Morphological structure in the Arabic mental lexicon: Parallels between standard and dialectal Arabic

Sami Boudelaa, William D. Marslen-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


The Arabic language is acquired by its native speakers both as a regional spoken Arabic dialect, acquired in early childhood as a first language, and as the more formal variety known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), typically acquired later in childhood. These varieties of Arabic show a range of linguistic similarities and differences. Since previous psycholinguistic research in Arabic has primarily used MSA, it remains to be established whether the same cognitive properties hold for the dialects. Here we focus on the morphological level, and ask whether roots and word patterns play similar or different roles in MSA and in the regional dialect known as Southern Tunisian Arabic (STA). In two intra-modal auditory-auditory priming experiments, we found similar results with strong priming effects for roots and patterns in both varieties. Despite differences in the timing and nature of the acquisition of MSA and STA, root and word pattern priming was clearly distinguishable from form-based and semantic-based priming in both varieties. The implication of these results for theories of Arabic diglossia and theories of morphological processing are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1453-1473
Number of pages21
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Dialectal Arabic
  • Diglossia
  • Language comprehension
  • Modern Standard Arabic
  • Morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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