Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 486-494
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The Role of Morphology and Short Vowelization in Reading
Morphological Complex Words in Arabic: Evidence for
the Domination of the Morpheme/Root-Based theory in
Reading Arabic
Salim Abu-Rabia
Faculty of Education, University of Haifa Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Israel
Received July 1st, 2012; revised August 8th, 2012; accepted August 18th, 2012
This study investigated the reading accuracy of 59 adult highly skilled native Arabic readers in reading
morphological complex Arabic words in 6 reading conditions: Isolated words with short vowelization,
isolated words without short vowelization, sentences with roots with short vowelization, sentences with
roots without short vowelization, sentences without priming roots with short vowelization and sentences
without priming roots without short vowelization. The results indicated that roots and short vowelization
were good facilitators for these adults highly skilled readers in their reading accuracy of morphological
complex Arabic words. The results are discussed in the light of the role of roots as autonomous semantic
entities and that the complex morphology of Arabic needs short vowelization for accuracy in reading.
Keywords: Arabic Morphology; Morpheme/Root-Based Theory; Morphological Complexity; Reading
Accuracy; Roots and Phonology; Short Vowelization
Phonological awareness is related to the acquisition of read-
ing (Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Stanovich, Cunningham, &
Cramer, 1984; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985). Some scholars have
claimed a causal link between phonological awareness and
reading and that phonological awareness is a crucial precondi-
tion for beginning reading (Liberman & Liberman, 1990;
Snowling 1980; Snowling, Goulandris, Bowlby, & Howell,
1986; Mann & Liberman, 1984; Lundberg, Olofsson, & Wall,
Phonology has attracted the research attention for many years
and relatively less attention has been given to morphology.
Many studies have been emerging in the lat few years focusing
on the contribution of morphology to reading as an additional
factor to phonology (Beauvillain & Segni, 1992; Feldman,
1991; Caramazza, Laudanna, & Romani, 1988; Feldman, 1994).
Carlisle (1995) has suggested a definition to the term morpho-
logical awareness: “Morphological awareness focuses on chil-
dren’s conscious awareness of the morphemic structure of
words and their ability to reflect on and manipulate the struc-
ture” (p. 194). There is clear evidence of a relationship between
morphological awareness and reading in the early stages of
reading (Carlisle, 1995; Champion, 1997; Fowler & Liberman,
Although a serious database of research finding has been
documenting the role of phonology and morphology in reading
acquisition, not much has been known about the role of these
variables in reading in different orthographies like Arabic. This
study investigates the role of phonology (short vowelization)
and complex Arabic morphology on the reading accuracy of
highly skilled adult Arabic readers in reading morphological
complex Arabic words and sentences. It is well known that
skilled Arabic adult readers use textbooks with morphologically
complex words, an indicator of their good level of literary Ara-
bic. I will first present the nature of the Arabic orthography
with its morphology and then a relevant review of the literature
focusing on the rationale of the present study and its theoretical
and practical contribution.
Arabic Orthography
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. However,
the essential shape of the letter is maintained in all cases (Abd
El-Minem, 1987). In addition, the letters are divided into cate-
gories according to basic letter shapes, and the difference be-
tween them is the number of dots on, in or under the letter. Dots
appear with 15 letters: 10 have one dot, three have two dots,
and two have three dots. In addition to the dots, there are dia-
critical marks that contribute phonology to the Arabic alphabet
(Abu-Rabia, 2001). Arabic words are a combination of conso-
nants and vowels. Skilled and adult readers are expected to read
texts without short vowelization, but this demands heavy reli-
ance on context and other resources. Beginners and poor read-
ers read texts with short vowelization. Vowelized Arabic is
considered shallow orthography, and unvowelized Arabic is
considered deep orthography. Reading accuracy in Arabic re-
quires vowelizing word endings according to their grammatical
function in the sentence, which is an advanced phonological
and syntactical ability (Abu-Rabia, 2001). Silent reading com-
prehension is less strict, because the reader can rely on orthog-
raphy, morphology, and other resources (Abu-Rabia, 2002).
Arabic morphology. Arabic morphology is built of two types
of structures: derivational and inflectional.
