2012. Vol.3, No.7, 1259-1268
Published Online November 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2012.37185
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1259
The Role of Phonology and Morphology in the Development of
Basic Reading Skills of Dyslexic and
Normal Native Arabic Readers
Salim Abu-Rabia, Nariman Abu-Rahmoun
Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Received August 6th, 2012; revised September 10th, 2012; accepted September 21st, 2012
This study is an investigation of the role of some basic reading skills of dyslexic (n = 27) and normal
readers of Arabic: A reading-age-matched group (n = 29) and a chronological age-matched group (n = 31).
The children were tested on reading and cognitive measures, all of which had vowelized and unvowelized
versions: phonological, orthographic, reading, spelling, syntax, and working memory skills. The results of
the MANOVA revealed significant differences between the dyslexic readers and the two control groups
on most measures. Moreover, main effects of vowels and roots were found. In other words, subjects were
much better at the vowelized than the unvowelized tests and used morphology to assist their reading ac-
curacy. However, the Stepwise Regression analysis revealed that syntax, reading measures (isolated
words, real roots and false roots), morphology and spelling were the most powerful predictors of reading
accuracy among dyslexic and normal readers.
Keywords: Dyslexia in Arabic; Morphology; Phonology (Short Vowels); Dyslexia in Semitic
Reading is a complex process that includes the development
of phonological, orthographic, syntactic and working memory
skills. Normal readers usually develop these skills around 2 - 9
years of age. While the phonological skills ease the process of
recoding and identifying words, the syntactic skills enable the
reader to benefit from the sentence context through his/her
textual reading process (Abu-Rabia, 1995, 2002; Muter, 1998;
Siegel & Ryan, 1984, 1988). Readers with reading disabilities
show difficulties in their phonological decoding process (Brad-
ley & Bryant, 1983; Siegel & Ryan, 1984; Shankweiler et al.,
1995) and in their syntactic abilities (Ben-Dror, Bentin, & Frost,
1995; Carlisle, 1995; Henry, 1993; Leong, 1999; Siegel & Ryan,
1988; Tyler & Nagy, 1990).
Researchers define dyslexia in different ways (Abu-Rabia,
2002; Ben-Dror, Bentin, & Frost, 1995; Stanovich, 1988). Some
argue (Bentin et al., 1995) that dyslexia is related to a deficit in
a number of skills, phonological and syntactic awareness. Abu-
Rabia (2002) claims that dyslexia is a delay in all language
skills (Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2004) and that such a delay causes a
gap between the chronological age of the reader and his/her
reading age. This gap could reach two or more years. In this
case, dyslexic readers in grade 4 would read at the level of
grade 2 (Fowler & Liberman, 1995; Genard et al., 1998; Spren-
ger-Charolles et al., 2000; Stanovich, 1991).
Most research studies of dyslexia have focused on the de-
velopment of the phonological skills (Ben-Dror, Bentin, & Frost,
1995; Felton, 1998; Fowler & Liberman, 1995; Webster, 1994),
while the development of the morphological skills have at-
tracted less attention (Ben-Dror et al., 1995; Carlisle, 1995;
Fowler & Liberman, 1995). In addition, most of the studies
have tested phonology in the Latin orthography, which limits
generalization of their results. Thus, testing different orthogra-
phies is essential to the development of a cross-cultural com-
prehensive theory. So far only a few studies have tested the
morphology of Arabic (Abu-Rabia et al, 2003; Abu-Rabia &
Awwad, 2004; Beland & Mimouni, 2001). The purpose of this
study is to test the role of morphology in reading along with a
cluster of basic reading, writing and cognitive variables among
normal and dyslexic native Arabic speakers. In order to under-
stand the results of this study, it is essential to know the nature
of Arabic orthography. First, the nature of Arabic will be pre-
sented and then the review of the literature.
Arabic is a language written in an alphabetic system of 28
letters, all consonants except three, the long vowels. Most Ara-
bic letters have more than one written form, depending on the
letter’s place in a word: beginning, middle, or end. For example,
- //- (this is the separated mode of the letter) is
written at the beginning of the word (
), in the middle of the
) and at the end of the word (
). The essential shape of
the letter, however, is maintained in all cases (Abd El-Minem,
1987; Madkor, 1987). In addition, the letters are divided into
categories according to basic letter shapes, and the difference
between them is the number of dots on, in or under the letter
(for example, the letters
/n/ are from
the same category). Dots appear within 15 letters, 10 of which
have one dot, three have two dots, and two have three dots.
These dots are part of the consonant letters. In addition to the
dots, there are diacritical marks that contribute phonology to the
Arabic alphabet (short vowels,
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
indicate silent sounds,
/shadda/- to indicate stressed syllables)
(Abu-Rabia, 2001, 2002, 2007; Isa, 2000; Madkor, 1987). Ara-
bic words are a combination of consonants and vowels. Skilled
and adult readers are expected to read texts without short vow-
els, but this demands heavy reliance on context and other re-
sources. Beginners and poor readers read texts with short vow-
els. Vowelized Arabic is considered to be shallow orthography,
and unvowelized Arabic is considered to be deep orthography.
