Skip to main content

Factors affecting the retention of sentential negation in heritage Egyptian Arabic*


This study investigates the areas of resilience and vulnerability in sentential negation in heritage Egyptian Arabic and explores their theoretical implications. Egyptian heritage speakers completed three narrative production tasks, five experimental production tasks, and a acceptability judgment task. The results indicate that they have a full grasp of the location of negation and its configurational properties, but diverge from native speakers in such aspects of sentential negation as merger with lexical heads and dependency or licensing relations. We propose that these asymmetric patterns are due to various factors, including the age at which a structure is typically acquired in the L1, as well as its morphological and syntactic characteristics. The results of this study have implications for the ongoing debate in heritage language research about the linguistic areas that display greater stability/vulnerability. For example, phrase structure seems less vulnerable than licensing dependencies and the mapping between syntax and the morphological interface.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Abdulkafi Albirini, Department of Languages, Philosophy, and Communication Studies, Utah State University, 0720 Old Main, Logan, UT 84322, USA
Hide All

We would like to thank the participants, the research assistants, and Rania Al-Sabbagh for their help with the study. We would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers and Dr. Robert DeKeyser for their helpful and constructive comments and suggestions. Elabbas Benmamoun's research for this paper was supported in part by the National Science Foundation grant BCS 0826672. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any agency or entity of the United States Government. We are solely responsible for any errors in the paper.