Derivational morphology. All words in Arabic are based on
phonological patterns built on roots that are consonantal pat-
terns. Roots are triliteral or quadriliteral, that is, with three or
four consonants. This is not a phonological unit but an abstract
entity. The phonological pattern is constructed of: 1) short
vowelization built onto roots. The phonological process does
not break the orthographic order of the consonantal root; 2)
patterns that include vowel letters, which are inserted between
the root consonants. Here the phonological pattern of the in-
fixes breaks the orthographic order of the consonantal root; 3)
additional patterns with vowel letters that may come as prefixes
or suffixes. The root conveys the initial lexical access and the
combination of roots and phonological patterns conveys spe-
cific semantics (Frost, Forster, & Deutsch, 1997).
The derivational morphology has two types of word patterns:
verbal word patterns and nominal word patterns. There are 15
very frequent verbal word patterns in Arabic. Each verbal word
pattern determines the inflectional pattern of the word (Abd
El-Minem, 1987; Al-Dahdah, 1989; Wright, 1967). The verb
pattern conveys basic semantics via verb roots, and it can
change the meaning of a new word created from that root; dif-
ferent verb patterns built on the same root may convey different
semantics (Abd El-Minem, 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 derivations of nouns are
constructed in two ways, one by addition of nominal patterns of
the base roots and one by changing the past tense to the present
tense by applying a phonological pattern to the latter (Abd
El-Minem, 1987; Al-Dahdah, 1989; Wright, 1967).
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). In future and present tenses of verbs the inflec-
tional morphology is also according to person, number, and
gender, indicated by prefixes and sometimes suffixes. The im-
perative mood is formed for person, number, and gender by the
addition of prefixes and suffixes (Abd El-Minem, 1987;
Al-Dahdah, 1989; Wright, 1967). The inflectional morphologi-
cal system of nouns considers gender, masculine/feminine;
number, singular/plural, masculine and feminine; and pairs,
Most verbs and the majority of nouns are constructed out of
roots of three consonants, occasionally two or four. Roots are
built in phonological patterns to create specific words; these
patterns 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 the particular word.
Different morphemes convey different types of information: the
root conveys more information than the phonological pattern
because it provides the core meaning of the word (Abu-Rabia,
2001, 2002), whereas the word patterns usually convey infor-
mation on word class.
In sum, the combination of morphological units in Arabic is
not linear, but relies on intertwining between two independent
morphemes (the root and the word pattern). The order of root
letters depends upon the word pattern and its way of intertwin-
ing 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.
Review of the Literature
Morphology and reading. Research on the early stages of
reading suggests that young children have basic and intuitive
knowledge about the structure of words, morphology (Carlisle,
1995; Carlisle & Nomanbhay, 1993; Champion, 1997; Clark &
Hecht, 1982; Tornéus, 1987). Clear evidence has been con-
veyed by some studies about the morphological awareness pre-
diction of reading ability (Tornéus, 1987). Tornéus tested chil-
dren’s understanding of kindergarten children of novel com-
pounds, for example, explain the meaning of grass bee and bee
grass. She reported that morphological awareness of kinder-
garten pupil predicted their reading ability in the second grade.
Similarly, Carlisle (1995) reported that morphological aware-
ness of kindergarten children measured by morphological pro-
duction tests predicted the reading comprehension in grade 2.
Some researchers argue that the exposure to print, seeing the
same morpheme in different words, accelerates high morpho-
logical awareness to words when decoding them (Fowler &
Liberman, 1995).
Furthermore, Fowler and Liberman (1995) tested the rela-
tionship between phonology and morphology. They tested this
relationship among grade 2 and 4 pupils. The students’ vo-
cabulary and reading and spelling abilities were measured in
addition to their morphological production. The results indi-
cated that only to ability to solve phonologically complex items
separated poor from good readers. Fowler and Liberman (1995)
suggested that differences in morphological awareness depend
on differences in the phonological domain. In a study by Wunes,
Bryant and Bindman (1997) investigated the development of
morphological strategies of spelling in grade 2 and 4 pupils.
They found that the students passed through successive stages
of morphological spelling skills from grade 2 to grade 4. The
authors concluded that explicit morphological (grammatical)
awareness of spoken language was accelerated by more ex-
perience with the specific orthography; reading and writing.
