Date of Award

May 2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Anne Pycha

Committee Members

Fred Eckman, Jae Yung Song, Hamid Ouali


Arabic heritage speakers, Emphasis, heritage childhood input, phonemic contrast


Arabic emphasis refers to the production of consonants resulting from a primary constriction in the dental or alveolar region and a secondary constriction in the back of the vocal tract, recognized as ‘Emphatic.’ These have contrastive consonants produced in the dental or alveolar region, recognized as ‘Plain.’ The existing research on emphasis in Arabic has identified specific acoustic parameters that distinguish between plain versus emphatic consonants in production and factors that have been shown to influence the perception of emphatics. While previous studies have established these patterns for both native speakers of Arabic and L2 learners of Arabic, they have not yet been tested for Arabic heritage speakers, who acquired the heritage vernacular language at home since birth and the majority language of society at school age. In this dissertation, we focused on the Arabic heritage speakers’ production and perception of monosyllabic CVC word pairs that were contrasted in the initial or final, with consonants as plain or emphatic. We compared their performance to that of L2 learners of Arabic. Specifically, we asked whether Arabic heritage speakers maintain the contrast between plain and emphatic consonants better than L2 learners in the acoustic parameters F1 and F2 of surrounding vowels, the COG of fricatives, and the VOT of stops, and whether vowel context and position of the emphatic consonant within a word modulate emphasis perception for heritage speakers versus L2 learners. The study involved 18 Arabic heritage speakers and 18 English-speaking learners of Arabic who participated in oral production and word identification tasks. The results show that Arabic heritage speakers outperformed L2 learners in maintaining the contrast between plain and emphatic consonants in the acoustic parameter F2 of surrounding vowels. As for F1, VOT of stops and COG of fricatives were unreliable acoustic cues of emphasis in Arabic. The vowel context influenced perceptual accuracy, but in ways that differed across consonant types. For emphatic consonants, accuracy was relatively similar across different vowel contexts, but for plain consonants, accuracy changed according to the vowel contexts /æ/>/u/>/i/. Word position influenced accuracy in ways that differed for the two participant groups. Arabic heritage speakers identified the contrasts in both word positions with comparable accuracy, whereas the L2 learners exhibited decreased accuracy in the word-final position. The study findings indicate that Arabic heritage speakers demonstrated some benefit from exposure to vernacular input in producing and perceiving emphatic-plain contrasts.

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