Examining morphosyntactic representations in EFL written narratives among L1 Hebrew and Arabic-speaking 6th graders

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The present study examined elicited written English as a foreign language (EFL) narratives produced by 6th grade Hebrew and Arabic speakers in their 4th year of learning EFL. We examined the use of correct verb morphology and morphosyntactic structures, in relation to supporting L1/EFL skills. Fifty-eight pupils (29 Arabic speakers) participated in this study. Assessment tasks included Hebrew and Arabic (L1) morphological awareness (MA), EFL vocabulary, MA and reading comprehension (RC). Arabic speakers were also tested in second language (L2) Hebrew MA. English written narratives were coded for total words, verbs, nouns, correct and complex sentences, and use of verb morphology (past tense, present progressive, 3rd person singular, copula) in obligatory context. Both groups found 3rd person singular the most challenging, despite between group differences in EFL proficiency. Neither group showed crosslinguistic transfer of MA from L1 to EFL, however, Arabic speakers showed strong associations between HMA and EMA, suggesting possible indirect crosslinguistic influence. Hebrew speakers had strongest associations between EFL RC and MA with all aspects of EFL morphosyntactic use, while Arabic speakers relied on English MA for all aspects of correct morphosyntactic production. Regression analyses showed Hebrew speakers relied solely on English RC for verb and sentence production, whereas Arabic speakers drew on English MA. Results have theoretical and practical implications regarding typological considerations in cross-linguistic transfer, as well as point to specific difficulties and patterns in acquisition of EFL morphosyntax among speakers of Semitic languages, highlighting the role of L1 and EFL contributors to EFL written output. © 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.

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Reading and Writing

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EFL, morphosyntactic structures, Semitic languages, verb inflectional morphology, written narratives