Reading accuracy in Arabic requires vowelizing word endings
according to their grammatical function in the sentence, which
is an advanced linguistic ability (phonological and syntactical
abilities) (Abu-Rabia, 2001, 2002, 2007). On the other hand,
silent reading comprehension is less strict, because the reader
can rely on orthography, morphology, and other resources
(Abu-Rabia, 2001, 2002, 2007).
Arabic morphology is built of two types of structures: deri-
vational and inflectional.
Derivational morphology. All words in Arabic are based on
phonological patterns built on roots that are consonantal pat-
terns. For example, the word // kateb/writer/ is constructed
from the root /k-t-b/ which semantically, has to do with writing
and the pattern (-a-e-) that indicates the person who is per-
forming the action. Roots are triliteral (like k-t-b) or quadrilat-
eral (/d-h-r-j/ to roll/), that is, with three or four consonants.
The phonological pattern is constructed of: a) short vowels built
onto roots; b) patterns that include vowel letters, which are
inserted between the root consonants; c) the phonological proc-
ess does not break the orthographic order of the consonantal
root (example, the verb
/inkataba/ has been written—the
passive form of
/kataba/wrote/). With inserted vowels the
phonological pattern of the infixes breaks the orthographic
order of the consonantal root (example, the noun
writer/). Further, additional patterns with vowel letters that may
added as prefixes or suffixes—in this case (example, the noun
/maktoub/written-letter). The root conveys the initial le-
xical access and the combination of roots and phonological
patterns conveys specific semantics (Frost, Forster, & Deutsch,
The derivational morphology has two types of word patterns:
verbal word patterns and nominal word patterns. There are 15
frequent verbal word patterns in Arabic. Each verbal word pat-
tern determines the inflectional pattern of the word (Abd El-
Minem, 1987; Isa, 2000; Madkor, 1987). The verb pattern con-
veys basic semantics via verb roots, and it can change the
meaning of a new word based on that root; different verb pat-
terns built on the same root may convey different semantics
(Abd El-Minem, 1987; Isa, 2000; Madkor, 1987). There are
nine nominal word patterns. There is semantic consistency in
all these different nominal word patterns (Bentin & Frost,
1995), some of which are more common than others. The deri-
vations of nouns are constructed in two ways, one by addition
of nominal patterns to the base roots and one by changing the
past tense to the present tense by applying a phonological pat-
tern to the latter (Abd El-Minem, 1987; Isa, 2000; Madkor,
Inflectional morphology. In contrast to the derivational proc-
ess, in which the basic constituents are roots and word patterns,
the inflectional morphological system in Arabic is constructed
by attaching prefixes and suffixes to real words. The system of
inflectional morphology of verbs is systematic and considers
person, number, gender and time. In the past tense, inflectional
morphology shows person, number, and gender through the
addition of suffixes to the basic verb pattern (third person mas-
culine singular. Example: the word
/kataba/ he wrote
/katabat/ she wrote). In future and present
tenses of verbs, the inflectional morphology is also according to
person, number, and gender, indicated by prefixes and some-
times suffixes (for example:
/yaktobo/ he writes/ changes
/taktobo/ she writes/). The imperative mood is
formed for person, number, and gender by the addition of pre-
fixes and suffixes (for example:
/oktob/ write (masculine)
/oktobey/ write (feminine ending) (Abd
El-Minem, 1987; Isa, 2000; Madkor, 1987). The inflectional
morphological system of nouns considers gender (masculine/
feminine), number (singular/plural), masculine and feminine
and pairs masculine/feminine.
Table 1 shows how the root /k-t-b/ changes using the noun
pattern “writer” for gender and number.
Most verbs and the majority of nouns are constructed out of
three consonant roots, occasionally two or four. Roots are built
in phonological patterns to create specific words. These pat-
terns may be a series of consonants or a series of vowels and
consonants. As for roots and morphemic word patterns, most
words in Arabic are constructed of two morphemes: the com-
bination of a root and a word pattern creates a certain word.
Different morphemes convey different types of information: the
root conveys semantic information then the phonological pat-
tern which determines the core meaning of the word (Abu-
Rabia, 2002, 2001), whereas the word patterns usually convey
information on word class.
In sum, the combination of morphological units in Arabic is
not linear. It relies on intertwining between two independent
morphemes (the root and the word pattern). The order of root
letters is dependent upon the word pattern and its way of inter-
twining with the root. The word pattern can be built of prefixes,
suffixes and infixes whose intertwining with the root can break
the order of the root letters (Feldman & Bentin, 1994).
