writer have cither used
no punctuation mark in such positions or opted for punctuation
marks other than the comma.
3.2
CONCLUSIONS ON THE PERIOD
An examination of how the period is used in the OA corpus of the
present study has yielded the following conclusions:
(a) The period is the second most frequent punctuation mark used in
the OA corpus. It constitutes 20% of the total number of
punctuation marks, compared to 65% assumed by the comma and
15% by all other punctuation marks.
(b) The frequency of correspondence in the use of the period (see
Section 1, for definition) is very low, whether between the ATAs
and the OA text writer, or among the ATAs themselves (see
Tables 4 and 5 above).
(c) The only agreed-upon use of the period is to conclude sentences
which occur in paragraph-final positions, as can be seen from
sentences quoted in (10) above. This use is listed among the uses
of the period in Arabic references (see Section 2.2 above).
However, this is the only exclusive use of the period, since the
other uses are all shared between the period and the comma in
Arabic.
(d) There was also considerable agreement among the informants on
the use of the period to conclude the last sentence in a series of
sentences which together make up a unitary semantic chunk in
the discourse of a given text, as can be seen, for example, in (11)
and (12) above. This use of the period is listed in the rules found
in the Arabic references cited in Section 2.2 above. Yet, it was
revealed by the contrastive punctuation analysis that this use of
the period, though common, is only optional since a comma has
been alternatively used by some informants, as can be seen from
ihe punctuation of (14) above.
(e) There is a growing tendency to use sentence-final periods in the
punctuation of single sentences, especially long ones, as in (15)
and (16) above. Although this use of the period is listed in Arabic
references, as seen from Section 2.2, it is the comma, rather than
the period, which is most frequently used in practice to terminate
single sentences in OA texts. Therefore, the above use of the
19
period to conclude single sentences is but a growing trend which
is gradually gaining ground in Arabic punctuation usage.
3.3 GENERAL CONCLUDING
REMARKS
(a) Punctuation usage in original Arabic texts is characterized by a
great deal of fluidity. The size of discrepancy and degree of
variation among educated native Arabs are high, and punctuation
norms are not yet deep-rooted.
(b) Punctuation rules listed in modern Arabic references tend to be
too general and largely prescriptive, as can be seen from (7) and
(11), for example. These rules seem to set standards which have
not been validated by actual usage. Besides, they do not generally
distinguish between the 'obligatory' and the 'optional' uses of
punctuation marks, as seen from (6) above. Consequently, these
rules are in need of revision and modification (see example # 8).
(c) Punctuation ‘standards’ in Arabic are in a state of Dux, and
various fledgling punctuation tendencies are underway. These
tendencies constitute potential punctuation norms in the future.
Examples of such new trends are the use of parenthetical commas
in (9) above, as well as of sentence-final periods in (15), (17) and
(18).
3.4
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
It is suggested here that analyses be done of larger corpora of
original Arabic texts which provide sufficient data on the use of
punctuation marks other than just the comma and the period.
Besides, various genres and types of texts, including nonliterary
ones, could be examined for punctuation marks in original Arabic
texts.
20
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