Short Vowels Versus Word Familiarity in the Reading Comprehension of Arab Readers: A Revisited Issue

Abdullah M. SERAYE


Arab readers, both beginning and advanced, are encouraged to read and accustomed to unvowelized and undiacriticized texts. Previous literature claimed that the presence of short vowels in the text would facilitate the reading comprehension of both beginning and advanced Arab readers. However, with a claimed strict controlling procedure, different results emerged, revealing that the only variable that affected the reading process of Arab adult skilled readers was word frequency, and its effect was limited to the time load of the reading process; this result raised the question of whether the neutral role of short vowels in the text reading process of experienced Arab readers would be maintained for less experienced readers, as represented by fourth graders, or whether word frequency would be the only variable that plays a role in their reading process. In experiment, 1,141 fourth-grade students were randomly assigned to 5 reading conditions: plain, only shaddah, short vowels plus shaddah, only short vowels, and finally the wrong short vowels plus shaddah. In experiment 2, 38 participants from the same population were assigned to a fully vowelized and diacriticized reading condition. Each participant was asked to read two texts, of high and low frequency words and then given recall and multiple-choice tests. In general, the multivariate analysis showed that the only manipulated variable that was found to affect their reading process in terms of reading time load and, to some degree, reading comprehension was word frequency, although its effect was marginal. Accordingly, pedagogical recommendations and future research were proposed.


Arabic short vowels, Arabic beginning readers, Reading comprehension, Arabic orthography

Paper Details

Paper Details
Topic Elementary Education
Pages 481 - 506
Issue IEJEE, Volume 8, Issue 3
Date of acceptance 02 November 2015
Read (times) 528
Downloaded (times) 244

Author(s) Details

Abdullah M. SERAYE

King Saud University,


Abu-Hamour, B., Al-Hmouz, H., & Kenana, M. (2013). The effect of short vowelization on curriculum-based measurement of reading fluency and comprehension in Arabic. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 18, 181-197, doi:10.1080/19404158.2013.852980.

Abu-Rabia, S. (1995). Learning to read in Arabic: reading, syntactic, orthographic, and working memory skills in normally achieving and poor Arabic readers. Reading Psychology: An international Quarterly, 16, 351-394, doi: 10.1080/0270271950160401.  

Abu-Rabia, S., & Siegel, L. (1995). Different orthographies different context effects: The effects of Arabic sentence context in skilled and poor readers. Reading Psychology: An international Quarterly, 16, 1-19, doi: 10.1080/0270271950160101.  

Abu-Rabia, S. (1996). The role of vowels and context in the reading of highly skilled native Arabic readers. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 25, 629-641, doi: 10.1007/BF01712413.

Abu-Rabia, S. (1997a). The need for cross-cultural considerations in reading theory: The effects of Arabic sentence context in skilled and poor readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 20, 137-147, doi: 10.1111/1467-9817.00026.  

Abu-Rabia, S. (1997b). Reading in Arabic orthography: The effect of vowels and context on reading accuracy of poor and skilled native Arabic readers in reading paragraphs, sentences, and isolated words. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 26, 465-482, doi:  10.1023/A:1025034220924.  

Abu-Rabia, S. (1997c). Reading in Arabic orthography: The effect of vowels and context on reading accuracy of poor and skilled native Arabic readers. Reading and Writing: An interdisciplinary Journal, 9, 65-78, doi: 10.1023/A:1007962408827.  

Abu-Rabia, S. (1998). Reading Arabic texts: Effects of text type, reader type and vowelization. Reading and Writing: An interdisciplinary Journal, 10, 105-119, doi: 10.1023/A:1007906222227.

Abu-Rabia, S. (1999). The effect of Arabic vowels on the reading comprehension of second- and sixth-grade native Arab children. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28, 93-101, doi: 10.1023/A:1023291620997.

Abu-Rabia, S. (2001). The role of vowels in reading Semitic scripts: Data from Arabic and Hebrew. Reading and Writing: An interdisciplinary Journal, 14, 39-59, doi: 10.1023/A:1008147606320.