Review of the Literature
Phonological decoding. Phonological decoding ability is es-
sential in the process of reading acquisition (Abu-Rabia, 1995,
2001; Jorm & Share, 1983; Perfetti, 1985; Share, 1995). It is
well established in the literature that measuring pseudoword
reading is the benchmark test of children’s phonological de-
coding skill (Abu-Rabia, 1995; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987).
Many studies have been conducted using pseudowords as their
phonological decoding measure among normal readers and
reading-disabled (RD) children (Bruck, 1988, 1990; Castles &
Coltheart, 1993; Ehri & Wilce, 1983; Jorm & Share, 1983;
Share, 1985; Perfetti, 1985; Siegel, 1989; Siegel & Ryan, 1988;
Stanovich & Siegel, 1994). The difficulty these RD children
have in reading pseudowords seems to be the result of deficien-
cies in their basic phonological processing.
Root /k-t-b/ changes, gender, and number.
Gender/Number Singular Pairs Plural
Masculine /kateb/ /kateban/ /katebon/
Feminine /kateba/ /katebatan/ /Katebat/
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
Orthographic processing. The orthographic component makes
an important contribution to reading over and above phono-
logical decoding (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1990; Stanovich
& West, 1989). In spite of the different orthographic testing
measures, specific orthographic knowledge and orthographic
combination however, the results for disabled readers are simi-
lar in many studies. On orthographic measures, RD children
performed as well as or even better than their normal counter-
parts matched by reading-level age (Abu-Rabia, 1995; Siegel,
1986). Their performance was poorer, however than that of
their chronological age counterparts. Thus, RD children are re-
latively better at visual-orthographic processing than phono-
Syntax. Studies measuring syntactic ability in normal and RD
students have all resulted in superior performance by normal
readers (Abu-Rabia, 1995; Bentin, Deutsch, & Liberman, 1990;
Deutsch & Bentin, 1996; Fowler, 1988; Menyuk, 1981; Siegel
& Ryan, 1988; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Vellutino, 1979;
Vogel, 1974; Willows & Ryan, 1981), although the interpreta-
tion of these findings has been controversial (Bryant, Maclean,
& Bradley, 1990).
Phonological Awareness. Phonological awareness is the
knowledge that spoken words are composed of phonemes and
syllables, operationalized as the ability to analyze words into
phonemes and syllables (Hakes, 1982; Mattingly, 1984). Chil-
dren first focus on the content and use of words, and only later
notice the phonological structure of the language; next they
learn that utterances are composed of words that may even
rhyme with one another. This ability is realized when children
notice the structure of the spoken language and acquire some
control over phoneme manipulation (Liberman, Shankweiler,
Fischer, & Carter, 1974; Menyuk, Chesnick, Liebergott, Korn-
gold, D’Agostino, & Belanger, 1991).
Morphology. Morphology describes words’ morphemes, which
are the basic semantic units of the language (Hockett, 1958).
RD individuals have difficulty dealing with morphology (Le-
ong, 1989). Their reading process is dependent on their ability
to apply morphological rules of the language (Abu-Rabia &
Taha, 2004; Vogel, 1975, 1983).
Ben-Dror and her colleagues tested morphology, phonology,
and semantics of Hebrew in 60 students who were divided into
three sub-groups: a group of RD children in grade 5, a control
group of normal readers matched by chronological age, and a
younger control group matched by reading level. The RD chil-
dren performed poorly compared to the chronological-age con-
trol group and were slower than the younger control group. The
most significant differences were found in the morphological
tasks (Abu-Rabia, Share, & Mansour, 2003; Ben-Dror et al.,
Working memory. This ability involves executive control of
processing cognitive ability, which helps to control all opera-
tions performed in tasks such as reading (Baddeley & Hitch,
1974). Many studies investigating working memory among RD
children have found impaired working memory performance as
compared with normal readers (Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 2002,
2003; Abu-Rabia, 1995; Brady, Mann, & Schmidt, 1987; Cer-
mac, 1983; Daneman, Carpenter, & Just, 1982; Holligan &
Johnston, 1988; Jorm & Share, 1983).
Visual-orthographic processing. There is some evidence, al-
though not consistently replicated, of deficiencies in basic vis-
ual processing in RD children (Crammond, 1992; Fletcher,
1985; Lovegrove, 1993; Meyler, 1993; Meyler & Breznitz,
1998). In a longitudinal study conducted in Hebrew, Meyler
and Breznitz (1998) tested the development of visual and verbal
memory in children followed from kindergarten to grade 2.
