This study investigates heritage speakers' knowledge of plural formation in their colloquial varieties of Arabic, which use both concatenative and non-concatentative modes of derivation. In the concatenative derivation, a plural suffix attaches to the singular stem (muhandis 'engineer-sg.' → muhandis-iin 'engineer-pl'); in the non-concatenative, the relation between the singular (gamal 'camel') and the plural (gimaal 'camels') typically involves vocalic and prosodic alternations with the main shared similarity between the two forms being the consonantal root (e.g., g-m-l). In linguistic approaches, non-concatenative patterns have been captured in different ways, though the earliest and most recognizable approach involves the mapping of a consonantal root onto a plural template. We investigated heritage speakers' knowledge of the root and pattern system in two independent experiments. In Experiment 1, oral narratives were elicited from 20 heritage speakers and 20 native speakers of Egyptian and Palestinian Arabic. In Experiment 2, another group of 24 heritage speakers and 24 native speakers of the same dialects completed an oral picture-description task. The results of the two experiments show that heritage speakers' knowledge of the root and pattern system of Arabic is not target-like. Yet, they have a good grasp of the root and template as basic units of word formation in their heritage Arabic dialects. We discuss implications for debates about the acquisition of the root and pattern system of Arabic morphology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-123
Number of pages35
JournalLinguistic Approaches to Bilingualism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Arabic
  • Heritage speakers
  • Plural morphology
  • Root and pattern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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