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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Visual word recognition by Arab ESL learners: Phonological versus orthographic consonantal influence on vowels

Raed Alguthami

[Full text of dissertation in ProQuest] 

Committee Members: Robin Morris (Director), Eric Holt, Paul Malovrh, Sherry Warren

Abstract

The current study is on second language acquisition (SLA), and the focus is on the process of visual word recognition in English by Arab learners of English as a second language (ESL). Arab ESL learners have poor performance in their visual word recognition in English, which has been explicated in terms of their poor spelling knowledge of English words. The goal of the current study was to show that Arab ESL learners' visual word recognition in English is also influenced by properties of English influencing American English (AE) native speakers’ visual word recognition.

In chapter 3, it is hypothesized that, in addition to the influence of grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC) rules (yielding the regular vowels), AE native speakers' vowel accuracy is influenced by two distinct sources (both yielding a conditioned vowel): phonological properties of English (i.e. constraints), and orthographic properties of English (i.e. regularity and consistency). Looking into the effect of the lack of consistency, this effect was obtained with orthographic but not phonological properties in the analysis of AE native speakers' accuracy and latency with nonwords in the lexical decision task (LDT) in the English Lexicon Project (ELP), a large online database. The investigation of AE native speakers' visual word recognition aimed to assess Arab ESL learners' performance in terms of the same phonology-orthography distinction.

In chapter 4, nonword naming data was collected from 44 Arab ESL learners (from Saudi Arabia), divided into low and high proficiency groups (n = 22 in each). Based on the proportion of the conditioned vowel, the distinction between strong and weak phonological constraints was supported, and the orthographic consistency effect was obtained while the orthographic regularity effect was not. A post hoc analysis shows that there was also an overall increase in the proportion of the regular vowel (reflecting the increasing influence of GPC rules), and an across-the-board decrease in the proportion of vowels not used in English words. More broadly, support is obtained for the distinction between phonological and orthographic properties (both yielding the conditioned vowel), the influence of both of which is different from that of GPC rules (yielding the regular vowel).

These findings do not challenge the explanation ascribing Arab ESL learners' poor visual word recognition performance to their poor explicit spelling knowledge; instead, they show that their accuracy in this process is also influenced by L2 exposure resulting in increasing implicit knowledge of English grapheme-phoneme correspondences as well as the irregularities and inconsistencies therein.