Emergence of verb-pattern morphology in young Arabic speakers: morphological and semantic features

Naila Tallas-Mahajna, Sharon Armon-Lotem, Elinor Saiegh-Haddad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Arabic, a Semitic language, displays a particularly rich derivational morphological system with all verb stems consisting of a semantic root and a prosodic verb-pattern. Such regular and frequently encountered knowledge is expected to be acquired early. The present study presents a developmental perspective on the relative contribution of morphological and semantic complexity to the acquisition of verbs in Spoken Arabic. Method: Verbs in a spontaneous corpus from 133 typically developing children, 2; 6–6; 0-year-old, were coded for type and token frequency of verbal patterns and root type, and classified according to semantic complexity. Results: Results support an item-based emergence driven by semantic complexity at the earliest stages of acquisition. A developmental expansion in the diversity of verbal patterns and morphological complexity was observed with age. Morphological complexity is only identified when the same root appears in different verb patterns. Discussion: The late emergence of the same root in different verb patterns indicates that the perception of verb patterns as abstract linguistic entities beyond the actual verbs is attained later than the semantically-constrained verbs in earlier childhood. We conclude that whereas semantic complexity obstructs verbs from emerging in the lexicon in younger age groups, morphological complexity constitutes no such obstruction, since their perception as morphological devices is attained later in acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1127640
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Tallas-Mahajna, Armon-Lotem and Saiegh-Haddad.


  • Spoken Arabic
  • child language
  • derivational morphology
  • morphological complexity
  • roots
  • semantic complexity
  • verb patterns


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