Is literary Arabic a second language for native Arab speakers? Evidence from semantic priming study

Raphiq Ibrahim, Judith Aharon-Peretz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mother tongue of the absolute majority of native Arabic speakers is Spoken Arabic (SA) which is a local dialect that does not have a written form. For reading and writing as well as for formal communication Literary Arabic (LA) is used. For the literate Arabs these two languages are extensively inter-twined in every day life. Consequently it is possible that despite the difference between them LA is not processed like a regular second language by the cognitive system of the native Arabic speakers but rather as an enhancement of the spoken lexicon. In the present study we examined this possibility comparing semantic priming effects in auditory lexical decision within SA (L1) with the effects found across languages with LA or in Hebrew (L2). Hebrew is doubtlessly a second language for native Arabic speakers. In this study we have manipulated semantic priming. In Experiment 1 the targets were in Spoken Arabic and the primes in any of the three languages. The semantic priming effect was twice as large within L1 as between languages and there was no difference between Hebrew and LA. In Experiment 2 all primes were in SA whereas the targets were in any of the three languages. The priming effects in that experiment were doubled relative to the previous experiment but the inter-language relationships were the same. For both language pairings the semantic priming was larger when the primes were presented in SA (and the targets in either Hebrew or LA) than when the primes were presented in one of the second languages and the targets in SA. The conclusion is that despite the intensive daily use adult native Arabic speakers make of SA and LA and despite their shared origin the two languages retain their status as first and second languages in the cognitive system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-70
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Bilingualism
  • Lexical organization
  • Literary Arabic
  • Semantic priming
  • Spoken Arabic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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