Refers to a group of languages of Middle Eastern origin (e.g., Hebrew and Arabic); may also be used to describe cultures of Middle Eastern origin.
The study of the sound system used in language and its rules for combining sounds and patterns of stress and intonation.
The conventions and rules for assembling words into meaningful sentences; syntax varies across languages.
In grammar, the identification, analysis and description of the structure of words; the patterns of how words are formed from prefixes, roots and suffixes and how words are related to each other.
Refers to an individual's knowledge of word meanings.
Factors pertaining to the biological function of living organisms.
Oral or written communication such as a conversation or story.
The rules or conventions governing the use of oral language within a social or situational context.
A disorder in which both language that is expressed and understood is impaired. It is unrelated to other disorders and often stands alone, meaning that only the individual's capacity for language is affected.
The process by which constituent sounds of words are acquired.
The collections of phonemes that exist in a given language.
The time period before a child speaks their first meaningful word.
The collection of vowel sounds in a language.
The articulatory features that distinguish vowel sounds (e.g., height, backness, lip rounding).
The size of the set of consonant sounds used in a given language (e.g., English has 24 individual consonant sounds in its inventory).
A linguistic category for a type of consonants that includes the sounds produced in English by the letters [l] and [r].
A sound produced by momentarily closing the vocal cords (or glottis) (e.g., in English, the sound represented by the hyphen in 'uh-oh').
The placement of a sound in a word either at the beginning or the end.
The amount of work a phoneme does to distinguish one utterance (usually a word) from another.
In Arabic, consonants that are pharyngealized (produced using constriction of the pharynx) or velarized (produced with the back of the tongue raised toward the velum).
Factors pertaining to the biological function of living organisms.
Refers to two co-articulated consonants which are not of the same manner (e.g., labialization of /k/ prior to a rounded vowel).
The smallest unit of sound within our language system. A single phoneme has the ability to change the meanings of a word (e.g., changing the first phoneme "bit" from /b/ to /s/ makes it "sit."). English has approximately 41-44 phonemes. Words can be composed of a single phoneme (e.g., "a" or "oh") or multiple phonemes.
The visual representation of the order and use of symbols and letters in a written language; the spelling of a language.
Grammatical voices. When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice. When the subject is the receiver, target or undergoer of the action, it is said to be in the passive voice.
If a language distinguishes between masculine and feminine gender, for instance, then each noun belongs to one of those two genders. Arabic has gender marking, while English does not.
Verb structures that imply ownership over another objection; for example, "my", "mine", "your", "yours", etc.
A linking word in a sentence (e.g., on, beside, during).
A sentence in the passive voice that does not indicate who performed the action (e.g., the ball was hit).
A passive construction in which the subject can be exchanged with the agent in the by-phrase and still leave a correct logical sentence, albeit with the opposite meaning (e.g., the boy was seen by the girl).
The process of changing the meaning of a word or phrase to its negative counterpart (e.g., 'I am tall' vs. 'I am not tall').
A word or a part of a word which has a grammatical purpose but often has little or no meaning (e.g., I got up early this morning; the adverb 'up' is a particle).
A sentence with either a subject and a complement, but no linking verb (e.g., 'Fascinating, this topic.') or only a subject and a complement (e.g., 'Mr. Smith is a teacher.').
A sentence that is started by "there" and asserts the existance or nonexistance of something.
Sentences expressed in spoken words.
A way of classifying verbs; transitive verbs (e.g., hit) require a direct object and intransitive verbs (e.g., sleep) cannot take a direct object.
A study that observes outcomes of an intervention over long periods of time.
Studies that consist of randomized control trials or single subject designs.
The process of learning or memorizing without fully understanding a subject. The major practice involved in rote learning is repetition.
Limitations in the selection of words or structures imposed by meaning or context.
Refers to an organized outline or knowledge structure that interrelates all of one's knowledge on a specific topic. Prior knowledge and experiences are organized into schemas, and this knowledge influences how the reader comprehends written text.
Grammatical markings used to denote the perfect tense, referring to a description of actions that have been or will be completed in relation to a previously specified event.
Grammatical markings used to indicate the imperfect tense, referring to a description of an action that is in progress, ongoing, habitual or repeated, without regard to its completion.
A grammatical term that is illustrated by using the pronoun "I".
A verb form used to express "he", "she", "it" or "one".
The grammatical form of "you", singular or plural; reference to a participant in an event.