Furthermore, in a recent study by Arnbak and Elbro (2000)
where they conducted a training study of morphological
awareness involving 33 dyslexic students in grade 4 and 5. The
training was oral and focused on semantic aspects of mor-
phemes. During the training period, the experimental group
gained significantly more than a similar group of untrained
controls (n = 27) on one of three measures of morphological
awareness. Both groups made equal progress on measures of
phonological awareness, phoneme discrimination and picture
naming. The experimental group progressed significantly more
than the controls in reading comprehension and in spelling of
morphologically complex words. The authors concluded that it
is possible to develop dyslexic students’ morphological aware-
ness and that awareness of morphemes, the smallest meaningful
units of language, may support the development of meaning-
oriented decoding strategies in reading and spelling.
Furthermore, Elbro and Arnbak (1996) investigated reading
compounds (compared to other words) by Danish dyslexic
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 487
adolescents and reading-age matched normal readers. They
found that the dyslexic reader relied more sensitive to morpho-
logical structures compared to the normal readers. Namely, in
Danish skilled readers may not depend on morphological seg-
mentation and alternatively developed automatic visual recog-
nition of words as whole entities.
Some researchers argue that the morphology of the language
plays an essential role in reading and spelling, especially in the
semitic languages: Arabic and Hebrew (Abu-Rabia, 2001;
Abu-Rabia, Share & Mansour, 2003; Beland & Mimouni, 2001;
Prunet, Béland, & Idrissi, 2000; Ravid, 2001). Ravid (2001)
argues that the morphology of Hebrew plays a major role in
determining what letters are acquired first among children. She
asserts that beginners rely on morphological cues of their fa-
miliar spoken language and look for those cues in the written
language while learning spelling. Furthermore, Somech (2001)
found that primary school children pronounced words accord-
ing to morphological structures expected from the contexts of
the story. Likewise, Beland and Mimouni (2001) assume that
Arabic is a highly morphological language that heavily affects
the reading strategy of the readers.
In a study by Prunet, Béland and Idrissi (2000) they argue
that Arabic and all Semitic languages are addressed through the
root morpheme, since the root is an autonomous semantic entity.
They advocate that the lexicon of Semitic language readers is a
root/morpheme-based lexicon. Such an approach supported
from very early years by structuralists such as Cantineau (1950)
and Harris (1951) where they recognized roots as autonomous
morphemes expressing the basic meaning of the word, addi-
tional morphological information being expressed by a distinct
vocalized pattern. This view was later discussed in an autoseg-
mental analysis such as those of McCarthy (1981) and Hober-
man (1988), which typically further separates vocalized pat-
terns into morphemes consisting of vowels only or templates
only. Such analysis implicitly or explicitly adopt a mor-
pheme-based theory of morphology since their lexicon includes
roots; expressing the basic meaning of the word. However,
other Hebrew and Arabic grammarians also expressed different
views (Saussure, 1978; Mahadin, 1982; Heath, 1987; Bat-El,
1994; Ratcliffe, 1997; Ussishkin, 1999). They viewed Semitic
roots as paradigmatic relations existing between fully formed
words, rather than as autonomous morphemes. Prunet, Béland
and Idrissi (2000) in very thorough analysis of morpheme-
based theory in Semitic lexicons, they used data from bilingual
aphasic patients. They argue that the consonant metathesis error
(changing the order of root letters) provide evidence for the
existence of roots as lexical units in the mental lexicon of
speakers of Arabic. These errors differed quantitatively and
qualitatively in Arabic and French. Their aphasic patients re-
vealed parallel linguistic details in the two languages, and their
metatheses must arise during the phonological planning stage in
both languages. The same deficit yields different effects be-
cause the phonological representations of these languages are
different (Béland & Paradis, 1997; Paradis & Prunet, 2000;
Tranel, 1995). Of course, more recent psycholinguistic studies
support the roots in Semitic languages (based on Hebrew) are
semantic autonomous entities (Frost, Deutsch, Kenneth, &
Forster, 1997; Feldman, Frost, & Pnini, 1995).
