Literacy problems in Arabic: Sensitivity to diglossia in tasks involving working memory

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Arab children acquire the Spoken Arabic - ammia (SA) - at home and are exposed to literary Arabic - fusha (so-called Modern Standard Arabic, MSA) - only at school age. This diglossia was found to affect reading acquisition in Arabic. The study was undertaken to determine whether a supra-lexical factor, in this research working memory, affects meta-lingual performance, which is critical for the development of reading skill in Arabic language readers; and whether this effect differs with age, from 1st through 12th grade of school. Short-term memory was found to be involved in and affect phonemic manipulations at all grade levels: the longer the manipulated stimulus, the poorer the performance. The finding is in line with the "transparency-by-modularity" interaction, and suggests that Arabic is a "semi-modular" language in contrast to highly modular Hebrew. A theory to account for acquisition of literary Arabic at an early age is proposed based on the study results and previous findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-582
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Diglossia
  • Hemisphere
  • Literary Arabic
  • Meta-lingual
  • Phonology
  • Spoken Arabic
  • Supra-lexical
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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