A theory of language acquisition which is thought to be innate to humans. It suggests that there is a system of grammar that is shared by all languages, but does not seek to explain specific grammar of individual languages.
A method for making a word or sentence from another word or sentence (e.g., girl from girly).
A property of verbs or a set of verb inflections indicating the relation between the subject and the action expressed by the verb, used when we do not carry out an action ourselves, but are responsible for the action being performed. (e.g., He had his eyes checked last week).
A linguistic structure used in some languages to establish a link between two noun phrases. English does not have a reciprocal voice pattern and instead uses the term "each other" to indicate reciprocity between noun phrases.
In some languages, occurs as another category between the active and passive voice.
The rearranging of sounds in a word, usually refers to two adjacent sounds (e.g., producing 'spaghetti' as 'pasketti').
A person who speaks two languages with high proficiency.
A person who speaks only one language.
Pertaining to the smallest meaningful units of a language (morphemes) and their possible combinations in a language.
Relates a person's status to others based on their income, education and occupation.
A study conducted to examine patterns or outcomes across speakers of different languages.
Changing the meaning of the word by adding components, such as prefixes and suffixes (e.g., the verb 'swim' with a suffix becomes the noun 'swimmer').
Arabic is a Semitic
language that is used as a first language by approximately 206 million people and as a second language by about 246 million speakers (Gordon, 2005). It is characterized by diglossia (Ferguson,1959), a linguistic situation in which two varieties of the same language have a functional distribution, with the spoken variety used in informal and intimate contexts and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the written variety, acquired through literacy and used in written and formal discourse. Each Arab state has its own dialectal variety while MSA is the official language of 20 Arab states. All Arabic speaking children first acquire the dialectal variety as their mother tongue and are only later introduced to MSA through literacy.
Key Research Questions
The questions raised by Arabic acquisition researchers aim to 1) study the stages of development of Arabic speaking children in phonology
, 2) examine the effects of language typology, i.e. the specific characteristics associated with each language family on order of acquisition, and 3) inform the 'universal vs particular' discussion within generative research on language acquisition, which is based on the view that both universal innate linguistic predispositions and particular properties of each language are involved in the process of acquisition. Some studies also look at physiological
and social factors that affect the order of acquisition of different aspects of language in both its oral and written forms. There seems to be no published work dealing with discourse
acquisition to identify the developmental stages in learning how to use language appropriately in social interactions.
Recent research addresses specific acquisitional aspects in the dialect being studied, for example, Emirati (Ntelitheos & Idrissi, 2008), Jordanian (Amayreh, 2003; Amayreh & Dyson, 1998, 2000), Kuwaiti (Aljenaie, 2001), Palestinian (Ravid & Farah, 1999, 2001; Friedman & Costa, 2007), Moroccan (Badry, 1983, 2004) and Saudi (Al-Akeel, 1998; Moawad, 2006). Dialect acquisition has also been studied in children with specific language impairment (SLI)
(Abdalla & Crago, 2008; Friedman & Costa, 2007; Salameh, Håkansson, & Nettelbladt, 2004). There is also a growing interest in studying bilingual development of Arab children in Europe, Lebanon and Palestinians in Israel (Altena & Appel, 1982; Gathercole, Moawad, & Thomas, 2008; Håkansson, Salameh, & Nettelbladt, 2003; Ravid & Farah, 1999; Ravid & Hayek, 2003; Zablit & Trudeau, 2008). Increasing research is being carried out on reading acquisition by Palestinian Arab children in Israel (Saiegh-Haddad, 2004, 2007) and elsewhere (Abu-Rabia, 1995), particularly in light of the diglossic character of Arabic.
Recent Research Results
Milestones in the Acquisition of Arabic Phonemes
studies reveal stages in the development of phonetic inventories
of Arabic sounds that are similar to other language inventories with important particularities. At the prelinguistic stage
(6-10 months), vocalic inventories
include mid and back high and low vowels
[ə, ε, e, u, ӕ, a] but not the high front vowel [i] (Omar, 1973). Consonantal inventories
include stops (e.g., sounds that stop the airflow /p,b,t/), fricatives (e.g., blowing sounds /f, s/), nasals (e.g, /m, n/), and glides (e.g., /w/). Amayreh et al. (2000) report the production of fricatives [ћ,š] liquid
[l] and the glottal stop
[ʡ] both in initial and final syllable position
by 14-24-month-old Jordanian children. The stages in phonological acquisition reported in Arabic reveal five stages in phonological development as illustrated in Table 1.
