Arabic orthographic features and their impact on reading

Arabic orthographic features and their impact on reading

First Author: Rob Davies -- Department of Psychology, Lancaster University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Elinor Saiegh-Haddad
Keywords: Arabic, Morphology, Orthography, Reading, Awareness
Abstract / Summary: 

The written form of the Arabic language has many distinctive orthographic features. These include cursive writing, ligaturing, diacritic vowellization, and the root-pattern morpho-orthographic structure of the written word. In what ways do these features present challenges to the development of reading skill in emergent readers? How do skilled reading processes handle these challenges? While a tradition of research into reading in Arabic spans a near-40-year period, recent research has seen the accumulation of findings that shed light not just on the development and processes of skilled reading in Arabic but on reading more generally. We focus on the emergence and the instantiation of knowledge in the population of the root-pattern morphological and the spelling-sound structure critical to recognition and encoding of the printed Arabic word. The submissions consider the representation of morphological and spelling-sound information, the development of awareness of this information, and the relationship between morphological and reading skills.

Symposium Papers: 

Impact of diglossia on morphological awareness and reading in low versus mid-high SES Arabic speaking children

First Author/Chair:Elinor Saiegh-Haddad -- Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Additional authors/chairs: 
Rachel Schiff

Purpose – To test the impact of the morphological distance between Spoken Arabic (SpA) and Standard Arabic (StA) on morphological awareness in low versus mid-high SES children and its relationship with word reading. The linguistic distance between SpA and StA extends to the morphological domain. This is expected to impact morphological awareness development and its role in reading. Children from a low SES have metalinguistic difficulties and are raised in linguistically impoverished environments. Both factors might impede their morphological awareness and reading ability.

Method – 200 Arabic speaking children (N=100 females) were tested in five grade levels: 2nd (mean age M=7:08 years, SD=3.1 months), 4th (mean age =9:07, SD=3.61), 6th (mean age =11:06, SD=3.26), 8th (mean age =13:06, SD=3.78), and 10th (mean age =15:05, SD=2.82). Children came from two SES family backgrounds: mid-high and low as determined by the Ministry of Education. Four morphological awareness tasks using word-analogy were designed: two inflectional and two derivational, two targeting StA morphological units that are shared by SpA and two targeting morphemes unique to StA. Word reading accuracy and fluency for voweled and unvoweled words was tested.

Results – Repeated ANOVA showed that morphological distance had a significant impact on morphological awareness. The impact of distance was stronger and more persistent in younger and in children coming from low SES. Morphological awareness significantly predicted word reading in both groups.

Conclusions – Morphological distance is an additional complexity factor that impacts morphological awareness skills in Arabic speaking children, and especially those coming from a low SES. Morphological awareness is an important predictor of reading words in Arabic.

The role of the nominal word pattern in Arabic reading acquisition: Insights from cross-modal priming

First Author/Chair:Yasmin Shalhoub-Awwad -- University of Haifa, Israel

Purpose: Most content words in Arabic are made up of two basic non-concatenated, interwoven bound morphemes: a root and a word pattern (nominal /verbal). It is argued that the organization and access to the mental lexicon in Arabic operate through these two basic morphemes. This claim has been substantiated in a series of priming studies showing that skilled readers and typically-developing readers of Arabic make use of root morphemes during word recognition. However, priming effects for word patterns have only been obtained among skilled readers. The present study aimed to examine the role of nominal word-pattern in visual word recognition among typically-developing readers at the early stages of reading acquisition.

Method: 180 native Arabic-speaking children performed a lexical decision task: 90 second-graders (M = 7.9 years) and 90 fifth-graders (M = 10.9 years). The study was based on a cross-modal priming paradigm using words derived from the same nominal word-pattern as the target (/ruku:b/- /duxu:l/ riding-entrance) relative to prime words that included a different word-pattern than the target, while preserving phonological similarity (/duxa:n/ - /duxu:l/ 'smoke'-'entrance').

Results: Repeated ANOVA showed that nominal word-pattern primes facilitate lexical decisions regarding target words, in terms of accuracy but not reaction times in both grades.

Conclusions: These findings may stem from the morpho-orthographic nature of the Arabic written word and the information conveyed by the nominal word-pattern. It seems that the extraction of the nominal word-pattern requires complex processing that can be achieved only after great exposure to the written language and extensive reading experience.

The predictors of vowellization uncertainty in Modern Standard Arabic

First Author/Chair:Rob Davies -- Lancaster University, UK
Additional authors/chairs: 
Ahmed Alhussein

Purpose -- The Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) script represents consonants and long vowels with letters. Short vowels are marked by diacritics but diacritics usually are not printed. It has been claimed that reading aloud is difficult in MSA because, to encode lexical phonology, skilled readers often have to resolve spelling-to-sound ambiguities due to the one-to-many mappings permitted for many words by the absence of vowel diacritics. However, spelling-to-sound ambiguity is only challenging to the extent that alternate pronunciations are active candidates for encoding. We sought to answer the questions: What is the extent of homography at the word level? What do skilled readers actually know?

Method -- We asked 445 adult speakers of Arabic (201M, 244F, mean age 29.8 years) to write down as many different word forms (vowellizations, i.e. spellings including diacritics) as they could for each of 1474 MSA words presented without diacritics (letter strings were split into 11 sub-sets of 98 items for administration to participant sub-groups).

Results -- 49,642 responses were recorded. Our analyses showed that for about 50% of items only one vowellization was produced, while larger neighbourhoods of alternate pronunciations were recorded for few homographic items. The extent of pronunciation alternation was predicted by (1.) letter string length (longer strings tended to be less ambiguous) and (2.) reader age and education (more skilled readers knew more alternates).

Conclusions -- MSA readers can recognize potential alternate lexical entries corresponding to target unvowellized letter strings, but the encoding challenge depends on the word and the reader.

The contribution of language proficiency in Spoken Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic and morphological awareness to reading Arabic language

First Author/Chair:Abeer Asli-Badarneh -- Haifa University, Israel

Purpose – We examined Arabic language reading acquisition among first- and third-grade students. We focused on diglossia, that is, the linguistically different varieties of the language, one mainly for writing and another for everyday speech. More specifically, we examined the contribution of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) proficiency, Spoken Arabic (SA) proficiency, and morphological ability to oral text reading fluency.

Method – We tested 50 first- grade and 50 third-grade children from monolingual Arabic schools in Israel. All children performed MSA and SA vocabulary tests as measures of oral language. Moreover, they completed inflectional morphological awareness (Plural Production, Noun-Adjective Agreement) tasks and derivational tasks that require derivation based on word patterns.

Results – The findings revealed that among first graders, derivational morphology, MSA and SA proficiency significantly contributed to oral reading fluency in Arabic. Derivational morphology and MSA proficiency contributed 24% of the variance in reading performance. Among third graders, derivational morphology and MSA proficiency were the only predictors.

Conclusions – The results confirmed the importance of morphological awareness and MSA proficiency in reading Arabic and showed that the role of SA is transient.


First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Elinor Saiegh-Haddad