Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10: 105–119, 1998.
1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Reading Arabic texts:
Effects of text type, reader type and vowelization
School of Education, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Abstract. While much is known about Latin orthography little is known about Arabic orthog-
raphy. This study investigates the effect of vowels on reading accuracy in Arabic orthography.
Participants were 64 native Arabic speakers. Four kinds of written Arabic texts were adminis-
tered: narrative, informative, poetic and Koranic. Three texts of each kind were presented in
three reading conditions: correctly vowelized, unvowelized and wrongly vowelized. Results
indicated that vowels had a signiﬁcant effect on reading accuracy of poor and skilled readers
in reading each of the four kinds of texts. The results are discussed in light of the concept that
more cross-cultural considerations should be made in reading theory today.
Key words: Arabic orthography, Vowels, Arabic texts, Triliteral/quadriliteral roots
This study investigates the inﬂuence of vowels on reading accuracy of poor
and skilled native readers in Arabic orthography, a phenomenonwhichhasnot
been studied. The question of vowels cannot be raised with Latin orthography
because they are part of the alphabet and appear as letters in text. English texts
are presented in the same reading condition (correctly vowelized) for skilled
and poor readers, which differentiates them from Arabic texts. Arabic readers
read with vowels to facilitate word recognition, but when reading without
vowels, they rely on context to compensate for the lack. Because Arabic writ-
ing is highly homographic (i.e., one word carries several different meanings),
vowels are necessary for poor and skilled readers to disambiguate Arabic
homographic words when they are presented. Four different kinds of Arabic
writing were used in the study: narrative, informative, poetic and Koranic,
in three textual reading conditions: correctly vowelized, unvowelized and
Arabic orthography versus English orthography
Arabic writing is an almost consistent letter-sound alphabetical system if
presented voweled, with 28 letters which are all consonants, with some also
serving as long vowels. Short vowels, represented only by added diacritics,