The role of emergent bilingualism in the development of morphological awareness in Arabic and Hebrew

Mila Schwartz, Haitham Taha, Hanan Assad, Ferdos Khamaisi, Zohar Eviatar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of the present study was to investigate the role of dual language development and cross-linguistic influence on morphological awareness in young bilinguals’ first language (L1) and second language (L2). We examined whether (a) the bilingual children (L1/L2 Arabic and L1/L2 Hebrew) precede their monolingual Hebrew- or Arabic-speaking peers in L1 and L2 morphological awareness, and (b) 1 Semitic language (Arabic) has cross-linguistic influence on another Semitic language (Hebrew) in morphological awareness. Method: The study sample comprised 93 six-year-old children. The bilinguals had attended bilingual Hebrew− Arabic kindergartens for 1 academic year and were divided into 2 groups: home language Hebrew (L1) and home language Arabic (L1). These groups were compared to age-matched monolingual Hebrew speakers and monolingual Arabic speakers. We used nonwords similar in structure to familiar words in both target languages, representing 6 inflectional morphological categories. Results: L1 Arabic and L1 Hebrew bilinguals performed significantly better than Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking monolinguals in the respective languages. Differences were not found between the bilingual groups. We found evidence of cross-linguistic transfer of morphological awareness from Arabic to Hebrew in 2 categories−bound possessives and dual number−probably because these categories are more salient in Palestinian Spoken Arabic than in Hebrew. Conclusions: We conclude that children with even an initial exposure to L2 reveal acceleration of sensitivity to word structure in both of their languages. We suggest that this is due to the fact that two Semitic languages, Arabic and Hebrew, share a common core of linguistic features, together with favorable contextual factors and instructional factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)797-809
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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