From the above brief literature review, it is clear that mor-
phology is an important factor in reading acquisition. The pre-
sent study investigates the role of roots in reading morphologi-
cally complex words among native adult highly proficient Ara-
bic readers.
Phonology and reading. The most important skill in phono-
logical processing is the association of sounds with letters; that
is, the understanding of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules
and the exception of these rules. This ability is the basis of
decoding print, and although there are other routes to obtain
meaning from print, the phonological route is clearly an import
ant one and critical in the early development of reading skills
(Stanovich, 1988a, 1988b). Current theories of the development
of reading skills in English stress phonological processing as
the most significant underlying cognitive process. Arguments
for this position are outlined in Stanovich (1988a, 1988b).
Studies such as those of Bruck (1988), Ehri and Wilce (1983),
Snowling (1980), Siegel and Ryan (1988) and Waters, Bruck
and Seidenberg (1985) have shown that disabled readers have
more difficulty reading unfamiliar words and pseudowords than
normal readers matched on a chronological age or reading level.
Further, this difficulty seems to be the fundamental problem of
children with reading disability and often continues even to
adulthood. Sometimes adults with a reading disability become
like normal readers but still have difficulty reading pseu-
dowords or read them very slowly (e.g., Barwick of Siegel,
1990; Bruck, 1990; Shafrir & Siegel, 1991). Many studies have
also shown that children’s knowledge of the phonological
structure of language is a good predictor of early reading ability
(Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985; Mann,
1984; Olso, Wise, Conners, Rack, & Fulker, 1989; Shankweiler
& Liberman, 1989), an impairment in the representation of
processing of phonological information are implicated in at
least some forms of developmental dyslexia (Manis, Seidenberg,
Doi, McBride-Chang, & Peterson, 1996; Stanovich, Siegel, &
Gottardo, 1997). Furthermore, skilled readers also rely on this
information in identifying words (Van Orden, Pennington, &
Stone, 1990; Lukatela & Turvey, 1994; Siedenberg, 1985; Jared
& Seidenberg, 1991; Perfetti & Bell, 1991; Perfetti, Bell, &
Delaney, 1988).
The relationship between phonological awareness and read-
ing ability has been tested in English and other languages,
which resulted in compelling evidence that an understanding of
the phonological constituents of words is an important deter-
miner of reading success in many other alphabetic orthogra-
phies besides English (Durgunoğlu, Nagy, & Hancia-Bhatt,
1993; Cardoso-Martins, 1995; Crossu, Shankweiler, Liberman,
Katz & Tola, 1988; Treiman, 1991; MacBride-Chang, 1995;
Yopp, 1988).
The Rationale of the Study
The present study is aiming to investigate the role of the
complex Arabic morphology in reading accuracy of adult native
highly proficient readers. The Arabic complex morphology was
rarely studied. The reading accuracy of the participants was
tested via isolated morphological complex word recognition,
sentences with morphological complex words preceded with
priming roots and sentences without priming roots. Since mor-
phology is always based on phonological patterns, the phonol-
ogy (short vowelization mastery) is also tested in a way that
each reading condition is presented, one with short voweliza-
tion and another equal condition without short vowelization.
The rationale of the present study is derived from the find-
ings of a numer of studies in Arabic reading among regular,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
poor and dyslexic readers. Some of these reading studies indi-
cated that the characteristics of Arabic slow it processing (Ivitar
& Ibrahim, 2003), such a finding questions the relevancy of
reading fluency/speed as a testing measure. Others indicated
that reading accuracy does not correlate with reading compre-
hension due to different resources involved (Abu-Rabia, 2001);
and further studies indicated that phonology is a highly domi-
nant factor in reading accuracy and reading comprehension
across all ages and reading levels (Abu-Rabia, 1997, 1998,
2000, 2001, 2002; Abu-Rabia, Share, & Mansour, 2003). Such
a finding also questions the fluency of Arabic skilled readers. If
phonology is highly influential on reading and reading com-
prehension, then the reading process is still slow to enable effi-
cient phonological processing. These findings so far support
this claim and fits the nature of the Arabic writing system.
