Or Kashti of Haaretz reports on a study that suggests that Hebrew speakers can read their native language more quickly than Arabic speakers can read theirs:
The study, conducted over the last three years, examined the speed and efficacy with which Hebrew and Arabic speakers read texts in their native languages. The texts were taken from two standardized tests, the psychometric exam and the international PISA exam.
Arabic, unlike Hebrew, is a diglossic language, meaning the oral language is different from the written (literary) one. The difference between spoken and written Arabic is so great, the researchers wrote, “that acquisition of the written language could be defined as acquiring a second language” – which in turn could influence “the development of linguistic mechanisms necessary for reading.”
Another difference is that Arabic orthography – meaning the shape of the letters and the use of diacritical marks – is more complex than that of Hebrew, making it harder to read. […]
This is one of the first studies to examine differences in reading ability among adults who have already mastered their mother tongue, as opposed to children.
The researchers found that, on average, Arabic speakers need seven seconds longer than Hebrew speakers to read 200 words aloud, while reading a 200-word text silently takes them about 16 seconds longer. And not only do Hebrew speakers read faster, but they also read more accurately, the study found.
These gaps cannot be explained by cognitive differences among the students or by other variables like parental education or socioeconomic status, the researchers said.
“The difference in reading efficiency stems from the differing speed of deciphering words in each language, something that’s apparently directly connected to the orthographic structure of the Arabic language and the fact that it’s a diglossic language,” Ibrahim said. “Reading in Arabic simply doesn’t reach the requisite level of automation, as it does for Hebrew or English readers.”
This raises all sorts of questions and requires various caveats (Prof. Rafiq Ibrahim says they should stop using texts translated from English or Hebrew on the Arabic exam), but it’s interesting enough I thought I’d pass it along and see what people have to say. (Thanks, Kobi!)