Does Studying Multiple Sociolinguistic Varieties of a Second Language Impact Learning Outcomes?

Investigating the Simultaneous Acquisition of Vocabulary in Both Standard and Egyptian Arabic


  • Elizabeth Huntley Michigan State University


Arabic, vocabulary, mental lexicon, diglossia, second language acquisition


Sociolinguistic variation is often ignored in standard language textbooks (Brown, 2011). Arabic, a diglossic language, exhibits considerable variation with a standardized formal register (Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA), and multiple spoken dialects (Badawi, 1973). Arabic foreign language programs have historically privileged MSA curricula at the expense of dialects. Recently, however, textbooks have begun integrating dialects and MSA. Although the integrated approach has been criticized for creating an unnecessary learning burden that inhibits acquisition, it has never been directly empirically evaluated. 

The current study is a lab-operationalized comparison of Arabic L2 vocabulary acquisition in MSA-only and integrated curricula. Twenty-six L1 speakers of English studied twenty-four Arabic nouns in two counterbalanced conditions: MSA-only (one register), and MSA + Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) (two registers). Participants were tested on form and meaning recognition. Accuracy and log reaction times for each the register-condition combinations (MSA-only, MSA-integrated, and ECA-integrated) were compared using one-way repeated measures ANOVAs. Results indicated no significant differences between any of the groups for either accuracy or reaction time apart from reaction time for form recognition. Results are discussed in light of theoretical models of the bilingual mental lexicon and pedagogical implications for the L2 classroom.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Huntley, Michigan State University

Lizz Huntley is an instructor of Arabic and Linguistics at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research uses psycholinguistic approaches to explore the acquisition of language variation. She is the managing editor for Studies in Second Language Acquisition and co-author on the ‘Arabiyyat al-Naas textbook series.