Date of Award

August 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Hanyong Park

Committee Members

Hamid Ouali, Anne Pycha, Jae Yung Song


Arabic, Consonants, Emphatics, Perception, Phonetics, Plain


There has been rapid growth in Arabic learning in the United States. With that increase, many learners of Arabic often experience difficulties in learning some Arabic sounds. Among these are the Arabic plain sounds /t, d, ð, s/ and emphatic sounds /tʕ, dʕ, ðʕ, sʕ/. Many studies have proposed that these difficulties are related to the relationship between sounds in learners’ first language (L1) and those in the target language (L2) (Flege, 1987 and 1995; Best, 1995 and 1999; Best, McRoberts, & Sithole, 1988; Best & Tyler, 2007). Previous studies have examined the perceptual patterns of these sounds by relying solely on the articulatory differences between them and the English categories (Al-Mahmoud, 2013).

This study first investigates the categorical representations of the plain and emphatic Arabic sounds in the minds of monolingual native speakers of American English in order to establish accurate category mappings between the two languages following Guion et al. (2000). Sixteen listeners participated in an identification task and a goodness-of-fit rating task. Following the sound categorization of the Speech Learning Model (Flege, 1995), the results show that the Arabic consonants /t, d, ð, s, sʕ/ are considered “similar” sounds to the English categories, Arabic /tʕ, ðʕ, dʕ/ are considered “new” sounds.

The study also examined whether the L1-to-L2 mappings found earlier differ between naïve monolingual English listeners and L2 Arabic learners. In addition, the study investigates the perceptual development of the Arabic sounds over time with more L2 exposure. Fifty L2 Arabic learners participated in an L1 labeling task, an L2 labeling task, and goodness-of-fit rating tasks. The results show L2 perceptual development for the emphatic sounds but not for the plain sounds. The results show no difference between L1-to-L2 mappings between the naïve monolinguals and experienced L2 learners at the labeling level. However, the results show differences at the goodness-rating level, suggesting subtle L2 perceptual development.

The study also investigates the degree of reliance on L1 in order to predict the accuracy of L2 identification by following Park and de Jong’s (2008) quantitative analysis. The results show that it is not clear to what extent L2 learners are using and facilitating their L1 categories in order to perceive L2 sounds. However, the observed accuracy results are successful at showing how L2 exposure affects the overall learnability of L2 emphatic sounds. The study concludes that the perceptual developmental pattern of the emphatic sounds matches the description of SLM’s “new” categories, while the pattern of the plain sounds matches the description of the “similar” sounds.

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