DOI: 10.1111/1467-9817.12433 ISSN: 0141-0423

The impact of lexical and phonological distance on reading acquisition: The diglossic context of Arabic

Abeer Asli‐Badarneh, Ibrahim Asadi
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Education


Arabic is recognised as diglossic; one manifestation of diglossia is the co‐existence of two varieties of the language used in different social settings: standard (or literary) Arabic (StA) and spoken Arabic (SpA).

The study investigated the impact of lexical–phonological distance in Arabic (identical, cognate, unique, which are different types of words) on reading accuracy and fluency across grade levels.


The participants were 180 native Arabic‐speaking children first and second graders. Participants were asked to read three‐word lists comprising words of three different lexical distance from spoken Arabic (identical, cognates and unique) and three text selections representing similar lexical distance (mostly identical, mostly cognates and mostly unique).


The findings showed a main effect of the word and text lexical distance fluency and accuracy reading scores. There was also a main effect of grade level on both scores. In addition, a significant interaction between the word and type words text lexical distance and grade level was found. The results revealed a more significant gap between the identical and the other two lexical distance categories (cognates and unique) in the second grade than in the first grade. Similarly, a more significant disparity was observed between the mostly identical type words and mostly cognate type word texts compared to unique type word texts in the second grade than in the first grade.


The results highlight the importance of StA knowledge and the centrality of diglossia lexical–phonological distance categories in reading, especially the contribution of reading StA words to text reading. The higher performance levels when reading identical compared to unique and cognate words and texts are discussed in light of the theoretical approaches to diglossic lexical–phonological distance. The results point to the centrality of diglossia lexical–phonological distance categories in reading.

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