Abu-Rabia, S. (2002). Reading in a root-based morphology language: the case of Arabic. Journal of Research in Reading, 25, 299-309, doi: 10.1111/1467-9817.00177.

Abu-Rabia, S., & Abu-Rahmoun, N. (2012). The role of phonology and morphology in the development of basic reading skills of dyslexic and normal native Arabic readers. Creative Education,  3, 1259-1268, doi: 10.4236/ce.2012.37185.

Al-Fahd, J. M. (2000). The Goodman psycholinguistic model of English reading and its applicability to Semitic languages. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Arizona, Arizona, Tucson.

Badry, F. (1982). The centrality of root in Semitic lexical derivation: Evidence from children’s acquisition of Moroccan Arabic (Papers and Reports on Child Language Development, No. 21. 9-15). Berkeley, California: Stanford University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 222046).

Balota, D. A., Pollatsek, A., & Rayner, K. (1985). The interaction of contextual constraints and parafoveal visual information in reading. Cognitive Psychology, 17, 364–390, doi:10.1016/0010-0285(85)90013-1.

Baluch, B. (1996). Word frequency effects in naming in experienced and previously experienced adult readers of Persian. Reading and Writing: An interdisciplinary Journal , 8, doi: 433-441, 10.1007/BF00404004.

Campbell, G. (1997). Handbook of scripts and alphabets. London: Routledge. Bransford & Johnson

Chitiri, H. (1991). The influence of language and writing system characteristics on the reading process. Unpublished dissertation, University of Toronto, Toronto.

Ibrahim, R. (2013). Reading in Arabic: New evidence for the role of vowel signs. Creative Education, 4, 248-253, doi: 10.4236/ce.2013.44036.

Ibrahim, R., Eviatar, Z., & Aharon Peretz, J. (2002). The characteristics of the Arabic orthography slow its cognitive processing. Neuro- psycholgy, 16, 322-326, doi: 10.1037/0894-4105.16.3.322.

Joseph, H., Nation, K., & Liversedge, S. (2013). Using eye movement to investigate word frequency effects in children’s sentence reading. School Psychology Review, 41(2), 207-222.

Kardash, C.M. & Howell, K.L. (2000). Effects of epistemological beliefs and topic-specific beliefs on undergraduates’ cognitive and strategic processing of dual-positional text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 524–535, doi:10.1037/0022-0663.92.3.524.

Kendeou, P., Muis, K., & Fulton, S. (2010). Reader and text factors in reading comprehension processes. Journal of Research in Reading, 1-19, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9817.2010.01436.x.

Kendeou, P., Rapp, D., & van den Broek, P. (2004). The influence of reader’s prior knowledge on text comprehension and learning from text. In R. Nata (Ed.), Progress in Education, (Vol. 13, pp. 189-209). New York: Nova Science Publishers Inc.

Kendeou, P. & van den Broek, P. (2007). The effects of prior knowledge and text structure on comprehension processes during reading of scientific texts. Memory and Cognition, 35(7), 1567–1577.

Kientch, W. (1988). The role of knowledge in discourse comprehension: A construction-integration model. Psychological Review, 95, 163–182, doi:org/10.1037/0033-295X.95.2.163.

Kirk, R. E. (1982). Experimental design: Procedures for the behavior sciences. Pacific Grove, Ca: Brook/Cole Publishing Company.

Kotrlik, J. W. & Williams, H. A. (2003). The incorporation of effect size in information technology, learning, and performance research. Information Technology, Learning, and Performance Journal, 21(1), 1-7.

Lipson, M. Y., & Wixson, K. K. (1997). Assessment & instruction of reading and writing disability: An interactive approach. NY: Longman.

Mahmoud, Y. (1979). The Arabic writing system and the sociolinguistics of orthographic reform. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Mahmoud, Y. (1979). On the reform of the Arabic writing system. Journal of Reading, 23, 727-729.

MacLeod, C. M., & Kampe, K. E. (1996). Word frequency effects on recall, recognition, and word fragment completion tests. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22(1), 132-142.

McCutchen, D., & Logan, B. (2011). Inside incidental word learning: children’s strategies use of morphological information to infer word meanings. Reading Research Quarterly, 46, 334-349, doi: 10.1002/RRQ.003.

Meyer, B.J.F. (1975). The organization of prose and its effects on memory. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.

Meyer, B.J.F. & Freedle, R.O. (1984). Effects of discourse type on recall. American Educational Research Journal, 21, 121–143, doi: 10.3102/00028312021001121.

Miellet, S., Sparrow, L., & Sereno, S. (2007). Word frequency and predictability effects in reading French: An evaluation of the E-Z Reader model. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 762-769, doi: 10.3758/BF03196834.

Perfetti, C. (1994). Psycholinguistics and reading ability. In M. A. Gernsbacher (Ed.), Handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 849-894). San Diego: Academic Press.

Perfetti, C. (1999). Comprehending written language: A blueprint of the reader. In P. Hagoort & C. Brown (Eds.), The Neurocognition of Language (pp. 167-208). Oxford University Press.

Perfetti, C. (2007). Reading ability: Lexical quality to comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11, 357-383, doi: 10.1080/10888430701530730.

Rahbari, N., & Senechal, M. (2009). Lexical and nonlexical processes in the skilled reading and spelling of Persian. Reading and Writing: An interdisciplinary Journal, 22, 511-530, doi: 10.1007/s11145-008-9122-1.  

Raman, I., & Baluch, B. (2001). Semantic effects as a function of reading skill in word naming of a transparent orthography. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 14, 599–614, doi: 10.1023/A:1012004729180.

Ryder, R. J., & Hughes, M. (1985). The effect on text comprehension of word frequency. Journal of Educational Research, 78, 286-291, doi: 10.1080/00220671.1985.10885617.

Rayner, K., & Duffy, S. A. (1986). Lexical complexity and fixation times in reading: Effects of word frequency, verb complexity, and lexical ambiguity. Memory & Cognition, 14, 191–201, doi: 10.3758/BF03197692.

Rayner, K., Reichle, E., Stroud, M., Williams, C., & Pollatsek, A. (2006). The effect of word frequency, word predictability, and font difficulty on the eye movements of young and older readers. Psychology and Aging, 21, 448-465, doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.21.3.448.

Rayner, K., & Sereno, S. (1994). Eye movements in reading: psycholinguistic studies. In M. A. Gernsbacher (Ed.), Handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 57-81). San Diego: Academic Press.

Rayner, K., Sereno, S. C., & Raney, G. E. (1996). Eye movement control in reading: A comparison of two types of models. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 22, 1188-1200, doi: 10.1037/0096-1523.22.5.1188.

Rayner, K., & Well, A. D. (1996). Effects of contextual constraint on eye movements in reading: A further examination. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3, 504–509, doi: 10.3758/BF03214555.

Rayner, K., Well, A., Pollatsek, A., & Bertera, J. (1982). The availability of useful information to the right of fixation in reading. Perception & Psychophysics, 31, 537-550, doi: 10.3758/BF03204186.

Seraye, A. M. (2004). The Role of Short Vowels and Context in the Reading of Arabic, Comprehension, and Word Recognition of Highly Skilled Reader. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

Sereno, S.C., & Rayner, K. (2000). Spelling-sound regularity effects on eye fixations in reading. Perception & Psychophysics, 62, 402-409, doi: 10.3758/BF03205559.

Shimron, J. (1993). The Role of vowels in reading: a review of studies of English and Hebrew. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 52-67, doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.114.1.52.

Shimron, J., & Sivan, T. (1994). Reading proficiency and orthography: Evidence form Hebrew and English. Language Learning, 44, 5-27, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-1770.1994.tb01447.x.

Zwaan, R.A. & Brown, C.M. (1996). The influence of language proficiency and comprehension skill on situation-model construction. Discourse Processes, 21, 289–327, doi: 10.1080/01638539609544960.