The cognitive basis of diglossia in Arabic: Evidence from a repetition priming study within and between languages
Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Department of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Abstract: This study examined diglossia and its cognitive basis in Arabic. Repetition priming effects were compared within spoken Arabic (SA), as well as with the effects found when the primes were in either literary Arabic (LA) or Hebrew. In experiment 1, using lexical decisions for auditory presented words, a significant priming effect was found at lag 0 when the primes were in LA and in Hebrew. Furthermore, large repetition priming effects were found at relatively long lags (lag 8–12) within SA. This effect was absent when the repetition involved translation equivalents using either Hebrew or LA. The results showing that lexical decisions for words in SA were not influenced by previous presentations of translation equivalents in LA, in addition to the findings from a former study on semantic priming effects, suggest that the status of LA is similar to that of Hebrew and is consistent with the typical organization of L2 in a separate lexicon. Thus, learning LA appears to be, in some respects, more like learning a second language than like learning the formal register of one’s native language.
Keywords: spoken Arabic, literary Arabic, bilingualism, repetition priming, translation equivalents, lexical organization
Arab children acquired their Spoken Arabic as first language (L1) at home. When they attend the Arab school system they begin to learn to speak and to read Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic-MSA) in first grade, to speak Hebrew (L2) in second grade, and to read and write in Hebrew and in English in third grade. At the high-school level, most students are as proficient in Hebrew as they are in MSA. In this study, Ibrahim used a priming technique to compare the relations between the two forms of Arabic to the relations existing between Hebrew and Spoken Arabic. The findings showed clearly that the representation of MSA is that of a second language (L2), similar to Hebrew, and that the literate Arab people are de-facto bilinguals.
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