Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Applied Linguistics

Committee Chair

Charles Hall


Both experimental and anecdotal evidence document the difficulty Arabic learners of English demonstrate when learning to read and write in English. The complex phoneme-grapheme mapping rules for English may explain this difficulty in part, but the question remains why Arabic learners in particular have difficulty decoding English. This dissertation attempts to pinpoint what specific sub-word processes may contribute to this observed difficulty Arabic learners of English commonly experience. Vowel processing is an appropriate place to begin given the inconsistency of the grapheme-phoneme mapping rules for English vowels. The statisical patterns of the English language itself for the relationship between the onset and vowel or vowel and coda greatly enhance the likelihood of a particular vowel pronunciation, reducing the inconsistency for vowel grapheme-phoneme mappings. When reading, native English speakers use the context (preceding and following consonants) in which a vowel occurs to narrow the range of possible pronunciations, and thus are said to demonstrate sensitivity to consonantal context. For this dissertation, sensitivity to consonantal context in reading English vowels was tested in three groups (Arabic speakers, native English speakers, and speakers from other language backgrounds) using an experiment based on prior studies of native English speakers. Results indicate that non-native speakers of English show less sensitivity to consonantal context than native English speakers, especially in the greater use of the critical vowel pronunciation in control contexts. Furthermore, Arabic speakers show even less sensitivity to consonantal context than both the native English speakers and speakers from other language backgrounds, especially for vowel-to-coda associations. In fact, the results for the Arabic speakers for three of six vowel-to-coda test cases run counter to the expected outcome, resulting in what might be called an anti-sensitivity to consonantal context. The small number of participants in the Arabic group limits the ability to draw a strong conclusion, but that the results for the Arabic group run opposite the expected outcome for some test items warrants future study.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.