Reading scripts with and without short vowelization when test-
ing reading accuracy demands pronouncing the short voweliza-
tion posted on letters with special focus on the final letter of the
word because it indicates a grammatical function. Further stud-
ies indicated that the phonological stage in reading and spelling
in Arabic orthography is a continuous stage that accompanies
readers and spellers all their lives (Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2004,
2006a, 2006b). The findings of Abu-Rabia and Taha (2006a)
indicated that the percentage of phonological spelling errors
were the highest among all grades from 1 to 9.
As to the morphology, roots in Arabic are basic morphemes
and considered autonomous semantic entities (Prunet, Béland,
& Idrissi, 2000) that enable lexical access to readers. If this is
correct then priming roots in regular Arabic sentences should
ease reading accuracy of target morphological high density
words. As seen in the literature research focused usually on
school children assuming that the role of morphology is crucial
in the early stages of reading acquisition. This study investi-
gates the role of morphology among highly skilled adult read-
Research Questions
1) What is the role of the root or base word in reading mor-
phologically complex words in context with vowels and with-
out vowels?
2) What is the role of short vowelization in reading isolated
morphologically complex words?
1) Roots facilitate reading accuracy of morphologically com-
plex words in context with vowels and without vowels.
2) The reading accuracy of the adult proficient readers will
be significantly higher in the vowelized reading condition than
the unvowelized reading condition in all reading conditions.
Participants. Fifty-nine adult proficient native Arabic speak-
ers were selected to participate in the study. They are university
graduates in Arabic literature and working as Arabic language
teachers in Arab schools. None of these adults has any sort of
learning disorder according to their self-questionnaire report.
Their chronological age range was 25 - 32 years. Each partici-
pant had at least 3 years of teaching experience. All the teachers
volunteered to participate in this study.
Materials and Research Design
Six reading conditions were designed for the 59 adult par-
ticipants. All the participants had to be tested on all these read-
ing conditions for reading accuracy:
Condition 1. A list of 60 Arabic words, all are morphological
high density words. The words were chosen from adult literary
books. All the words were presented with full vowelization.
The participants had to read all words aloud.
Condition 2. Another parallel list of 60 Arabic words, all are
morphological high density words. The words are equivalent to
the list in condition 1 as far as possible. However, this list is
presented unvowelized. The participants had to read all the
words aloud.
Condition 3. A list of 60 sentences with a base word and a
target word. The target word is a highly morphological density
word which is preceded by the a root. All the 60 sentences were
presented with full vowelization. The distance between the root
and the target word was two words. The participants were
tested for the reading accuracy of the target word.
Condition 4. Another list of 60 sentences with a root and a
target word. The target word is a highly morphological density
word. All 60 sentences were presented unvowelized and the
distance between the target word and the priming root was two
words. The participants were tested for the reading accuracy of
the target word.
Condition 5. A list of 60 sentences without a root but with a
target word with high morphological density. These sentences
have the same length and linguistic difficulty as the sentences
in conditions 3 and 4. All the sentences were presented with full
vowelization. The participants were tested for the reading ac-
curacy of the target word.
Condition 6. Another list of 60 sentences without a root word
but with a target word with high morphological density. These
sentences were parallel in linguistic difficulty and length to the
sentences in condition 5. The participants were tested for read-
ing accuracy.
Building the materials. All the testing materials were sub-
jected to 10 Arabic experts, all high school or college Arabic
teachers. They edited the tasks and had to rate them according
to morphological gradual difficulty.
Scoring. Participants read all the reading conditions out loud.
They were scored on the sentences reading conditions only on
the target word should be read with thorough pronunciation of
the whole short vowels.
All the 59 participants had to read aloud in all 6 reading con-
ditions because they were tested for reading accuracy. The
reading of the participants was recorded. The testing took place
in a quiet room in the teachers’ schools. The lists of words and
sentences were typed on transparencies and presented to the
participants on an overhead. There was always a break of about
10 minutes between each reading condition. The order of tests
was changed for each participant for counterbalancing purposes.
The total average time for testing and breaks for each partici-
pant was about 2.5 hours. The total average time for testing
only was 70 minutes.
