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How do readers of Arabic process orthographically marked case: resultsfrom eye-tracking

Conference contribution
Authors Andreas Hallberg
Published in EXAL18, 28-29 October, 2018, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Language en
Links https://sites.google.com/view/exal1...
Keywords Arabic, reading, eye movements, syntax
Subject categories Arabic language, Linguistics

Abstract

Arabic case endings are largely absent in unpointed text and are syntactically superfluous due to regularities in word order (Holes 2004). It can therefore be assumed that written Standard Arabic is parsed with a "case-less" grammar, akin to that of the Arabic dialects. It is unclear, however, how the case endings that do have a graphical representation in printed texts are processed. Two hypotheses can be postulated: either readers process these endings as marking case, or they process them as variant forms unrelated to syntactic position. Testing these hypotheses through introspection is problematic seeing to the strongly prescriptive notions associated with the case system in Arabic that may cloud such judgments. An alternative method of testing these hypotheses is through eye-tracking techniques. In a planned experiment participants will read sentences that include either of the two most common forms of orthographically marked case inflection: the nominative/non-nominative distinction in the sound m.pl. (ـون/ـين) and the accusative/non-accusative distinction in indefinite masculine triptotes (ـًا/ø). In sentences with the sound m.pl., the target word is a subject directly preceded by a intransitive verb, and in sentences with triptote the target word is a direct inanimate object directly preceded by a transitive verb and an animate subject. Each sentence is presented in either an unaltered or an altered condition. In the unaltered condition the target word has the prescriptively correct form (ـون or ـًا respectively) and in the altered condition it has the prescriptively incorrect form corresponding to dialectal case-less syntax (ـين or ø respectively). There is a well established correlation between syntactic anomalies and immediate high rates of regressions (backtracking eye-movements, Ni et al. 1998; Pearlmutter et el. 1999; Braze et al. 2002). Thus, if the altered condition shows increased rates of regressions from the target word relative to the unaltered condition, this would indicate that participants process the orthographic case endings as marking case in that they react to their alteration as a syntactic anomaly. If the altered condition does not show an increased rate of regression, this would indicate that participants do not process these endings as marking case. This will to the best of my knowledge be the first time eye-tracking techniques are applied to investigate the processing of case markers in Arabic.

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