Introduction on regular and impaired reading in semitic languages
Laboratory for Neurocognitive Research, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa,
No orthography appears immune to reading disorders. It is well docu-
mented that developmental reading disabilities are a problem with glo-
bal dimensions (Breznitz, 1997a,b; Wimmer, 1993). Until recently,
insights concerning dyslexia have been based solely on irregular English
orthography; however, emerging data has begun to show that dyslexia
is manifested in distinctively varied ways in diﬀerent languages
The present special issue presents research evidence regarding the
regular and impaired reading process in three languages, Hebrew,
Arabic, and English, which diﬀer in their phonological, orthographical
and morphological structures (Ben-Dror, Bentin & Frost, 1995; Ben-
Dror, Frost & Bentin, 1995; Bentin & Frost, 1995; Deutsch & Rayner,
1999; Gronau & Frost, 1997; Levin & Landsmann, 1989; Ravid, 1996;
Shatil, unpublished; Shimron, 1999). These diﬀerences may aﬀect the
processes of reading acquisition and reading breakdown into the three
languages. Cross-linguistic comparison of the three languages allows
research a window into processes that are domain general vs. processes
that are domain speciﬁc in reading and reading disabilities.
Hebrew and Arabic belong to the family of Semitic languages while
English is an Indo–European language. The prime characteristics of
Semitic languages are a triconsonantal root, in other words, three con-
sonants hold the basic meaning of a word such as K-T-B for the verb
‘to write’. Grammatical structure is constructed by placing vowels
between the root letters and by aﬃxes placed before or after them.
Hebrew and Arabic also share similar writing systems despite diﬀerent
alphabets, and both are written right to left.
Written Hebrew consists of 24 letters and has two methods of writ-
ing. The ﬁrst method of written Hebrew, known as voweled Hebrew,
uses sequentially-ordered letter graphemes and a set of small, diacritical
marks (dots and strokes placed below, above or within a word’s letter
Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 645–649, 2004.
Ó 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.