Arabic diglossia and reading

Native speakers of Arabic acquire their language in the special linguistic context of diglossia, where a regional spoken Arabic dialect co-exists with the more formal variety known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). The two varieties show some divergences at all levels of linguistic description. This has led some researchers, specifically those working on Palestinian Arabic, to claim that speakers of Standard Arabic and a regional Dialectal Arabic of some sort are de facto bilinguals. We have found that at the morphological level, speakers of Tunisian Arabic and Standard Arabic show equally robust root and word pattern priming effects suggesting that in both varieties roots and patterns are relevant cognitive units. Importantly, in both language varieties, root and pattern priming was different from form-based and semantics-based priming (for more details click here). In Collaboration with R. Khamis-Dakwar (adelphi University, US) & K. Froud (Columbia University, US), I am currently working on a project comparing the neurophysiological response "MisMatch Negativity (MMN) to Palestinian Arabic words, Modern Standard Arabic words, and English words (more on this here).

In the long run I am also committed to pursuing the educational implications of diglossia. A common view in Arabic reading research is that young Arab learners of Modern Standard Arabic show an alarming achievement gap as a consequence of diglossia. All Arab children speak a regional dialect of some sort whereas the language in the school is "standard Arabic". This dialect mismatch has many effects on the Arab child's school experience; it makes tasks such as learning to read literally more difficult than for children learning to read in other languages and for whom there is no dialect mismatch. We will focus on ways that negative effects of the dialect mismatch can be ameliorated to provide supplementary language experiences early on in life, when the child's plasticity for language is high. We can also benefit from computational models of reading to predict where dialect differences will interfere with progress, and how experience can be structured to improve performance.