Literacy reflexes of arabic diglossia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The paper offers a conceptual framework of diglossia Ferguson, C.A. (1959). Diglossia-Word, 14, 47-56 as a sociolinguistic phenomenon and discusses some of the defining features of a diglossic context. Then, it describes Arabic as a typical diglossic context with emphasis placed on two features: (a) linguistic distance between Spoken Arabic and Standard Arabic and (b) socio-functional complementarity between the two linguistic codes, with Spoken Arabic the language that all Arabic native speaking children acquire as a mother tongue and with Standard Arabic primarily the language of literacy. These features are argued to have a direct impact on the acquisition of basic reading processes in Arabic. The paper then reviews recent psycholinguistic research addressing directly the effect of diglossia on the acquisition of basic reading processes in Arabic. The evidence reviewed demonstrates that children’s phonological awareness and phonological recoding skills are directly affected by the linguistic affiliation of the target phonological unit (Standard versus Spoken). As such, children find Standard phonological structures that are only available in Standard Arabic significantly more difficult to process than those structures familiar to them from their spoken vernacular. Based on this review, a hypothesis is then advanced that diglossia challenges the acquisition of basic reading processes in Arabic. It is further argued that the socio-cultural context in which Arabic reading acquisition is embedded exacerbates the impact of phonological distance on reading development with children beginning formal instruction in reading with little knowledge about literacy and print. This constitutes a drawback that brings about further frustration and failure.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Issues in Bilingualism
Subtitle of host publicationCognitive and Socio-linguistic Perspectives
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9789400723276
ISBN (Print)9789400723269
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012.


  • Arabic
  • Diglossia
  • Linguistic distance
  • Literacy
  • Phonological processes


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