SPELLING ARABIC: When Does Orthographic Knowledge End and Language Knowledge Start?

Elinor Saiegh-Haddad, Ola Ghawi-Dakwar, Lina Haj, Ranya Farraj-Bsharat, Lior Laks

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

1 Scopus citations


Arabic is morphologically rich. This richness is reflected in: (a) prevalence of non-concatenated morphological procedures and semi-systematic morpho-phonological alternations, (b) morphological density and the word-internal morphological encoding of multiple semantic and grammatical features, and in turn (c) morphological organization of words in the lexicons of speakers. Arabic is also diglossic and it depicts a remarkable linguistic distance between the spoken language variety that is dominant in the speech of children (spoken Arabic, SpA) and standard Arabic (StA) the language encoded in spelling. This distance is not only lexical and phonological but also extends to morphology and morpho-syntax, and it has been shown to impact linguistic processing and reading. As the Arabic orthography encodes the structure and the lexicon of StA, spelling a word accurately in Arabic requires not only knowing how to translate auditory sounds into orthographic forms, but primarily awareness of the linguistic (primarily morphological) information packed within the word, and how this is represented in spelling. Also, knowledge and awareness of how various linguistic forms (phonological, morphological, and lexical) pattern in StA and SpA. The current chapter reports two studies. The first examines the use of morphological processing in the spelling accuracy of homophonic letters among young first graders. The second examines the role of diglossia vis-à-vis other factors in the spelling errors observed by older fourth-grade children. The results from the two studies converge on the primary role of two factors in spelling Arabic: (a) morphology: namely, morphological knowledge and processing in general and (b) diglossia: namely, linguistic distance and knowledge and awareness of differences and similarities between the linguistic structures (lexical, phonological, and morphological) in StA and their renditions in SpA. The educational implications of these findings are briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge International Handbook of Visualmotor Skills, Handwriting, and Spelling
Subtitle of host publicationTheory, Research, and Practice
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781000922837
ISBN (Print)9781032255743
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 selection and editorial matter, Yanyan Ye, Tomohiro Inoue, Urs Maurer, and Catherine McBride; individual chapters, the contributors.


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