Supremacy of suprasegmentals in Arabic phonology: Evidence from malapropisms


  • Mohammed Nour Abu Guba * University of Sharjah, UAE
  • Bassil Mashaqba The Hashemite University, Jordan
  • Anas Huneety The Hashemite University, Jordan
  • Khalid Alshdifat Jordan University of Sciences and Technology, Jordan



Arabic phonology, mental lexicon, malapropisms, suprasegmentals


Speech errors are an important source of information to understand language processing and production. Earlier research focused on different types of errors including semantic and phonological errors while malapropisms, which refer to slips of the tongue involving whole word substitutions that share phonological similarities but are not related semantically, have not received adequate attention in the Arabic language. Drawing on malapropisms in Jordanian Arabic, we bring evidence on the supremacy of suprasegmental phonological aspects in Arabic phonology. This is unexpected as stress in Arabic is non-phonemic and fully predictable, besides Arabic rhythm is much less stress-timed than that of Germanic languages. Data was collected from spontaneous speech over a period of three years. Results showed that malapropisms share the primary stress position, the number of syllables and the word rhythmic pattern with the target words. To a lesser degree, the target and the error share the same rime and initial segments. Findings suggest that suprasegmental features are very crucial in Arabic phonology, like in Indo-European languages. Evidence suggests that formal similarity that is based on the syllabic and metrical structure of words plays a significant role in language processing and the organization of the mental lexicon in Arabic, which suggests that this is a language universal. Furthermore, our findings do not agree with earlier claims that Arabic has a flat syllabic structure. Rather, evidence suggests that Arabic, like English, has a hierarchical syllable structure, which seems to represent another language universal. More research on other Arabic dialects is recommended to corroborate these findings.

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

* Corresponding author: Mohammed Nour Abu Guba,

orcid32.png 0000-0002-5007-6439  mail_image2.png


Download data is not yet available.


Abd-El-Jawad, H. & Abu-Salim, I. (1987). Slips of the tongue in Arabic and their theoretical implications. Language Sciences, 9(2), 145-171.

Abu Guba, M.N. (2018). Stress assignment in polysyllabic words in Levantine Arabic: An Optimality-Theoretic analysis. Lingua Posnaniensis, 60(2), 7–24.

Abu Guba, M.N. (2021). Gemination within English loanwords in Ammani Arabic: An Optimality-theoretic analysis. Journal of Linguistics, 57(1), 3-40.

Abu Guba, M. N., Fareh, S., & Yagi, S. (2023a). English and Arabic speech rhythms: A contrastive review. International Journal of Arabic-English Studies, 23(1), 183-202.

Abu Guba, M. N., Mashaqba, B., & Huneety, A.. (2023b). Polysyllabic shortening in Modern Standard Arabic. Journal of Semitic Studies.

Abu Guba, M., Mashaqba, B., Jarbou, S. & Al-Haj Eid, O. (2023). Production of vowel reduction by Jordanian–Arabic speakers of English: an acoustic study. Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics, 59(1), 1-25.

Aitchison, J. (1994). Words in the mind: An introduction to the mental lexicon. (2nd ed). Blackwell.

Alderete, J. (2022). Cross-Linguistic trends in speech errors: An analysis of sub-lexical errors in Cantonese. Language and Speech, 66(1), 79-104.

Al-Huneety, A., Mashaqba, B., Alhala, M. A., Abu Guba, M. N., & Al-Shdifat, K. G. (2023). Acquisition of stress in the speech of Ammani Arabic-speaking children. Ampersand, 10, 100094.

Berg, T., & Abd-El-Jawad, H. (1996). The unfolding of suprasegmental representations: A cross-linguistic perspective. Journal of Linguistics, 32(2), 291-324.

Bock, J. K. & Huitema, J. (1999). Language production. In Garrod, S., & Pickering, M. (Eds.), Language processing (pp. 363-388). Psychology Press.

Boomer, D. S. & Laver, J. D. M. (1968). Slips of the tongue. British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 3, 1-12.

Celce-Murcia, M, Brinton, D., & Goodwin, J. (2010). Teaching pronunciation. Cambridge University Press.

Cutler, A. (1982). The reliability of speech error data. In A. Cutler (Ed.), Slips of the tongue and language production (pp.7-28). Mouton.

Dell, G. S. (1986). A spreading activation theory of retrieval in sentence production. Psychological Review, 93, 283-321.

Dell, G. S. & Reich, P. A. (1980). Slips of the tongue: The facts and a stratificational model. Rice Institute Pamphlet – Rice University Studies, 66(2).