The data of this study was treated by a one-way ANOVA re-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 489
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
peated measure (within-subject factors), one group of one level
readers. All the 59 participants were tested in the 6 reading
conditions. Then the t-test analysis poor paired samples were
applied to locate specific significant differences between the
different reading conditions. Table 1 presents the means and
standard deviations of the percentages of the correct answer in
each reading condition.
adult readers; 3) short vowelization facilitate reading accuracy
of reading morphologically complex words in sentential context
compared to the same reading condition without short voweli-
The first finding indicates that roots facilitate reading accu-
racy of target words that are morphological complex. These
adult proficient Arabic readers, their accuracy in this reading
condition was one of the highest positive results although these
sentences were presented without short vowelization (see Fig-
ure 1). Namely, roots facilitate reading accuracy, since these
roots trigger orthographic lexical information that was retrieved
directly to assist in identification of morphologically complex
Arabic words. This is because roots are semantic autonomous
entities. The results here are similar to previous results of
Abu-Rabia and Awwad (2004), where they found in a comput-
erized priming paradigm that the differences between the pho-
nological pattern results and the roots’ results are not signifi-
cant. Namely, both phenology and morphology (roots) contrib-
ute, maybe equally, to reading Arabic. The results of Abu-Ra-
bia and Awwad probably because the material used was with
familiar words. The results of this specific reading condition in
the present study testing reading accuracy indicate optimal
superiority of orthographic word knowledge when reading
morphological complex words in context. Generally, these
results accord with previous results conducted in different or-
thographies which indicated the importance of the role of the
morphology in reading Arabic (Abu-Rabia, 2001; Abu-Rabia,
As seen in Table 1 the best performance of these highly
skilled adult Arabic readers is on reading vowelized sentences
with roots that preceded the target word while the poorest con-
dition of the same readers is our reading unvowelized sentences
and without roots. The one way ANOVA repeated measures
indicated a main effect for reading condition, multivariate test
of within-subjects factors, Wilks’ Lambda F(5,54) = 368.988, p
< 0.001. For further analysis the t-test analysis for paired sam-
ples was used in this case to test the specific differences of
reading conditions. When reading vowelized words was com-
pared with unvowelized words the difference was significant
for the benefit of the vowelized condition t(2,58) = 19.765, p <
0.001; vowelized sentences with roots vs. unvowelized sen-
tences with roots the differences were significant for the vow-
elized sentences t(1,58) = 9.48, p < 0.001; vowelized sen-
tences without roots vs. unvowelized sentences without roots vs.
unvowelized sentences without roots the differences were sig-
nificant for the benefit of the vowelized sentences t(1,58) =
4.80, p < 0.001; vowelized sentences with roots vs. vowelized
sentences without roots, the difference was significant for the
benefit of the base-words condition t(1,58) = 367.93, p <
0.001; and when unvowelized sentences with roots were com-
pared with unvowelized sentences without bas words the dif-
ference was significant for the benefit of the base-words condi-
tion t(12,58) = 29.65, p < 0.001. Figure 1 illustrates usually
the mean percentages of performance of the same reading
group on the 6 reading conditions.
In sum, there were significant differences between the 6
reading conditions. The best reading condition was when sen-
tences were vowelized with roots (88.33%) and followed by the
reading condition when sentences were presented without vow-
elization and with roots (77.23%), the poorest results were
when isolated words were presented unvowelized (20.28%).
Figure 1.
Visual illustration of mean percentages of success on all 6 reading con-
ditions (n = 59). U.V. = vowelized words; U.v.W. = unvowelized words;
S.r.V. = sentence + root + vowelization; S.r. = sentence + root; S.W. =
sentence without roots with vowelization; S. = sentences without roots
and without vowelization.
The most important findings of this study are that, 1) roots
facilitate reading accuracy of highly proficient adult readers in
reading morphological complex words, with and without short
vowelization; 2) short vowelization facilitate reading accuracy
of morphological complex words of highly proficient native
Table 1.
Means and standard deviations of percentages of correct answers in each reading condition (N-59).
Reading cond ition Mean SD
Unvowelized words 20.28 10.61
Vowelized words 47.89 8.31
Sentences with roots, target and vowelization 88.33 7.77
Sentences with roots and target words without vowelization 77.44 8.35
Sentences without roots—with target word with vowelization 23.08 7.85
Sentences without roots without vowelization 18.93 8.25
Share, & Mansour, 2003; Beland & Mimouni, 2001; Abu-Rabia
& Taha, 2006a, 2006b), and in Hebrew (Ravid, 2001; Share &
Levin, 1999; Ben-Dror, Bentin, & Frost, 1995) and more spe-
cific in Hebrew the role of root in reading Hebrew (Frost,
Forster, & Deutsch, 1997; Frost & Bentin, 1995), and in Latin
orthography (Clark & Hecht, 1982; Tornéus, 1987; Carlisle,
1995; Fowler & Liberman, 1995; Arnbak & Elbro, 1996, 2002).
Although the results of the present study are similar to the re-
sults of the studies mentioned above, still most of the above
studies were conducted among young children going through
their primary school believing that the role of morphology ends
when readers become skilled and adults. However, the present
study presents results of native adult highly skilled Arabic
readers whose reading skills are well mastered and still are
significantly affected by the separate morphemes of the mor-
phological complex words while reading. Namely, reading
among these readers occurs via morphological decomposing
(Taft, 1991; Beauvillain & Segeui, 1992; Pinker, 1997). This
morphological decomposing is need due to the high morpho-
logical complexity of the Arabic words, which demands the
readers to rely on roots for identification meaning and initial
lexical access, which is called the root/morpheme based theory
(Abu-Rabia, 2001; Taft, 1981; Taft & Forster, 1975; Prunet,
Béland, & Idrissi, 2000), where the functional nature of deriva-
tional and inflectional processing is considered similar. Both
are affiliated with the same level of analysis regardless of their
lexicon representation, namely under the word morphology or
under the semantics of the word. The supporters of this ap-
proach do encode the morphological structure and argue that
the morphological information is helpful in the word identifica-
tion process (Taft, 1991; Taft & Forster, 1975; Prunet, Béland,
& Idrissi, 2000).
In Arabic, and because of the complexity of the Arabic mor-
phology, the semantics of the root morpheme as a semantic
entity is helpful and accessible for initial lexical access, initial
understanding and later connected the rest of the affixes (mor-
phemes) to construct the exact phonological representation
(pattern) (Prunet, Béland, & Idrissi, 2000; Frost et al., 1997;
Feldman et al., 1995). Thus, since roots (morphemes) are cru-
cial in identification of morphological complex Arabic words
and phonology is retrieved later which slows its processing
(Ivitar & Ibrahim, 2003), this questions the relevancy of flu-
ency, speed and automaticity in reading Arabic when testing
reading accuracy (reading aloud) (Abu-Rabia, 2001; Saiegh-
Haddad, in press).
Since roots of words revealed good assistance for highly
skilled adult readers, this confirms the morpheme/root-based
theory in Semitic languages. This theory receives more confir-
mation from more studies conducted on aphasic patients. These
studies revealed that the Arabic metatheses (keeping the root
letter but in some different order) are more frequent than other
non-Semitic languages among the same aphasic patients. In the
study of Prunet, Béland and Idrissi (2000), a patient produced
five consonant metatheses in French as opposed to 119 in Ara-
bic. It seems that this result is explained by arguing that the
morphemic and floating nature of Arabic root consonants com-
pared to the non-morphemic and pre-anchored nature of French
consonants. Other studies based on error analysis confirmed
this conclusion in different Semitic languages (Béland & Para-
dis, 1997; Béland et al., 1999; Berman, 1981).
Idrissi et al. (2000) argue that these results are because the
“… consonants of French are more stable than those of Arabic
because they are pre-anchored. This entails that Arabic conso-
nants are not pre-anchored, which means that they form roots”
(p. 633). In both languages, the consonants are ordered, but the
order of Arabic roots need only contain precedence relations on
one order. This while in Indo-European languages consonants
must contain precedence relations on both melodic and skeletal
tiers in addition to information about how the units on both tiers
are connected to one another (Idrissi et al., 2000). Further,
whatever formalism is used to express precedence, the order of
segments should be more stable in Indo-European than in Se-
mitic because the links between the prosodic and segmental
tiers are memorized rather than derived by rules, principles, or
constraints (Idrissi et al., 2000).
