Mental Representation of Multiple Default Plurals: Evidence from the Adaptation of English Loanwords in Arabic


The present work argues for the existence of multiple default regularities of plural formation in Arabic. As evidenced in the corpus of loanword adaptation in Jordanian Arabic, this study calls for a reassessment of the treatment of idiosyncratic plural forms in the mental lexicon. This investigation is in line with the dual mechanism theory where both memory and rule are active, but with more reliance on the default rule (feminine sound plural –aat) over memory (broken plural patterns). This avoidance of broken plural, which is less predictable and less transparent, is explained by a limited mental lexicon that defines such loanwords and thus blocks a successful mapping of the broken plural’s inflection in the memory. The failure of broken plural retrieval, especially with words that do not match the canonical root system (tri-consonantal), calls for the application of the default feminine sound plural, the most productive, transparent, and regular formation. As a result, frequency and memory association predicted by prosodic similarity between loanwords and the broken plural patterns do not contribute to avoiding the default -aat overgeneralization in the short term.


Bassil Mashaqba , Mohammed Abu Guba , Anas Huneety, Mutasim Al-Deaibes


broken plural, defaultness, dual mechanism, loanwords, sound plural


Abu Guba, Mohammed Nour. (2016). Phonological adaptation of English loanwords in Ammani Arabic. PhD Thesis, University of Salford, UK. Abu Guba, Mohammed Nour. (2021). ‘Gemination within English loanwords in Ammani Arabic: An Optimality-theoretic analysis’. Journal of Linguistics, 57(1): 1–38. Al-Abed, Ayat. (2017). Mental representation of English past tense morphology by Jordanian EFL students: A dual mechanism analysis. MA Thesis, The Hashemite University, Zarqa, Jordan. Albirini, Abdulkafi and Elabbas Benmamoun. (2014). ‘Concatenative and nonconcatenative plural formation in L1, L2, and heritage speakers of Arabic’. The Modern Language Journal, 98: 854–871. DOI: 10.1111/modl.12126. Albirini, Abdulkafi. (2015). ‘Factors affecting the acquisition of plural morphology in Jordanian Arabic’. Journal of Child Language, 42(4): 734–762. Aljenaie, Khawla, Fauzia Abdalla, and Mohammad Farghal. (2011). ‘Developmental changes in using nominal number inflections in Kuwaiti Arabic’. First Language, 31(2): 222–239. Al-Shboul, Sabri, Anas Huneety, Bassil Mashaqba, Wael Zuraiq and Moh’d Al-omari. (2020). ‘Similarity effects on the emergence of default inflection in Jordanian Arabic’. Jordan Journal of Modern Languages and Literatures, 12(3): 291-305. Al-Shboul, Sabri, Sahail Asassfeh, and Clifton Pye. (2021). ‘A multiple default domain: A semantics-based account’. International Journal of Arabic-English Studies, 21(1): 187–202. Al-Shboul, Sabri, Wael Zuraiq, Moh’D Al-omari, Anas Huneety and Bassil Mashaqba. (2022). ‘The Status of the derivative adjective forms in the lexicon: Evidence on pseudo default patterns’. Jordan Journal of Modern Languages and Literatures, 14(1): 75-85. Blevins, James and Juliette Blevins (eds.). (2009). Analogy in Grammar: Form and Acquisition. Oxford University Press on Demand. Boudelaa, Sami and Gareth Gaskell. (2002). ‘A re-examination of the default system for Arabic plurals’. Language and Cognitive Processes, 17(3): 321–343. Bybee, Joan. (1988). ‘Morphology as lexical organization’. In: Michael. Hammond and Michael Noonan (eds.), Theoretical Approaches to Morphology, 119–141. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Cannon, Garland. (1984). ‘Zero plurals among the Japanese loanwords in English’. American Speech, 59(2): 149–158. Clahsen, Harald. (2006). ‘Dual-mechanism morphology’. In: Keith Brown (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 4, 105. Elsevier: Oxford. Clahsen, Harald, Sabrina Gerth, Vera Heyer, and Esther Schott. (2015). ‘Morphology constrains native and non-native word formation in different ways: Evidence from plurals inside compounds’. The Mental Lexicon, 10(1): 53–87. Clahsen, Harald and Kathleen Neubauer. (2010). ‘Morphology, frequency, and the processing of derived words in native and non-native speakers’. Lingua, 120(11). 2627–2637. Diem, Werner. (1979). Studien zur Frage des Substrats im Arabischen. Der Islam, 56: 12–80. Dressler, Wolfgang. (2003). ‘Degrees of grammatical productivity in inflectional morphology’. Italian Journal of Linguistics / Rivista di Linguistica, 15(1): 31–62. Fischer, Wolfdietrich and Otto Jastrow. (1980). (eds.), Handbuch der arabischen dialekte. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz. Gregory, Michelle L., William Raymond, Alan Bell, Eric Fosler-Lussier, and Daniel Jurafsky. (2000). ‘The effects of collocational strength and contextual predictability in lexical production’. Chicago Linguistic Society, 35: 151–166. Huneety, Anas. (2015). The phonology and morphology of Wadi Mousa Arabic. PhD Thesis. University of Salford, UK. Huneety, Anas and Bassil Mashaqba. (2016). ‘Stress rules in loan words in Bedouin Jordanian Arabic in the north of Jordan: A metrical account’. SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, 13(3): 2–13. Idrissi, Ali. (1997). ‘Plural formation in Arabic’. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science Series, 4: 123–146. Islam, Riaz Ahmed. (2012). The morphology of loanwords in Urdu: The Persian, Arabic and English strands. PhD Thesis, Newcastle University. Issa, Sara. (2018). Morphophonological adaptation of English loanwords in Bedouin Jordanian Arabic. MA Thesis, The Hashemite University, Zarqa, Jordan. Itô, Junko and Armin Mester. (1995). ‘The core-periphery structure of the lexicon and constraints on re-ranking’. In Jill Beckman, Suzanne Urbanczyk and Laura Walsh (eds.), University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics, 18: Papers in Optimality Theory, 181-209. Amherst: University of Massachusetts. Jackendoff, Ray and Jenny Audring. (2020). The Texture of the Lexicon: Relational Morphology and the Parallel Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jarrah, Marwan, Rasheed Al-Jarrah, and Abu-Dalu Ahmad. (2018). ‘Assignment of plural modes in northern rural Jordanian Arabic’. Dirasat, Human and Social Sciences, 45(3): 210–223. Karũrũ, Damaris. 2013. ‘Borrowing and communication in language: The impact of morphological adaptation processes’. International Journal of Education and Research, 1(9): 1–14. Kaushanskaya, Margarita, Jeewon Yoo, and Viorica Marian. (2011). ‘The effect of second-language experience on native-language processing’. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8: 54–77. Kayigema, Jacques and Davie Mutasa. (2015). ‘Peculiarities of loanwords in Kinyarwanda noun class’. Journal of Educational Research and Studies, 3 (3): 51–65. Kihm, Alain. (2006). ‘Nonsegmental concatenation: A study of Classical Arabic broken plurals and verbal nouns’. Morphology, 16(1): 69–105. Laks, Lior. (2014). ‘The cost of change: Plural formation of loanwords in Palestinian and Jordanian Arabic’. Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik, 60: 5–34. Levy, Mary. (1971). The plural of the noun in Modern Standard Arabic. PhD Thesis, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Marcus, Gray, Steven Pinker, Michael Ullman, Michelle Hollander, John Rosen, Fei Xu, and Harald Clahsen. (1992). ‘Overgeneralization in language acquisition’. Monographs of the Society of Research in Child Development, 57(4): 1–178. Mashaqba, Bassil. (2015). The phonology and morphology of Wadi Ramm Arabic. PhD Thesis. University of Salford, UK. Mashaqba, Bassil and Anas Huneety. (2017). ‘Morpho-phonological structure of sound feminine plural: Revisited’. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 6(6): 115–122. Mashaqba, Bassil, Nisreen Al-Khawaldeh, Hussein AlGweirien, and Yasir Al-Edwan. (2020). ‘Acquisition of broken plural patterns by Jordanian children’. Linguistics, 58(4): 1009–1022. Mashaqba, Bassil, Haneen Abu Sa'aleek, Anas Huneety, and Sabri Al-Shboul. (2020). ‘Grammatical number inflection in Arabic-speaking children and young adults with Down syndrome’. South African Journal of Communication Disorders, 67(1): 1–7. Mashaqba, Bassil, Anas Huneety, Wael Zuraiq, Moh’d Al-Omari, and Sabri Al-Shboul. (2020). ‘Labile anticausatives in Jordanian Arabic’. Lingua Posnaniensis, 62(2): 19–45. Mashaqba, Bassil, Anas Huneety, Mohammad Nour Abu Guba, and Eman Al Khalaf. (2023). ‘Broken plural in Jordanian Arabic: Constraint-based evidence from loanwords adaptation’. Dialectologia, 30(1): 103–134. McCarthy, Kevin Michael. (1970). The linguistic adaptation of loanwords in modern standard Turkish. PhD Thesis, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. McCarthy, John. (1983). ‘A prosodic account of Arabic broken plurals’. Current Approaches to African Linguistics, 2: 289–320. McCarthy, John and Alan Prince. (1990). ‘Foot and word in prosodic morphology: The Arabic broken plural’. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 8: 209–283. McCarthy, John. (2008). Doing Optimality Theory: Applying Theory to Data. Oxford: Blackwell. McClelland, James and Karalyn Patterson. (2002). ‘Rules or connections in past-tense inflection: what does the evidence rule out?’ Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6(11): 465–472. Neme, Alexis and Eric Laporte. (2013). ‘Pattern-and-root inflectional morphology: The Arabic broken plural’. Language Sciences, 40: 221–250. Pinker, Steven. (2015). Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. New York, NY: Basic Books. Procházka, Stephan. (2009). ‘Turkish loanwords’. In: Kees. Versteegh et al. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, 4: Leiden: Brill. 489–594. Ratcliffe, Robert. (1990). ‘Arabic broken plurals: Arguments for a two-fold classification of morphology’. In Mushira Eid and John McCarthy (eds.), Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics II: 2nd Annual Symposium on Arabic, 94–119. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Ratcliffe, Robert. (1998). The ‘Broken’ Plural Problem in Arabic and Comparative Semitic: Allomorphy and Analogy in Non-concatenative Morphology. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: J. Benjamins. Ravid, Dorit and Rola Farah. (1999). Learning about noun plurals in early Palestinian Arabic. First Language 19: 187–206. DOI: 10.1177/014272379901905603. Roberts, Sarah Julianne. (2000). ‘Nativization and the genesis of Hawaiian Creole’. Creole Language Library, 21: 257–300. Rumelhart, David and James McClelland. (1986). ‘On learning the past tenses of English verbs’. In James McClelland and David Rumelhart (eds.) Parallel Distributed Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition, 2. 216–271. Cambridge, A: Bradford/MIT Press. Sa'eed, Anmar. (2010). ‘The productivity of pluralization rules in Mosuli Arabic: An evidence from loanwords’. Journal of Education and Science, 17(1): 49–60. Sakarna, Ahmad. (2013). ‘A proposed model of Optimality Theory for Jordanian Arabic broken plurals’. English Language Teaching, 6(1): 48–55. Seidel, Uwe. (2010). The usage and integration of English loanwords in German a corpus-based study of anglicisms in Der Spiegel magazine from 1990–2010. Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Alabama. Stepanyan, Elena. (2018). ‘A Survey on Loanwords and Borrowings and Their Role in the Reflection of Cultural Values and Democracy Development: The Armenian Paradigm’. European Journal of Marketing and Economics, 1(2): 77–86. Zibin, Aseel. (2019). ‘A phonological analysis of English loanwords inflected with Arabic morphemes in urban Jordanian spoken Arabic’. SAGE Open, 9(2): 1–13.