The acquisition of Arabic language comprehension by Saudi children
Studies of spoken Arabic language comprehension in children are few. This research obtained data on the developmental patterns, rate and order of acquisition of the comprehension of some morpho-syntactic structures for Saudi children as a basis for a criterion-referenced test. The structures tested were chosen from data collected by studying Saudi Child Directed Speech (CDS), similar Tests in English and from linguistic knowledge of Arabic structures. The CDS sample was collected from 12 Saudi fathers conversing with their children (8 boys and 4 girls) aged 2;4 to 5;6 years. This data was analysed in terms of the vocabulary, structure and function used. Saudi fathers were found to use discourse function used by parents speaking other languages when addressing their children but in different frequencies. Fathers' language complexity was found to increase as their children got older. The comprehension of morpho-syntactic structures by Saudi children was tested through a language comprehension test that was designed for the purpose of this research. The test consisted of sixty three pictures testing twenty-one morpho-syntactic structures and six miniature toys to test children's comprehension of three structures. The test incorporated a naming test to establish the dialect forms familiar to each child, a speech discrimination screening to screen children's hearing and a vocabulary pre-test to ensure that children have comprehension of the target lexical items used in the test. Test materials were designed in a way to suit the Saudi culture. The test was performed in Saudi on 120 Saudi children ranging between 3;0 and 6;0 years of age and were 60 boys and 60 girls attending three nursery schools in Riyadh. Subjects were grouped into six groups according to their age: 3;0 to 3;5, 3;6 to 3;11, 4;0 to 4;5, 4;6 to 4;11, 5;0 to 5;5, and 5;6to 5;11 years of age. Ten boys and ten girls were tested in each age group. Results showed that gender did not affect children's results. Significant test sensitivity to age was found. Nearly half of the structures were sensitive to age while the other structures were not. An order of acquisition according to structures' difficulty was established. The age group at which every structure develops was judged by using a 60% passing criterion. The agreement between test and re-test was shown to be high, indicating that the test was reliable. A comparison was made between frequencies of structures found in the CDS study and age of acquisition in the comprehension test. An error analysis of the tested morpho-syntactic structures was obtained by analysing children's performance on every item used. Children's errors on these items were interpreted on the basis of the competition model and several patterns differed from findings in other languages. Children were found to use previously reported comprehension strategies such as world knowledge when interpreting some of the tested morpho-syntactic structures. The way children interpreted structures that require the comprehension of gender and number inflections is reported. Younger children were found to be guided more by their lexical knowledge, while older ones relied on both lexical and syntactic knowledge. While Saudi children were found to use well-established comprehension strategies such as world knowledge, they also demonstrated strategies for understanding gender and number inflections which have not been previously reported. Gender and number inflections were modified in some of the fathers' utterances in the CDS in a way that violates the rules of Arabic grammar.