Number in Saudi Arabic: Acquisition and Child-Directed Speech

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This thesis treats the acquisition of the Arabic number system, a complex system consisting of Singular, Dual, and several Plural forms. The research consists of two parts: (i) a study of Saudi Arabic parental speech directed to children aged 2 to 4 years old; (ii) a separate study of 2-to-6-year-old children’s comprehension and production of Arabic number-marking. The main findings of part (i) are that the parents use the Singular form more extensively than the other forms. They avoid using Dual and Masculine Sound Plural forms in speech to young children. Parents also produce ungrammatical speech. These results contradict claims that parents’ speech to children is always well-formed. The data for part (ii) was collected via a comprehension study (picture-pointing task) and a production study (picture-based elicitation task). These data were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively. The main results of the children’s data are: the Singular form is mastered before the Dual and Plural forms; among the non-singular forms, the Feminine Sound Plural is understood and produced before the other forms. The Dual form is the most difficult category for the children to acquire. Saudi children, like children learning other dialects of Arabic, master the Saudi Arabic number system late in comparison to the early emergence of number in other languages. In addition, the acquisition of the number system is slow and incremental. Analysis of parental speech suggests that input helps to explain these patterns. Importantly, the error analysis of production data shows that the children creatively used non-target expressions to express number meanings. Learning Arabic number involves pattern-detection and rule learning, not merely rote memorization of forms.
Alqahtani, S. M. (2016). Number in Saudi Arabic: Acquisition and Child-Directed Speech (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/27139