They found positive significant predictive correlations between
both visual and verbal ability and reading. An important differ-
ence between English and Hebrew is worth noting: pointed
Hebrew writing may require unique visuo-spatial processing
due to the visual complexity of vowel diacritics (Share & Levin,
1999). We expect a similar behavior in reading vowelized Ara-
bic orthography (Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2006; Ibrahim, Eviatar, &
Defining Reading Disability
Reading disability is conventionally defined as “difficulty in
acquiring reading skills in spite of being taught by conventional
methods, good intellectual abilities and acceptable societal
occasions” (Critchley, 1970). This definition implicitly assumes
that IQ represents learning potential (Stanovich, 1991). Nowa-
days, developmental and educational psychologists oppose the
view that the IQ test measures intellectual potential (Anastasi,
1988; Cronbach, 1984; Siegel, 1999; Stanovich, 1991; Thorn-
dike, 1986) and should only be viewed as a raw measure of
present cognitive functioning (Detterman, 1982; Humphreys,
1979). The decision to use a specific reading disability group in
the present study was not based on the conservative rationale of
the importance of IQ, but on the rationale that this specific
reading disability group was a relatively pure one, and this
would enable us to study methodologically the specific charac-
teristics of poor reading not caused by factors associated with
general cognitive delay.
The Present Study
The characteristics of Arabic RD children have not been
largely studied. The present study compared three different
groups: reading-disabled Arab children, normal readers mat-
ched by chronological age, and normal readers matched by
reading level. On the basis of our brief literature review we
expected to find many similarities in the reading-related deficits
in English orthography and the Arabic orthography (principally
phonological and orthographic), as both are alphabetical scripts.
Some inconsistencies were also expected, however, due to the
nature of Arabic orthography. We expected that RD children
would perform significantly worse in word recognition and
many basic cognitive processes than chronological-age-matched
normal readers and younger reading-level-matched normal
readers. In the orthographic processing task, however, RD chil-
dren were expected to perform the same as or better than
younger normal readers. In contrast, on word recognition proc-
esses (phonological decoding) and cognitive processing, read-
ing-disabled children were expected to perform significantly
worse than younger normal readers. Because the Arabic writing
system is visually complex (connection of letters and short vo-
welization), significant relationships between visual processing
and reading in the Arabic language were predicted. Namely,
RD children were expected to show more difficulties in those
tasks than normal readers matched by both chronological age
and reading level.
Sampling. The initial sample of the study was 221 students,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1261
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
116 from grade 8 and 105 from grade 6. Among the eighth
graders, 27 students were screened as dyslexic readers and 31
students as their chronological age-matched group. Among the
sixth graders, 29 students were screened as the young reading-
level matched group.
were presented. Each list included 26 pairs of pseudowords and
only one pseudoword sounded like a real word. One list was
presented with full vowelization and the other without (example:
- /raqsaton/ resembles the word
dance/, the other pseudoword /raqshaton/ is the wrong answer.
The letters , might be homophones and resemble in their
representation the sound /s/).
The dyslexic group. The dyslexic children were diagnosed in
their school. All the students (n = 116) were tested and 27 of
them were diagnosed as dyslexic readers; 10 females and 17
males. Their mean chronological age in years was 13.91 (SD =
0.43). The screened dyslexic group was comparable to grade 6
in their reading age based on their reading performance on a
written test and a list of isolated words (Abu-Rabia, 2005).
Pseudoword reading. This test was built for the purposes of
this study. Four lists of pseudowords were constructed, 30
items in each list. The first two lists included pseudowords with
real roots, one fully vowelized ( = 0.96) and one without vow-
elization ( = 0.93). The other two lists included false roots,
one list with full vowelization ( = 0.95) (for example,
/estafrabat/) and the other without ( = 0.93) (for example,
The additional criterion for the screened participants was
their performance on general ability tests (see Table 1). The
dyslexic group showed adequate performance on the Raven,
Raven & Court (1993) and the visual perception test (Beery,
Isolated words. Two lists of words were constructed for this
study, with 40 words in each; one list was with full voweliza-
tion ( = 0.96, for example:
/ramzan/ symbol) and the
other was without ( = 0.96, for example:
/yastakshifon/-discovering). Both lists were constructed on the
basis of gradually increasing difficulty.
The Control Groups
Reading-level-matched. From the initial sample of 105 stu-
dents from grade 6, a group of 29 was selected that matched the
dyslexic readers from grade 8 (n = 29) in their reading per-
formance. There were 17 females and 12 males, with a mean
age in years of 12.08 (SD = 0.16). This young group showed
reading ability similarity to the dyslexic readers but differed on
the general ability tests (Raven, Raven, & Court, 1993; Beery,
Age-matched. From the initial sample of 116 students from
grade 8, 31 students, 15 females and 16 males, were screened
based on their performance on the general ability tests. Their
mean age in years 13.72 (SD = 0.40). The screened participants
were similar in their general ability performance to the dyslexic
readers (see Table 2).
