Phonological awareness in Arabic: the role of phonological distance, phonological-unit size, and SES

Elinor Saiegh-Haddad, Abeer Shahbari-Kassem, Rachel Schiff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The study tested phonological awareness in a cross-sectional sample of 200 Arabic-speaking 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 10th graders from low and mid-high Socio-Economic Status (SES). Participants were native speakers of a local dialect of Palestinian Arabic spoken in the north of Israel. Twelve phonological awareness tasks were administered: six of them included stimuli that have an identical form in Standard Arabic and in the spoken dialect (hereafter, SpA words; e.g., /sɑʒɑd/ ‘knelt’) and six used StA words with a unique form different from the one used in the dialect (hereafter, StA words; e.g., /ʔɑχɑð/ ‘took’). Three tasks (blending, segmentation, deletion) were developed for each set of words to test syllable awareness and three additional ones to test phoneme awareness. Repeated measure ANOVAs showed a cross-sectional growth in syllable and phoneme awareness across grades, as well as significant differences between children from low versus mid-high SES. The results also showed a consistent effect of phonological distance on phonological awareness across all tasks and in both groups with awareness of SpA words higher than StA words. At the same time, the impact of phonological distance was more prominent in children from low SES as against mid-high SES, in phoneme awareness as against syllable awareness, and in segmentation and deletion tasks as against blending tasks. The results underscore the roles of item-based properties of phonological distance and phonological-unit size, as well as the role of participant-based characteristics of SES in phonological awareness in Arabic diglossia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1649-1674
Number of pages26
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number6
Early online date12 Feb 2020
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Arabic
  • Dialect
  • Diglossia
  • Phonological awareness
  • Phonological distance
  • SES
  • Spoken Arabic
  • Standard Arabic
  • Syllable awareness


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