The impact of linguistic distance and orthography on writing in Arabic

The impact of linguistic distance and orthography on writing in Arabic

First Author: Ranya Bisharat Farraj -- Bar-Ilan University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Lior Laks; Elinor Saiegh-Haddad
Keywords: Arabic, Spelling Ability, Diglossia, Orthography, Elementary
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Arabic spelling is a representation of Standard Arabic, a language variety that is phonologically, morpho-syntactically and lexically distant from Spoken Arabic, the language of everyday speech. Moreover, Arabic orthography, while considered shallow, it does not capture emphaticization, a predominant phonological assimilation process in the language. Therefore, some letters become homographic and may represent two sounds. Both linguistic distance and homography were expected to constitute a challenge to early spellers.

Method: Forty 4th grade children (mean age 10 years old) were asked to write two texts about a personal conflict: a narrative and an expository text. 80 texts were produced and 316 writing errors were detected. Errors were categorized according to the following categories: linguistic distance, homographic letters, as well as other factors including those related to the orthographic representations of diacritics versus letters.

Results: Results showed that both linguistic distance and homographic letters explained a large number of errors with linguistic distance explaining many more errors (43 % versus 32%, respectively). The other factors explained fewer errors.

Conclusion: The study marks diglossic factors and homographic letters as two major sources of writing difficulty in Arabic. These findings have implications for orthographic depth in Arabic.