chapter  20
18 Pages

Reading in Arabic Orthography: Characteristics, Research Findings, and Assessment

BySalim Abu-Rabia, Haitham Taha

Written Arabic is an alphabetic system based on 28 letters, with 25 consonants and 3 long vowels. Most Arabic letters have more than one written form, depending on the letter’s position in the word: initial, middle, or terminal. However, the essential shape of the letter is maintained in all cases (Abd El-Minem, 1987). In addition, the letters are divided into categories according to basic letter shapes, and the difference between them is the number of dots on or below the letter. Dots appear with 15 letters: 10 have one dot, 3 have two dots, and 2 have three dots. In addition to the dots, there are diacritical marks that contribute to phonology. Even though Arabic words are a combination of consonants and vowels, skilled and adult readers are expected to read texts without short vowels. This places heavy reliance on context for reading. Beginning readers are therefore introduced to reading through text that has short vowels. Vowelized Arabic can be considered shallow orthography whereas unvowelized Arabic can be considered deep orthography. Reading accuracy in Arabic requires vowelizing word endings according to their grammatical function in the sentence, which requires advanced phonological and syntactical ability (Abu-Rabia, 2001). Silent-reading comprehension is less demanding, because the reader can rely on orthography, morphology, and other resources (Abu-Rabia, 2002).