Dell, G. S., Nozari, N., & Oppenheim, G. M. (2014). Word production: Behavioral and computational considerations. In M. Goldrick, V. Ferreira, & M. Miozzo (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of language production (pp. 88-104). Oxford University Press.

Fay, D. & Cutler, A. (1977). Malapropisms and the structure of the mental lexicon. Linguistic Inquiry, 8, 505-520.

Frisch, S. A. (2006). Speech errors as evidence in phonology. In K. Brown (Ed.), The encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed., Vol. 11). (pp. 736-739). Elsevier.

Fromkin, V. A. (1973). Speech errors as linguistic evidence. Mouton.

Fromkin, V. A. (2002). The non-anomalous nature of anomalous utterances. In G. Altmann (Ed.), Psycholinguistics: Critical concepts in psychology (pp. 3-33). Routledge.

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams N. (2013). An introduction to language (10th Ed.). Cengage Learning.

Garrett, M. F. (2002). The analysis of sentence production. In G. Altmann (Ed.), Psycholinguistics: Critical concepts in psychology (pp. 34-72). Routledge.

Garrett, M. F. (1980). Levels of processing in sentence production. In B. Butterworth (Ed.), Language production (pp.177-220). Academic Press.

Ghazali, S., Hamdi, R., & Knis, K. (2007). Intonational and rhythmic patterns across the Arabic dialect continuum. In E. Benmamoun (Ed.), Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics: Papers from the Annual Symposium on Arabic linguistics (pp. 97-121). John Benjamins.

Harley, T. (2006). Speech errors: Psycholinguistic approach. Invited entry. In K. Brown (Ed.), The encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed., Vol. 11). (pp. 739-744). Elsevier.

Holes, C. (2004). Modern Arabic: Structures, functions, and varieties. Georgetown University Press.

Hotopf, W. (1980). Semantic similarity as a factor in whole-word slips of the tongue. In V. Fromkin (Ed.), Errors in linguistic performance: Slips of the tongue, ear, pen, and hand (pp.97-109). Academic Press.

Jaeger, J. (2005). Kids' slips: What young children's slips of the tongue reveal about language development. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kormos, J. (2006). Speech production and second language acquisition. Routledge.

Laubstein, A. S. (1987). Syllable structure: The speech error evidence. Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 32, 339-363.

Levelt, W. J. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. MIT Press.

Levelt, W. J. (1999). Language production: A blueprint of the speaker. In C. V. Brown & P. Hagoort (Eds.), The neurocognition of language (pp. 83-122). Oxford University Press.

Mashaqba, B. & Huneety, A. (2018). Emergence of iambs in Eastern Arabic: Metrical iambicity dominating optimal nonfinality. SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, 15(3). 15-36.

Munro, M. & Derwing, T. (1995). Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning, 45(1), 73–97.‏

Nooteboom, S. G. (1973). The tongue slips into patterns. In V. Fromkin (Ed.), Speech errors as linguistic evidence (pp. 87-95). Mouton.

Safi-Stagni, S. (1990). Slips of the tongue in Arabic. In E. Mushira (Ed.) Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics. (Vol. I). John Benjamins.

Safi-Stagni, S. (1994). Arabic segmental errors and segmental phonology. In E. Mushira, V. Cantarino, & K. Walters (Eds.), Perspectives on Arabic linguistics. (Vol. VI). (169-184). John Benjamins.

Shattuck-Hufnagel, S. (2002). Speech errors as evidence for a serial ordering mechanism in sentence production. In G. Altmann (Ed.), Psycholinguistics: Critical concepts in psychology (pp. 73-120). Routledge.

Wan, I. P., & Allassonnière-Tang, M. (2021). A corpus study of lexical speech errors in Mandarin. Taiwan Journal of Linguistics, 19(2), 87-120.

Watson, J. C. E. (2011). Word stress in Arabic. In M. van Oostendorp, C. J. Ewen, E. V. Hume, & K. Rice (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to phonology (pp. 2990–3018). Wiley-Blackwell

Wells-Jensen, S. (2007). A cross-linguistic speech error investigation of functional complexity. Journal of Psycholinguist Research, 36, 107–157.




How to Cite

Abu Guba, M. N., Mashaqba, B., Huneety, A., & Alshdifat, K. (2023). Supremacy of suprasegmentals in Arabic phonology: Evidence from malapropisms. East European Journal of Psycholinguistics, 10(1).



Vol. 10 No. 1 (2023)