Cognitive and Linguistic Factors of Reading Arabic: the Role of Morphological Awareness in Reading
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Scientific reading research has produced substantial evidence linking specific reading components to a range of constructs including phonological awareness (PA), morphological awareness, orthographic processing (OP), rapid automatized naming, working memory and vocabulary. There is a paucity of research on Arabic, although 420 million people around the world (Gordon, 2005) speak Arabic. As a Semitic language, Arabic differs in many ways from Indo-European languages. Over the past three decades, literacy research has begun to elucidate the importance of morphological awareness (MA) in reading. Morphology is a salient aspect of Arabic word structure. This study was designed to (a) examine the dimensions underlying MA in Arabic; (b) determine how well MA predicts reading; (c) investigate the role of the standard predictors in different reading outcomes; and (d) investigate the construct of reading in Arabic. This study was undertaken in two phases. In Phase I, 10 MA measures and two reading measures were developed, and tested in a sample of 102 Grade 3 Arabic-speaking children. Factor analysis of the 10 MA tasks yielded one predominant factor supporting the construct validity of MA in Arabic. Hierarchical regression analyses, controlling for age and gender, indicated that the MA factor solution accounted for 41– 43% of the variance in reading. In Phase II, the widely studied predictor measures were developed for PA and OP in addition to one additional measure of MA (root awareness), and three reading measures In Phase II, all measures were administered to another sample of 201 Grade 3 Arabic-speaking children. The construct of reading in Arabic was examined using factor analysis. The joint and unique effects of all standard predictors were examined using different sets of hierarchical regression analyses. Results of Phase II showed that: (a) all five reading measures loaded on one factor; (b) MA consistently accounted for unique variance in reading, particularly in comprehension, above and beyond the standard predictors; and (c) the standard predictors had differential contributions. These findings underscore the contribution of MA to all components of Arabic reading. The need for more emphasis on including morphology in Arabic reading instruction and assessment is discussed.