The Mutual Intelligibility of Arabic Dialects
Implications for the Language Classroom
Keywords:Arabic, dialects, mutual intelligibility, multidialectal pedagogies
Studies of the mutual intelligibility of related languages and dialects have demonstrated that comprehension can be predicted by linguistic factors such as phonological and lexical distance and by extralinguistic factors such as degree of contact and attitudes (Gooskens and van Bezooijen 2006; Tang and van Heuven 2009). Arabic learners must learn Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and dialects if they are to function competently in Arabic-speaking communities, but research on the mutual intelligibility of Arabic dialects is limited (see Čéplö et al. 2016; Soliman 2014a, 2014b; Trentman 2011). The current study examines the extent to which listening proficiency and variety identification ability in familiar dialects and MSA predict the ability to comprehend unfamiliar dialects and explores beliefs about how Arabic dialects should be taught. Native speakers (NS) (n=55) and non-native speakers NNS (n=62) of Arabic listened to samples in four regional dialects and MSA and completed a background questionnaire. Regression analysis demonstrated that while proficiency in a familiar dialect or MSA was not a predictor of unfamiliar dialect comprehension, variety identification ability was a predictor for NNS. Chi square tests also revealed significant differences between NS and NNS in terms of beliefs about teaching dialects, with NS preferring an MSA plus one dialect model and NNS preferring a multidialectal model. Pedagogical implications are discussed.
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