Date of Award

August 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Sandra L Pucci

Committee Members

Hamid Ouali, Garry Davis, Fred Eckman


Case Markers, Modern Standard Arabic, Morpho-syntax, Processability theory, Second Language Acquisition, Word Order


Processability theory argues that the development of interlanguage syntactic and morphological structures is guided by general principles, which make up a “language processor”. These principles develop gradually and are implicationally ordered. The theory claims that interlanguage syntactic and morphological structures develop in the order the principles responsible for their production become available to the learner (Pienemann, 1998; Pienemann et al., 2005). This study used these principles as reflected in processing procedures and mapping principles to investigate the acquisition of Modern Standard Arabic case morphology and sentential word order. The goal of using these principles was to hypothesize a developmental route for case morphology and declarative sentence development and then test the predictions empirically. With regard to sentential word order, several structures with different mapping principles were selected. The investigation included canonical word order, AdjunctTopic + canonical word order (e.g., CLLD), and non-canonical word order (e.g., passive, causatives, subordinate clauses, and OVS). Each structure represents a unique way of mapping the three structures of grammar (argument, function, constituent). At the morphological level, several case morphemes involving different levels of feature unification were selected. The investigation included nominative and accusative case in SVO word order, genitive case on noun phrases within prepositional phrases and construct state, accusative case on [ʔanna]-subject, and nominative and accusative case in OVS word order. Each morphological structure requires the activation of a different processing procedure. This cross-sectional study collected data from 21 adult learners of Modern Standard Arabic as an L2. Participants performed three communicative tasks: an interview, picture discerption, and elicited imitation. Emergence criteria were adopted to judge the emergence status of the structures investigated in their interlanguage. The results showed that sentential word order developed from basic word order that manifested default argument-function-constituent structure mapping to structures that manifested different degrees of divergence from such mapping. With regard to case morphology, case markers developed from mere parts of lexical items to markers of positions and to markers of grammatical functions. Therefore, the observed developmental route for L2 learners of Modern Standard Arabic confirmed the hypothesized developmental route.

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