Perception and Production of a Quantity-Sensitive Stress System in Adults and Children: The case of Levantine Arabic in Canada

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In this Master’s thesis, I explored the aspects of stress in the Levantine Arabic dialects and the developmental trajectory of stress among L1 speakers. Arabic exhibits a bimoraic trochaic structure, with primary word stress assigned to the rightmost foot in a word. Previous research on the Arabic stress system has focused mainly on phonetic cues of stress in production or the effects on L2 acquisition. There is little information on the perceptual abilities of L1 Arabic speakers, but findings from fixed, quantity-insensitive systems like French suggest that Arabic speakers might also be stress insensitive. However, there is a possibility that the language’s quantity-sensitive nature supports speakers in stress perception since the location of stress is not fixed to one syllable location. It is also important to understand how such a system is developed in children, who need to be sensitive to acquire the phonological structures related to stress. The main research questions addressed in this thesis are twofold: (i) whether adult L1 Arabic speakers demonstrate stress insensitivity, and (ii) whether sensitivity to stress changes during the developmental stages of L1 Arabic acquisition. To explore these questions, three studies were conducted to assess stress production, perception, and acquisition. The first experiment was a combined production and perception task in which adult participants heard real and nonce Arabic words and had to determine if the stress pattern was correct or incorrect. In the second experiment, I developed a perception-only task where adult participants heard real and nonce words and had to select the correctly stressed version based on the Arabic stress system. The final experiment was an acquisition study testing 3 – 5-year old’s production and perceptual abilities of Arabic stress with the combined production and perception task. The findings reveal that L1 Arabic adult speakers do apply the phonological knowledge of the stress patterns in their productions, but their perceptual sensitivity to stress is limited. In terms of acquisition, L1 Arabic learning children as young as 3 years exhibit perceptual sensitivity and produce stress according to the stress structures of the Arabic system. Therefore, the findings suggest the development of this stress system is in line with other linguistic stress systems.
Arabic, Linguistics, Development, Psycholinguistics, Prosody, Linguistics, Word Stress
Abdalla, S. M. (2023). Perception and production of a quantity-sensitive stress system in adults and children: the case of Levantine Arabic in Canada (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from