In order to test the performance differences between the
groups, t-test procedures were used. The results showed that
there were no significant differences between the dyslexic
group and the chronological age-matched group on the general
ability tests; however, they differed significantly on the reading
measures (p < 0.05). However, the differences between the
dyslexic group and the reading-level-matched group on the
same tests, general ability and reading, revealed significant
differences (p < 0.05). The results validate the suitability of the
three groups to our study.
The Raven-R (Raven, Raven, & Court, 1993) tests the non-
verbal thinking level: the ability to create comparisons, analo-
gies, inductions and deductions.
Phonological awareness ( = 0.77). Two lists of pseudowords
Means and standard deviations of the three groups on reading and gen-
eral ability tests.
(n = 27)
(n = 29)
(n = 31)
Raven 37.44 (8.97) 30.52 (7.39) 40.19 (6.84)
Visual perception 23.92 (2.46) 22.03 (1.96) 24.74 (1.39)
Reading 54.88 (9.66) 53.09 (5.23) 84.86 (3.43)
Spelling. A list of 40 words of gradually increasing difficulty
was constructed ( = 0.82). The words were selected from the
basal reader of grade 8.
Words that do not fit the context. Two lists of sentences were
constructed that included words that did not fit the context (for
—the worker used
cotton in manufacturing tires). One list was presented with full
vowelization ( = 0.97) and the other one without vowelization
( = 0.92). Each list included 30 sentences.
Working memory. This test was based on the idea of Siegel
and Ryan (1989). An Arabic version was adapted. The partici-
pants were presented with sentences orally with the final word
missing; they had to supply it and repeat all the missing words
from the set. There were three trials in each set size (2, 3, 4 and
________. we go fishing in the ____
_______. we go to the bookstore to buy ____
Morphological identification. Four lists of words were pre-
sented. The participants had to identify the root of each word.
The first two lists included 36 words each; the first was fully
vowelized ( = 0.83) and the other was not ( = 0.84, for ex-
—/alkanz/ the treasure—the answer is k-n-z
there are no letters interrupting the root, only short vowels).
The other two lists included 40 words each, and words were
based on disrupted roots: one list was presented fully vowelized
( = 0.92) and the other without ( = 0.90, for example:
/shaahada/ witnessed/ the answer is /sh-h-d/ the letter // aa/
interrupted the root).
Morphological production. A list of 40 roots was presented
where the participants had to derive words from each root in the
list ( = 0.88), for example: /a’dad/number/ the answers
could be: /aa’ad/ numbers/,
/a’deed/a lot of ···/,
/mea’dd/ counting machine/etc.).
Syntax. Two lists of sentences were presented; one with full
vowelization ( = 0.75) and one without ( = 0.83). Each list
consisted of 30 sentences, half of which had syntactic errors.
The participants had to judge whether the sentence was syntac-
tically correct (example:
- there are in
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1263
my school a chairs and a table. The right sentence should be:
- there are in my school chairs and
Orthographic awareness. Two lists of homophonic words
were constructed. Each list consisted of 22 pairs of correct and
misspelled homophonic words. One list was fully vowelized (
= 0.86) and the other was not ( = 0.72). The participants had to
choose the word that was spelled correctly (example:
—cried—the underlined word in the right one).
Reading comprehension. Two tests were chosen from the
students’ basal reader for grade 8. Both texts were equal in
length, 16 lines each. One text was with full vowelization ( =
0.71) and the other was without ( = 0.75). Both texts were
informative; one text was about computers and the other was
The testing procedures were conducted at the school in a
quiet room dedicated specifically for the purpose of this study.
Testing took place during the regular school days of the week.
Tests were conducted on a one-on-one basis, except for spelling,
morphological, orthographic, syntax and reading comprehen-
sion tests which were conducted in groups. The order of the
tests was counterbalanced across participants. All the reading
aloud measures (the one-on-one tests) were tape recorded.
The data was analyzed with the SPSS statistical package.
Multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) was used to test the
differences between and within groups on all measures. In ad-
dition, to locate the source of variance, the Tukey post hoc test
was used. Further, stepwise regression analysis was used to
locate the powerful predictors of word reading among the three
groups of the study.
Table 3 presents the means and standard deviations of the
three groups. A MANOVA revealed a main effect for voweli
Descriptive statistics of all groups on all measures.