Table 1: Stages in the acquisition of Arabic consonants
Adapted from Omar (1973) and Amayreh and Dyson (2000)
b, d, t, ʡ
k, q, g
š, ʢ, ћ, h
s, χ, ð, γ, θ, ʤ, s
m, n, l
+4 = 29
The earlier production of the glottal stop and the liquid /l/ by Arabic speaking children is attributed to their relatively high frequency and high functional load
in function words in adult input (Amayreh, 2003; Amayreh & Dyson, 1998, 2000). Children also produced sounds which are not part of Arabic inventories such as [p], [ts], [ŋ], [ł], [pf], [β], and [θ]. The acquisition of emphatics
is later and is completed by age eight. These are physiologically
more complex sounds because they involve a secondary articulation
. For example the emphatic / t
/ is produced by both contact of the tip of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge and raising the back of the tongue.
In testing Palestinian children's ability to isolate phonemes in reading development in a diglossic context, Saiegh-Haddad (2007) found that first graders were better able to isolate phonemes
in their dialect than those unique to MSA. She also concluded that both Arabic phonological structure and orthographic
representation, which favors the syllable (consonant-vowel combinations) rather than single sound units, explain children's difficulty to isolate initial phonemes.
Milestones in Word Comprehension
Findings from word comprehension in Arabic are in line with the developmental sequences reported in other languages. Egyptian children were able to understand the affirmative/negative contrast, the active/passive contrasts
, gender marking of nouns
, and prepositions representing in
, and under
before age three. Numbers beyond number two do not seem to be acquired before six when children enter school (Omar, 1973). Al-Akeel (1998) tested Saudi children's comprehension of possessives
, and concluded that possessives are understood before age three while the comprehension of prepositions spans from three to six. This is comparable to orders reported for English acquisition except for the prepositions under
which are comprehended earlier in English (3 and 3:6 respectively). Saudi children understood /fi/ 'in' and /
ʢ ælæ/ 'on'
before age three; /tæ ћt / 'under', /žæ n b/ 'beside', /wæ ra/ 'behind', and /gudæm/ 'in front of' b
etween the ages of four and five and lastly, /be:n/'between'
after age six. Agentless passives
(e.g., the ball was hit) were understood at age three while reversible passives with animate agent and patient
(e.g., the boy was seen by the girl), were comprehended beginning at age 4:6 (four years, six months).
Milestones in Production
Acquisition of Negation and Interrogation:
Three stages in the acquisition of negation
are identified. First /læء/ 'no' is used appropriately but also inappropriately overgeneralized to express all types of negation. It is attached to the sentence without modifying it. In the second stage, children add the negative particle
/miš/ and tag it to their utterance. In the final stage, children use the discontinuous negative particle / mæ...š / appropriately affixed to the verb.
In discussing the acquisition of negation by Palestinian children aged 1:10 to 2:7, Mohamed and Ouhalla (1995) noted that children treated nominal
sentences in Arabic which are equivalent to the existential
sentence in English but with no verb differently from verbal sentences
. These generally comprise a noun and an adjective as in / kebira lkura/ 'the ball is big'). Children used the negative particle m-š
in front of both nominal and verbal sentences. While this is the correct pattern for nominal sentences, verbal sentences are negated following the pattern m
with the negative particles prefixed and suffixed to the verb. The authors concluded that children at this stage have not yet developed the obligatory verb movement responsible for a productive derivation of the form m-Verb- š in adult Palestinian Arabic. During the early stages of negative acquisition, children express only negation that carries meaning, while acquisition of negation falling under functional categories is still missing.
The same developmental stages are observed with questions (Omar, 1973). First, questions are signaled by rising intonation, then by tagging question words to either the beginning or ending of utterances and finally by using interrogative words with prepositions and adult stylistic placement of question words in various positions in the sentence. Friedman and Costa (2007) studied the acquisition of word order among Palestinian Arabic speaking children and found a clear preference in repetition tasks for the Verb-Subject (VS) order before age two for both transitive and intransitive verbs
(i.e. verbs that take object complement such as 'hit' and those that don't such as 'sleep'). In the second stage (2:6) children's repetitions were similar for both VS and Subject-Verb (SV) orders.
