University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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Abstract

The current study explored the role of phonology in the processing of Arabic words in native English speakers learning Arabic. Previous research demonstrates that three factors play a role in the mental processing of multiple languages: orthography, phonology, and semantics. Cognate studies have revealed that orthography is not the most important factor, but the roles of phonology and semantics are still indistinguishable from one another. The current study utilized phonologically-embedded English words within Arabic words at three different points in the word, beginning, middle, and end, to determine the role of phonology separate from that of semantics (e.g., [written Arabic] pronounced tareekh, and tar is a beginning overlap pair). Participants from the University of Arkansas Arabic language program completed a translation recognition task. They were shown an Arabic word, followed by an English word, and asked to identify whether the English word was the correct translation. It was predicted that participants would take longer to say “no” to false translations with phonological overlap than to false translations without phonological overlap and that less experienced learners would exhibit this effect to a higher degree than more experienced learners. While, as predicted, the reaction times for false translations with phonological overlap were substantially slower than reaction times for false translations without phonological overlap in beginning and middle overlap conditions, no significant differences were found. Arabic proficiency was found to be negatively correlated with amount of phonological interference. The results generally support the importance of phonology in the mental processing of multiple languages, which can be combined with other findings in language research to supplement language learning programs.

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