Variables Dyslexics Reading Level Chronological Age F
Vowelized phonology 17.63
Unvowelized phonology 14.96
Vowelized orthography 19.07
Unvowelized orthography 16.48
Vowelized syntax 16.96
Unvowelized syntax 14.81
Vowelized morphology with undisrupted root 31.15
Unvowelized morphology with disrupted root 30.15
Vowelized morphology with disrupted root 31.52
Unvowelized morphology with disrupted root 31.52
Vowelized reading comprehension 6.44
Unvowelized reading comprehension 5.33
Vowelized word reading 22.89
Vowelized pseudoword with real root 19.11
Unvowelized pseudoword with real root 14.07
Vowelized pseudoword with false root 17.44
Unvowelized pseudoword with false root 13.37
Vowelized words that do not fit the context 24.04
Unvowelized words that do not fit the context 21.00
Working memory 23.85
Unvowelized word reading 18.74
Note: *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
zation on all measures, F(1, 84) = 96.95, p < 0.001; F(1, 84) =
123.88, p < 0.01; F(1, 84) = 25.79, p < 0.001; F(1, 84) = 26.12,
p < 0.01; F(1, 84) = 5.92, p < 0.05); F(1, 84) = 51.22, p < 0.001;
F(1, 84) = 193.60, p < 0.001; F(1, 84) = 292.97, p < 0.001; F(1,
84) = 224.79, p < 0.001; F(1, 84) = 130.81, p < 0.001, respec-
tively to their order of presentation in Table 3. Furthermore, a
group main effect was also obtained on all measures, F(2, 84) =
8.976, p < 0.001; F(2, 84) = 6.56, p < 0.001; F(2, 84) = 13.64, p
< 0.001; F(2, 84) = 43.06, p < 0.001; F(2, 84) = 4.49, p < 0.01;
F(2, 84) = 57.48, p < 0.001; F(2, 84) = 25.88, p < 0.001; F(2, 84)
= 43.68, p < 0.001; F(2, 84) = 39.10, p < 0.001; F(2, 84) =
43.62, p < 0.001, respectively to their order of presentation in
There was also a main effect of interaction; group x voweli-
zation on the following measures: morphology with a nondis-
ruptive root, F(5, 80) = 1.24, p < 0.05; morphology with a dis-
ruptive root, F(10, 160) = 3.20, p < 0.05); reading comprehen-
sion F(10, 160) = 5.64, p < 0.01; word reading F(10, 160) =
4.04, p < 0.05; pseudoword reading with a root, F(10, 160) =
3.66, p < 0.05.
Table 3 reveals that there was no significant difference be-
tween the dyslexic group and the reading-level-matched group
on all measures except for the unvowelized pseudoword read-
ing (with false root), on which the young reading level-matched
group performed better.
Furthermore, there was no significant difference between the
dyslexic group and the young reading-level-matched group on
the reading measures, except for unvowelized pseudoword
reading with true roots, on which the young reading-level-
matched group performed better. Likewise, there was no sig-
nificant difference between the dyslexics and the young and
reading-level-matched group on the unvowelized reading com-
prehension measure. However, there was a significant differ-
ence on the vowelized reading comprehension test, on which
the young reading-level-matched group and the chronological-
matched-group performed better.
In order to test the effect of roots on the variance between the
groups, a new MANOVA procedure was designed in which the
pseudoword reading measures with real and false roots were
calculated. The results revealed a significant effect for root:
F(1, 84) = 29.14, p < 0.001. The chronological-age-matched
group obtained the highest scores on all measures and the dys-
lexic group obtained the lowest scores. This pattern was ob-
served in the vowelized and unvowelized measures (see Table
The illustration in Figure 1 shows the difference between the
dyslexic group and the two control groups on the real root
measures. There was a drop for all three groups in their per-
formance on measures of false root, especially among the
young reading-level-matched group. In addition, there was also
a significant triple interaction of root vowelization group:
F(2, 84) = 5.92, p < 0.01. Namely, the dyslexic group benefited
from the roots and vowelization, while the young reading-le-
vel-matched group benefited from the root, only when they tac-
kled unvowelized script (Table 3).
The stepwise regression procedures were conducted sepa-
rately among the three groups. All the stepwise procedures used
reading unvowelized isolated words as the dependent variable
in all groups and the rest of the variables as independent variables.
Performance on pseudowords measures with real and false roots with-
Dyslexic group. Among the dyslexic group, the stepwise re-
gression revealed that reading unvowelized pseudowords with
real roots was the strongest predictor of performance when
reading unvowelized isolated words: it explained 70% of the
variance: F(1, 26) = 56.17, p < 0.001. This was followed by
vowelized isolated words, which added 5%, F(2, 26) = 35.90,
p < 0.001, that is, both predicted 75%, while the rest of the
variables did not show any significant prediction. Furthermore,
in a similar procedure, when only the vowelized scores were
entered as independent variables, reading vowelized pseu-
dowords with real roots revealed a significant contribution,
58%, F(1, 26) = 34.90, p < 0.001); vowelized isolated words,
13%, F(2, 26) = 29.77, p < 0.001; reading vowelized words that
do not fit the context, 5%, F(3, 20) = 24.55, p < 0.001; working
memory, 4%, F(4, 26) = 22.63, p < 0.001; and vowelized syn-
tax, 5%, F(5, 26) = 24.39, p < 0.001. All these variables to-
gether explained 85%, F(5, 26) = 24.39, p < 0.001. However,
when only the unvowelized measures were entered as inde-
pendent variables, unvowelized pseudowords with real roots
revealed a significant prediction, 69%, F(1, 26) = 56.17, p <
0.001; spelling, 4%, F(2, 26) = 34.90, p < 0.001; and working
memory, 4%, F(3, 26) = 29.04, p < 0.001. All these variables
together explained 79%, F(3, 26) = 29.04, p < 0.001.
Reading-level-matched group. The same stepwise procedures
were used here. The vowelized reading isolated words was a
significant predictor, explaining 70% of the variance, F(12, 28)
= 62.39, p < 0.001; unvowelized syntax 7%, F(2, 28) = 44.49, p
< 0.001, and both explained 77%. When only the vowelized
measures were entered as independent variables, again only
vowelized word reading measure was a significant predictor
and explained 70% of the variance, F(1, 28) = 62.39, p < 0.001.
Further, when only the unvowelized measures were entered, the
unvowelized syntax scores showed significant prediction, ex-
plaining 43% of the variance, F(1, 28) = 20.63, p < 0.001; and
unvowelized pseudowords with real root explained an addi-
tional 13% of the variance, F(2, 28) = 16.66, p < 0.001. Both
variables explained 56% of the total variance.
Chronological-age-matched group. The same stepwise re-
gression procedures were also used among this group. The vo-
welized word reading measure showed a significant prediction,
63%, F(12, 30) = 49.42, p < 0.01 and reading comprehension
explained an additional 5% of the variance, F(2, 30) = 30.28,
and both variables explained 68% of the total variance. Further,
when only the vowelized measures were entered, only the vow-
elized isolated words explained 63% of the variance, F(1, 30) =
49.42, p < 0.001. However, when the unvowelized measures
were entered, pseudowords with real roots showed a significant
prediction and explained, 37% of the variance F(1, 30) = 16.90,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
p < 0.001; reading vowels that do not fit the context explained
an additional 10%, F(2, 30) = 12.23, p < 0.001, and both ex-
plained 47% of the total variance.
Summary of results. Among the dyslexic readers pseudoword
reading with real roots was the consistent and best predictor of
unvowelized isolated words in the three stepwise regression
procedures. Other variables, working memory, vowelized iso-
lated words, spelling, and syntax, showed less consistency and
a very small significant prediction. However, among the young
reading-level-matched group reading, the vowelized isolated
words measure was the best and consistent predictor in the first
two regression procedures and pseudoword reading with real
roots was the best predictor when only unvowelized measures
were entered. Likewise, in the chronological-age-matched group,
the vowelized word reading measure showed significant and
consistent predictions in the first two stepwise regression pro-
cedures. In the third regression procedure when only the un-
vowelized measures were entered, only pseudowords with real
roots showed significant prediction. In other words, dyslexic
readers seemed to rely more on roots in reading whereas both
control groups relied mainly on phonology (vowelized words)
if available and on roots when vowelization was not available.
The main results of our study are: a) the performance of the
dyslexic readers on the orthographic measures was better than
their performance on the phonological decoding measures; b)
all participants from all groups performed better on vowelized
measures compared with unvowelized measures; c) dyslexic
readers rely more on morphology whereas normal readers rely
more on morphology only when the script is unvowelized.
The results of our study show significant differences between
the dyslexic readers and their chronological-age-matched read-
ers on all measures, except for the orthography. This result
indicates that dyslexia in Arabic is similar to other alphabetical
dyslexia in other alphabetical languages (Abu-Rabia, Share, &
Mansour, 2003; Prunet, Beland, & Mimouni, 2000). However,
significant differences were revealed between the dyslexic rea-
ders and the young reading-level-matched readers, with the
younger readers performing better on vowelized and unvowel-
ized phonology, unvowelized orthography, vowelized reading
comprehension and unvowelized pseudowords with real roots.