Milestones in Morphology Acquisition
Noun Phrase Inflections. G
iven the complexity of plural markings in Arabic, children first express the concept of plurality by using modifiers such as /kulluhum/
'all' before the singular form, or a numeral followed by a singular noun /tlata ktab/
'three book', or repeating the singular noun by using a coordinate noun phrase, for example, /di gutta w di gutta/
'this is a cat and this is a cat' (Omar, 1973). By 1:8, children produce plurals using all plural markings. In both longitudinal
and experimental studies
, Ravid and Farah (1999, 2001) found that, at around age two, Palestinian Arabic speaking children use the broken plural category the most (for example, singular /kitab/ 'a book' /kutub/ books). These are irregular forms which are quite frequent in vocabulary items used with children and are used as unanalyzed rote
forms. They are followed by the regular feminine suffix /-at/ plural marker (for example, singular /kura/ 'a ball,' plural /kura:t/ 'balls'). However, the masculine regular plural suffixed forms ( nominative /u:n/ and genitive /i:n/) are rare because they are generally restricted to animate nouns as in the singular noun /mudarris/ 'teacher' is pluralized as /mudarrisu:n/ 'teachers' in subject position and 'mudarrisi:n' in object position. These account for only 2% of all plural forms in the basic lexicon and are the latest to develop at around age 2:6. Arabic also has a plural form for duals (two). Its use is generally limited to body parts pairs (two hands, two feet, etc.). Collective (non count) nouns are acquired relatively later and are rare. By age three, the regular plural marker seems to reach its peak productivity while irregular forms become productive at a much later age.
Two types of overgeneralization errors in acquiring plurals are noted. First, children overgeneralize the regular feminine marker /–at/, which is the least constrained semantically
and formally, to broken plural forms. Later, beginning around 2:5, they overgeneralize broken plural patterns to adult sound feminine plural nouns. The masculine sound plural, the dual, and the collective forms are produced later and with no errors suggesting that they are not yet productive in the child's system. The early broken plural patterns are rote learned forms and later erroneous irregular patterns with irregular nouns, suggest that children organize irregular plurals in subclasses of schemas
(Ravid & Farah, 2001). These errors continue well beyond age seven. In addition, the highly irregular plural agreement in Arabic noun phrases delays its acquisition to around age 12 (Moawad, 2006). In contrast, the regular gender agreement is produced correctly as early as age 2:8.
Kuwaiti Arabic children aged 2 to 2:6 produced verbs with perfective markings
earlier than imperfective markings
(Aljenaie, 2001). They also overgeneralized first person singular
inflections and used the third person singular
marking before the second person
and plural affixes. Masculine marking of the verb appeared before the feminine affixes. Aljenaie explained the absence of unmarked stems by claiming that children are constrained by Universal Grammar
from producing non-adult bare stems and do not construct 'wild grammars'. As in other languages suffixed markers (gender and number) are produced earlier than prefixed (tense/aspect) ones.
. Data from 3:5- to 9:9-year-old children acquiring Moroccan Arabic shows that children develop both horizontal and vertical derivational strategies
that allow them to form words from their roots and from other surface forms (Badry, 1983, 2004). Children go through four main stages in acquisition of verbal and nominal pattern derivations. Badry found that the causative pattern
was the first to be used productively by children followed by the reciprocal
then the middle voice patterns
. Children at all ages studied used Pattern 1 (fa ʢ ala) "to express several semantic and syntactic relations in spite of the availability, in their repertoire, of more specialized verbal patterns (Badry, 2004, p. 140). Errors were with verbs derived from defective roots. Children tended to supply a third consonant or metathesize
consonantal roots. Such errors were interpreted as evidence for the psychological reality of the root in the process of word formation.
Another study compared vocabulary size of bilingual
Arabic-French Lebanese children with their monolingual
counterparts. Children's ages ranged between 17-19 and 26-28 months. The monolingual Lebanese Arabic speaking children's vocabulary size was smaller and had a higher percentage of verbs than that of bilingual or French monolingual groups. These differences were attributed to both the rich morphological structure
of Arabic and parents' socioeconomic background
(Zablit & Trudeau, 2008).
The study of the acquisition of Arabic, a Semitic language, promises to contribute to the cross-linguistic study
in psycholinguistic research. Such research allows the testing of hypotheses, which were mainly based on the study of English and other European languages, about universal and particular features in language development. Additional areas of research in literacy development, bilingualism and speech pathology have opened up recently, which is a positive step for research concerning language development among Arabic children.
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