As to the second finding that short vowelization of morpho-
logical complex words facilitates reading accuracy among
highly proficient adult native Arabic readers, this result is not
new. It accords strongly with previous results obtained by
Abu-Rabia among high school and university students (Abu-
Rabia, 1997a, 1997b, 1998, 2001). The university native Arabic
students were tested on reading isolated words with and without
vowels and on reading comprehension of texts with and without
vowels. The results indicated that even among adults, the short
vowelization had a significant effect on their reading accuracy
and their reading comprehension. Such a result was confirmed
in Hebrew reading comprehension among highly adult profi-
cient Hebrew readers (Shimron & Sivan, 1994). The significant
effect of vowels on reading morphologically complex words
among highly proficient adult readers means that the phono-
logical stage in reading Arabic is a continuous stage that ac-
companies even highly skilled adult Arabic readers all their
lives. Such a finding is divergent from results obtained from
other orthographies; that phonology is an initial stage in reading
and writing, and that for readers to become fluent, they should
rely on their automatic lexical-visual-recognition of words,
based on their rich orthographic mental lexicon (Lennox &
Siegel, 1993; Snowling, 1987; Snowling, Defty, & Goulandris,
1996; Bruck, 1989; Stanovich, 1994; Ellis, 1993; Steffler, 2001;
Frith, 1985; Temple, 1986, Perfetti, 1992; Seymor, 1990; Share,
1995; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994). As to the third finding that
short vowelization facilitated reading accuracy of morphologi-
cal complex words when they were in sentential context, this
finding accord with previous results, that even when the senten-
tial context is presented, for reading accuracy the vowels are
very crucial, especially for pronouncing short vowelization
posted on ends of words to indicate grammatical faction. Such a
task is required for reading accuracy (reading aloud) not neces-
sary in silent reading comprehension, which leads to a lack of
positive significant correlation between reading accuracy and
reading comprehension in Arabic orthography (Abu-Rabia,
2001; Saiegh-Haddad, in press).
Furthermore, in this study, it is argued that if the reading ac-
curacy of these Arabic highly proficient readers always needs
phonology (short vowelization), namely, the phonological stage
in Arabic reading development is continuous. This leads to the
conclusion that there is no skilled reader in Arabic, this if we
adopt the definition of the skilled reader, as it is in the reading
literature today. Some studies in the orthography of Arabic
indicate that the phonological stage in reading and spelling is a
continuous stage that accompanies readers and writers all their
lives (Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2004, 2006a, 2006b). These findings
suggest that the highest percentage rate of reading and spelling
errors made by readers was mainly phonological. Such a find-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 491
ing enhances the phonological findings (short vowelization) of
the present study. Such a finding challenges reading develop-
ment of the reading theory today which leads scholars to con-
sider more cross orthographic studies for more expanded, com-
prehensive and revised reading theory.
In sum, reading morphological complex words in Arabic
even by native adult highly skilled Arabic readers occurs via a
morphological decomposing process which slows word recog-
nition process (Iviatar & Ibrahim, 2003). One of the key words
for reading accuracy of morphological complex words in Ara-
bic orthography is the root for initial lexical access. Further-
more, short vowelization is needed to facilitate reading accu-
racy in isolation and in sentential context. Namely, morpho-
logical knowledge and short vowelization are the key variables
in the process of reading accuracy even among adult highly
skilled readers.
I would like to end this discussion with the words of a great
Arabic grammarian who depicted the morphological complex-
ity of the Arabic language. Those are the words of Al-Khalil
ibn Ahmad who was born in 718 CE, Oman and died in 791,
Persia (cited in Al-Makhzuumii & As-Saamarraaii, 1988):
Know that the biradical root may be permut[ed] in two
ways, like qad—daq, šad—daš. The triradical root may be
permut[ed] in six ways: this is called “six-way variation”,
like d bara
—barad a
—bad ara
—rad aba
—rabad a
The quadriradical root may be permut[ed] in twenty-four
ways, because each of its four radicals may be combined
with the six permutations of the triradical roots, making a
total of twenty-four ways.
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