Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14: 39–59, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The role of vowels in reading Semitic scripts:
Data from Arabic and Hebrew
University of Haifa, Faculty of Education, Haifa, Israel
Abstract. This study investigated the effect of vowels and context on reading accuracy of
skilled adult native Arabic speakers in Arabic and in Hebrew, their second language. Their
reading comprehension was also tested in Arabic and Hebrew texts as a function of vowels.
The participants (n = 65) read fully vowelized and unvowelized lists of Arabic words, and
vowelized and unvowelized paragraphs of Arabic. Further, they, read pointed and unpointed
lists of Hebrew words, and pointed and unpointed paragraphs of Hebrew. They were also
administered two stories, one in Arabic and one in Hebrew, in two reading conditions, a
fully vowelized and unvowelized Arabic story and a pointed and unpointed Hebrew story.
The results revealed a signiﬁcant effect for vowels and for context across all reading condi-
tions in Arabic and Hebrew. The surprising result was that the vowelized texts in Arabic and
the pointed and unpointed texts in Hebrew were comprehended signiﬁcantly better. Further,
Pearson correlation procedures and multiple regression analysis indicated no positive signiﬁ-
cant relationship between oral reading accuracy results and silent reading comprehension
results. These ﬁndings are explained through characteristics of the Semitic languages Arabic
and Hebrew, and the triliteral/quadriliteral-root model is suggested to explain reading in
unvowelized/unpointed texts in Semitic languages.
Keywords: Triliteral/quadriliteral-root model, Reading Semitic languages, Vowels, Context,
This study investigated the effect of Arabic and Hebrew vowels on reading
accuracy and reading comprehension in Arabic and Hebrew by adult native
Arabic speakers. Their ﬁrst language is Arabic (L1) and their second is
Hebrew (L2), which they speak and in which they conduct their university
studies. Recent investigations of the effect of Arabic vowels and context
were usually carried out among young native Arabic speakers, whose written
Arabic language skills are not fully developed (Abu-Rabia 1997a, b, c, 1998).
The participants of the present study were adult native Arabic speakers,
whose Arabic language ability was fully developed. Their reading abilities in
Arabic were tested, as were their reading abilities in Hebrew, both of which
are Semitic languages. In addition, this study investigated the effect of vowels