This result confirms that the orthographic lexicon of dyslexic
readers is richer than their phonological lexicon and they tend
to rely on visual-orthographic reading rather than reading me-
diated via phonology. As a result their decoding abilities are
poor compared to the two regular groups (Abu-Rabia, Share, &
Mansour, 2003; Stanovich, 1991; Stanovich et al., 1997). Be-
cause our dyslexic participants were eight graders, they had
been exposed to print more than the normal young readers, and
because their reading strategy relied more on visual-morpho-
logical symbols of words and less on phonology, such a strat-
egy equipped them with a rich orthographic lexicon as com-
pared with their reading-level-matched group (Cunningham &
Stanovich, 1990; Stanovich & West, 1989). This result follows
similar results of Abu-Rabia and Siegel (2002): the bilingual
dyslexic readers and the monolingual dyslexic readers showed
similar or better orthographic results when compared with the
regular bilingual and monolingual readers. Consistently, in our
studies, the dyslexic reader relied on the visual-orthographic
information in printed words (Abu-Rabia, 2001; Abu-Rabia &
Taha, 2004, 2006; Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 2002; Siegel, Share, &
The second finding of our study shows that all groups, dys-
lexic and normal readers, performed better on vowelized meas-
ures as compared to unvowelized measures, except for mor-
phology and syntax. This finding is important and characterizes
the importance of short vowelization in reading in Arabic or-
thography as a Semitic language; “Shallow” if vowelized and
“deep” if unvowelized. Even the normal grade 8 readers bene-
fited from the short vowels in their reading on almost all meas-
ures. This finding is similar to the findings of previous studies
conducted among different ages in Hebrew (Shimron & Sivan,
1994; Shimron, 1993; Abu-Rabia, 2001) and in Arabic (Abu-
Rabia, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007). Short voweliza-
tion in Arabic makes the development of reading a “short vow-
elization-dependent process” where young, advanced and adult
readers need to rely on short vowelization (phonology) for cor-
rect pronunciation. In such orthography where morphology is
complex, and vowelization of final letters of words serves as a
grammatical function, this function is governed by sentence
context. Thus, phonology in Arabic is a sentence context-de-
pendent process. Thus, as Arabic reading is a short voweliza-
tion-dependent process, all readers need it regardless of age and
reading level. In other words, the reading process, due to the
nature of the Arabic orthography, could be slower than in other
alphabetic languages, and perhaps reaching the level of auto-
maticity in reading aloud measures is far from a realistic ex-
pectation (Abu-Rabia, 2001; Ibrahim, Eviatar, & Aharon-Peretz,
2002). In support of these findings, Abu-Rabia (2007) tested
reading accuracy of highly skilled adult native Arabic teachers
using morphologically complex words. The results showed that
roots of words and short vowelization were essential factors for
reading accuracy. It is important to note that information proc-
essing in Arabic orthography is cognitively demanding and as a
result, the information processing in this type of orthography is
slow. Ibrahim, Eviatar and Aharon-Peretz (2002) argued that
the complexity of the Arabic orthography slows its processing;
such a conclusion enhances the argument that the Arabic or-
thography may demands higher cognitive attention for word
decoding than other orthographies.
The main effect of roots across all groups enhances the ar-
gument that Arabic readers rely on morphological entities in
their reading. Roots of words are the key to initial lexical access,
and phonology is retrieved later for accurate pronunciation.
Shimron (1999) argues that in Hebrew, a Semitic language like
Arabic, the orthographic knowledge of Hebrew is attributed to
the morphology of the Semitic languages and that reading in
Hebrew is assisted by syntactic clues and their connection to
phonology. This assumption has largely been supported (Ben-
Dror, Bentin, & Frost, 1995; Frost, 1995; Frost, Forster, & Dutch,
1997; Ravid, 2001, 2002; Taouk & Coltheart, 2003).
Our third finding indicates that the dyslexic readers tend to
rely on roots and short vowelization in reading words whereas
normal readers tend to rely on roots only if words are unvowel-
ized. Dyslexic readers compensate (Stanovich, 1980) for their
poor phonological decoding through reliance on their visual-
orthographic reading, namely, the root identification strategy.
Further, the morphological lexicon of the normal readers is
richer than the lexicon of the dyslexic and the young readers,
which enables them to use morphology without short voweliza-
tion something that explains the differences between these
normal readers and their normal young controls. In addition,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1265
S. ABU-RABIA, N. ABU-RAHMOUN
poor morphological abilities usually are weakened even more
as they join poor phonological abilities among poor readers
(Feldman & Fowler, 1995). A number of studies have sug-
gested that the development of morphology and phonology in
reading is a mutual and a parallel process (Carlisle, 1995;
Shankweiler et al., 1995; Siegel & Ryan, 1984).
Wysocki and Jenkins (1987) tested students in grades 4, 6
and 8 on their use of morphological knowledge and its relation
to their understanding of new words. They found that grade 4
students were the poorest in using morphological knowledge in
comparison with the older grades. They tended to define words
according to their base-words regardless of affixes (Freyd &
Baron, 1982; Wysocki & Jenkins, 1987; Windsor, 1994; Tyler
& Nagy, 1989; Carlisle, 1995; Carlisle & Nomanbhoy, 1993).
In sum, the findings of our study enhance Abu-Rabia, Share
and Mansour’s (2003) results regarding phonology and mor-
phology in Arabic and that short vowelization is helpful to the
reading of normal and dyslexic readers. The morphology of
Arabic is also essential in the reading of all readers. Based on
these findings a few conclusions can be drawn for the learning
and teaching of Arabic: a) teaching Arabic should be practiced
through explicit phonological drilling and full vowelization; b)
teaching of Arabic should also include explicit learning of the
morphology of Arabic, starting with the key to lexical access,
the root; and c) the phonology and morphology should be
jointly taught in order to allow natural reading and spelling
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