Second language (L2) pronunciation studies have found that the intelligibility (i.e., listeners’ actual understanding) of L2 speech is most closely related to its comprehensibility (i.e., listeners' ease of understanding) rather than to its overall nativelike pronunciation. The segmental errors that are most detrimental to communication are predicted by phoneme Functional Load (FL): mispronouncing high FL segments affects speech comprehensibility more negatively than mispronouncing low FL ones. However, no data are available on the FL hierarchy of Arabic segments. On the other hand, FL correlates highly with consonant age of acquisition (CAoA) in languages that rely heavily on consonants to contrast meaning, and whose listeners rely on consonants to process speech. In these languages, the higher the FL of consonants, the earlier they are acquired by children. Arabic phonology and psycholinguistic data suggest a strong consonant bias, possibly meaning that CAoA could be used in place of FL to predict consonantal error gravity, with early-acquisition consonants representing high FL and late-acquisition ones representing low FL. To test this hypothesis, a speech perception study was conducted. Twentyone native speakers of Egyptian Arabic listened to 23 words read aloud by ten L2 learners of Arabic containing either an early-acquisition consonant error, a late-acquisition consonant error, or no error, and rated them on comprehensibility and foreign-accentedness. Results suggest that early-acquisition consonant errors are more detrimental to comprehensibility and are perceived as more foreign-accented. In addition, a moderate-to-strong correlation was revealed between comprehensibility and foreign-accentedness. The findings provide the first empirical evidence that could be used to set instructional priorities in Arabic L2 pronunciation pedagogy.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Applied Linguistics Department

Degree Name

MA in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language

Graduation Date

Winter 1-31-2024

Submission Date


First Advisor

Dr. Raghda El Essawi

Committee Member 1

Dr. Nihal Nagi Sarhan

Committee Member 2

Dr. Zeinab Taha


88 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Approval has been obtained for this item