Hide All
Albirini, A. Toward understanding the variability in the language proficiencies of Arabic heritage speakers. International Journal of Bilingualism, doi:10.1177/1367006912472404. Published online by Sage, January 17, 2013.
Albirini, A., & Benmamoun, E. (2014). Aspects of second language transfer in the oral production of Egyptian and Palestinian heritage speakers. International Journal of Bilingualism, 18, 244273.
Albirini, A., Benmamoun, E., & Chakrani, B. (2013). Gender and number agreement in the oral production of Arabic heritage speakers. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16, 118.
Albirini, A., Benmamoun, E., & Saadah, E. (2011). Grammatical features of Egyptian and Palestinian Arabic heritage speakers’ oral production. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 33, 273303.
Alhawary, M. T. (2009). Arabic second language acquisition of morphosyntax. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Aoun, J., Benmamoun, E., & Choueiri, L. (2010). Arabic syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Arab American Institute. (2009). Arab Americans: Demographics. (retrieved January 20, 2012).
Bar-Shalom, E., & Zaretsky, E. (2008). Selective attrition in Russian–English bilingual children: Preservation of grammatical aspect. International Journal of Bilingualism, 12, 281302.
Benmamoun, E. (1992). Inflectional and functional morphology: Problems of projection, representation and derivation. Ph.D. dissertation, University of South California, Los Angeles.
Benmamoun, E. (2000). The feature structure of functional categories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Benmamoun, E., Abunasser, M., Al-Sabbagh, R., Bidaoui, A., & Shalash, D. (2013). The location of sentential negation in Arabic varieties. Brill's Annual of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics, 5, 84113
Benmamoun, E., Montrul, S., & Polinsky, M. (2013). Heritage languages and their speakers: Opportunities and challenges for linguistics. Theoretical Linguistics, 39, 129181.
Broselow, E. (1976). The phonology of Egyptian Arabic. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Brustad, K. (2000). The syntax of spoken Arabic. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Choi, H.-W. (2003). Paradigm leveling in American Korean. Language Research, 39, 183204.
Choi, S. (1988). The semantic development of negation: A cross-linguistic longitudinal study. Journal of Child Language, 15, 517531.
Cornips, L., & Hulk, A. (2006). External and internal factors in bilingual and bidialectal language development: Grammatical gender of the Dutch definite article. In Lefebvre, C., White, L. & Jourdan, C. (eds.), L2 acquisition and creole genesis: Dialogues, pp. 355378. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Cuza, A., & Frank, J. (2011). Transfer effects at the syntax–semantics interface: The case of double-que questions in heritage Spanish. Heritage Language Journal, 8, 6689.
Dimroth, C. (2010). The acquisition of negation. In Horn, L. R. (ed.), The expression of negation, pp. 3973. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Eisele, J. (1988). The syntax and semantics of tense, aspect, and time reference in Cairene Arabic. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Chicago.
Farawaneh, S., & Ouali, H. (eds.) (2014). Perspectives on Arabic linguistics XXIV–XXV. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Fassi Fehri, A. (1993). Issues in the structure of Arabic clauses and words. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Hansen, L. (1999). Not a total loss: The attrition of Japanese negation over three decades. In Hansen, L. (ed.), Second language attrition in Japanese contexts, pp. 142153. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hoyt, F. (2010). Negative concord in Levantine Arabic. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin.
Hummer, P., Wimmer, H., & Antes, G. (1993). On the origins of denial negation. Journal of Child Language, 20, 607618.
Jakobson, R. (1941). Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze . English translation 1968, Child language, aphasia, and phonological universals. The Hague: Mouton Publishers.
Jelinek, E. (1981). On defining categories: Aux and predicate in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Arizona, Tuscon.
Keijzer, M. (2010). The regression hypothesis as a framework for first language attrition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13, 918.
Khalafallah, A. (1969). A descriptive grammar of Saʕidi Egyptian colloquial Arabic. The Hague: Mouton.
Kim, J., Montrul, S., & Yoon, J. (2009). Binding interpretations of anaphors by Korean heritage speakers. Language Acquisition, 16, 335.
Klima, E. (1964). Negation in English. In Fodor, J. D. & Katz, J. (eds.), The structure of language: Readings in the philosophy of language, pp. 246323. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Klima, E., & Bellugi, U. (1966). Syntactic regularities in the speech of children. In Lyons, J. & Wales, R. J. (eds.), Psycholinguistic papers, pp. 183208. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Laleko, O. (2010). The syntax–pragmatics interface in language loss: Covert restructuring of aspect in heritage Russian. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota.
Lange, S., & Larsson, K. (1973). Syntactic development of a Swedish girl Embla, between 20 and 42 months of age, part 1: Age 20–25 mo. Stockholm: Institutionen för nordiska språk.
Lynch, A. (2003). The relationship between second and heritage language acquisition: Notes on research and theory building. Heritage Language Journal, 1.
Major, R. C. (1992). Losing English as a first language. Modern Language Journal, 76, 190208.
Mayer, M. (1969). Frog, where are you? New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
McCarthy, C. (2008). Morphological variability in the comprehension of agreement: An argument for representation over computation. Second Language Research, 24, 459486.
Montrul, S. (2004). Subject and object expression in Spanish heritage speakers: A case of morpho-syntactic convergence. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 7, 125142.
Montrul, S. (2008). Incomplete acquisition in bilingualism: Re-examining the age factor. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Montrul, S. (2011). Interfaces and incomplete acquisition. Lingua, 212, 591604.
Omar, M. (1973). The acquisition of Egyptian Arabic as a native language. The Hague: Mouton.
Ouali, H., & Soltan, U. (2014). On negative concord in Egyptian and Moroccan Arabic. In Farawaneh & Ouali (eds.), pp. 159–180.
Ouhalla, J. (1994). Verb movement and word order in Arabic. In Lightfoot, D. & Hornstein, N. (eds.), Verb movement, pp. 4172. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Polinsky, M. (1997). Cross-linguistic parallels in first language loss. Southwest Journal of Linguistics, 14, 87123.
Polinsky, M. (2009). What breaks in A- and A-bar chains under incomplete acquisition. Presented at CUNY Sentence Processing Conference, University of California at Davis.
Pollock, J.-Y. (1989). Verb movement, Universal Grammar, and the structure of IP. Linguistic Inquiry, 20, 365424.
Sherkina-Lieber, M., Pérez-Leroux, A. T., & Johns, A. (2011). Grammar without speech production: The case of Labrador Inuttitut heritage receptive bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 301317.
Shlonsky, U. (1997). Clause structure and word order in Hebrew and Arabic: An essay in comparative Semitic syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Silva-Corvalán, C. (1994). Language contact and change: Spanish in Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Silva-Corvalán, C. (2003). Linguistic consequences of reduced input in bilingual first language acquisition. In Montrul, S. & Ordóñez, F. (eds.), Linguistic theory and language development in Hispanic languages, pp. 375397. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Smadi, M. (1979). The acquisition of the Jordanian Arabic interrogation and negation by a three-year-old native speaker of Jordanian Arabic. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin.
Soltan, U. (2007). On formal feature licensing in minimalism: Aspects of Standard Arabic morphosyntax. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park.
Soltan, U. (2011). On issues of Arabic syntax: An essay in syntactic argumentation. Brill's Annual of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics, 3, 236280.
Soltan, U. (2012). Morphosyntactic effects of NPI-licensing in Cairene Egyptian Arabic: The puzzle of -š disappearance resolved. In Choi, J., Hague, E., Punske, J., Schertz, D. & Trueman, A. (eds.), Proceedings of the 29th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, pp. 241249. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Soltan, U. (2014). On the distribution and licensing of polarity-sensitive items in Egyptian Arabic: The cases of ʔayy and walaa. In S. Farawaneh & H. Ouali (eds.), pp. 181–206.
Sorace, A. (2000). Differential effects of attrition in the L1 syntax of near-native L2 speakers. In Howell, C., Fish, S. & Keith-Lucas, T. (eds.), Proceedings of the 24th Boston University Conference on Language Development, pp. 719725. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Suh, E. (2008). The usage and interpretation of Korean -tul “plural” by heritage language speakers. In Bowles, M., Foote, R., Perpiñán, S. & Bhatt, R. (eds.), Proceedings of the Second Language Research Forum 2007, pp. 239251. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Tsimpli, I. M., & Sorace, A. (2006). Differentiating interfaces: L2 performance in syntax–semantics and syntax–discourse phenomena. In Bamman, D., Magnitskaia, T. & Zaller, C. (eds.), Proceedings of the 30th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, pp. 653664. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Watson, J. (2002). The phonology and morphology of Arabic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wode, H. (1977). Four early stages in the development of L1 negation. Journal of Child Language, 4, 87102.
Zhang, H. (2013). Negation in incomplete language acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. Presented at the 21st Annual Meeting of International Association of Chinese Linguistics, Taipei, Taiwan.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed