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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 28  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 64-73

Arabic psycholinguistic screening tool: A preliminary study


1 Phoniatric Unit, ENT Department, Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt
2 Hearing and Speech Institute, Cairo, Egypt

Date of Submission02-Sep-2011
Date of Acceptance17-Oct-2011
Date of Web Publication13-Jun-2014

Correspondence Address:
Dalia Mostafa Osman
Phoniatric Unit, ENT Department, Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, Cairo
Egypt
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.7123/01.EJO.0000411080.90712.1c

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  Abstract 

Background Psycholinguistics or the psychology of language refers to the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. Objectives This work aimed at designing and applying an Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool on a group of native Egyptian students aged 7 through 9, 11 years old, enrolled in primary grade 1 through primary grade 4, and analyzing the obtained results in order to attain a better understanding of psycholinguistic skills in the studied age range and preliminarily study the constituent items of the tool. Participants and methods The sample in this study included 45 healthy native Arabic-speaking Egyptian children: 25 boys and 20 girls. The groups were as follows: group I (from 7 to 7; 11 years old), group II (from 8 to 8; 11 years old), and group III (from 9 to 9; 11 years old). They were attending regular classes in schools following the Egyptian Arabic National curriculum. The participants were enrolled in primary grade 1 through primary grade 4. Children were randomly selected from a cluster of children reported to be subjectively free from any hearing difficulties, delayed language development, medical problems, and intellectual, social, psychiatric, psychological, or serious academic difficulties. Psycholinguistic abilities for each child were evaluated using the Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool designed in the current study. Tested parameters included oral similarity, morphological closure, proper word and nonsense word repetition, phonological deletion, phonological rhyming awareness and production, spoken and written vocabulary, sequencing events, sight and sound decoding, in addition to sight and sound spelling. The results obtained were then analyzed using descriptive, comparative, correlation, reliability, and validity studies. Results The results reflected internal consistency as well as the content, construct, and convergent validity of the Psycholinguistic Screening Tool for children aged 7 through 9; 11 years for those items covering oral similarity, morphological closure, proper word repetition, spoken and written vocabulary, proper word repetition, spoken and written vocabulary, sequencing of events, sight and sound decoding, and sound spelling. Although nonsense word repetition, sight spelling, phonological rhyming awareness, and production subtests were found to have convergent validity as well as internal consistency, statistical studies did not quite prove their construct validity. Conclusion and recommendations (a) The phonological rhyming awareness and production as well as nonsense word repetition and sight spelling subtests should be revised taking into consideration the Arabic educational curriculum applied in Egyptian schools. (b) Further studies should be carried out on the Arabic Screening Tool to study predictive validity on a larger group of children. (c) Studies should be carried out using the Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool on a group of children with learning disabilities to examine its diagnostic sensitivity.

Keywords: developmental psycholinguistics, psycholinguistic assessment, psycholinguistic screening, psycholinguistics, psycholinguistics in Arabic language,


How to cite this article:
Aziz AA, Shaheen EA, Osman DM, El Sabagh A. Arabic psycholinguistic screening tool: A preliminary study. Egypt J Otolaryngol 2012;28:64-73

How to cite this URL:
Aziz AA, Shaheen EA, Osman DM, El Sabagh A. Arabic psycholinguistic screening tool: A preliminary study. Egypt J Otolaryngol [serial online] 2012 [cited 2019 Dec 9];28:64-73. Available from: http://www.ejo.eg.net/text.asp?2012/28/1/64/129233


  Introduction Top


Psycholinguistics or the psychology of language refers to the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. It is concerned with the nature of the computations and processes that the brain undergoes to comprehend and produce language. It covers the cognitive processes that make it possible to generate a grammatical and meaningful sentence out of vocabulary and grammatical structures, as well as the processes that make it possible to understand utterances, words, text, etc. 1.

Psycholinguistics is interdisciplinary in nature. It can be studied by researchers in a variety of fields, such as psychology, linguistics, and cognitive science. Linguistic-related areas include phonetics and phonology (concerned with the study of speech sounds), morphology (the study of word structure, especially the relationship between words and the formation of words on the basis of rules), syntax (the study of the patterns which dictate how words are combined together to form sentences), semantics (which deals with the meaning of words and sentences), and pragmatics (which is concerned with the role of context in the interpretation of meaning) 2.

Typical development of psycholinguistics in a child can considerably help in his learning process. All language parameters, namely phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, play a major role in the proper development of reading and writing skills needed for learning process and academic achievement 3.

Study of psycholinguistic abilities in children can be carried out using behavioral quantitative studies. In these studies, participants are presented with some form of linguistic input and are asked to perform a task (e.g. make a judgment, reproduce the stimulus, or read a visually presented word aloud) 4.

Linguistic tasks that can be used to study developmental psycholinguistics include oral similarity, syntactic closure, proper word and nonsense word repetition, phonological deletion, phonological rhyming awareness, phonological production, sequencing events, spoken and written vocabulary, decoding (by sight/sound), and spelling (by sight/sound) 5.

Oral similarity refers to the similarity between like features of two things on which a comparison may be based 3. In contrast, syntactic/morphological closure is the branch of linguistics that deals with word structure and functional changes in word forms 6.

Proper word and nonsense word repetition refers to the use of word imitation techniques to assess children’s auditory–verbal sequential memory 7. Phonological deletion means elision or omission of a vowel, consonant, or syllable in pronunciation, whereas phonological rhyming refers to the ability to identify as well as produce words that have corresponding sounds, especially terminal sounds 8.

The ability to organize events in sequence, sentence by sentence, is necessary to discriminate between normal and poor readers 9. Decoding is the activity of converting code into plain text 8. Sight decoding refers to the ability of the child to pronounce exception words that contain unwritten sounds or silent letters 10, whereas decoding by sound is the ability to pronounce a printed list of phonically regular pseudowords 11.

Sight spelling is the ability to spell the irregular elements of words. The letter strings in those words do not conform to the most commonly applied spelling rules. In contrast, sound spelling is the ability to spell phonically regular nonsense words or to complete words from which phonically regular parts have been omitted 12.

There are many differences between Arabic and English. This gives the Arabic language its own characteristics and, in turn, its own psycholinguistics. There are huge differences between Arabic and English phonology 13. In terms of vocabulary, only a minimal number of words in English are borrowed from Arabic. However, many technical words (e.g. computer, radar, helicopter, and television) that are used in the Arabic language have been originally borrowed from the English language. In addition, the acquisition of vocabulary is different in native Arabic-speaking children as compared with their English-speaking peers. Moreover, the grammatical structure of Arabic is very different from that of English. The basis of the Arabic language is the three-consonant root. All verb forms, nouns, adjectives, etc. are formed by placing these three-root consonants into fixed vowel patterns, modified, in some cases, by simple prefixes and suffixes 14. Moreover, Arabic orthography (writing skills) is a cursive system, running from right to left, and only consonants and long vowels are written 15.

Some psycholinguistic assessment tools have been designed and published, most of which aim at evaluating psycholinguistic skills in English-speaking children. Few have been carried out on the Arabic language 16. However, further investigations in this area in relation to the Arabic language are still required particularly after the changes that have been made in psycholinguistics definitions, components, and means of assessment, for example, the modifications and changes that have been added to the Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities, one of the most important tools that has been used to evaluate psycholinguistic abilities in English-speaking children for many years 5.

This work aimed at designing and applying an Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool on a group of native Egyptian students aged 7 through 9, 11 years old (primary grade 1 through primary grade 4) and analyzing the results obtained in order to attain a better understanding of psycholinguistic skills in the studied age range and preliminarily study the constituent items of the tool.


  Patients and methods Top


The sample in this study included 45 healthy native Arabic-speaking Egyptian children: 25 boys and 20 girls. Children were divided into groups as follows: group I (from 7 to 7; 11 years old), group II (from 8 to 8; 11 years old), and group III (from 9 to 9; 11 years old). The participants were attending regular classes in schools following the Egyptian National curriculum, where the language of instruction is Arabic. They were enrolled in primary grade 1 through primary grade 4. They were randomly selected from a cluster of children reported to be subjectively free from any hearing difficulties, delayed language development, medical problems, and intellectual, social, psychological, psychiatric, or serious academic difficulties.

Before the onset of a study, consent was obtained from parents as well as the school. All participants were then subjected to history taking, and interviews of parents and teachers were conducted. Afterwards, psycholinguistic abilities were evaluated using the Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool [Appendix 1] [Additional file 1].

For each skill, the student under study obtained a score of 0 or 1 depending on his ability to respond correctly to the introduced item. Thereafter, the scores obtained for each skill were summed up to obtain the raw score for each subtest.


  Statistical studies Top


Data were coded. Thereafter, an IBM compatible PC (International Business Machine Corp. Armonk, New York, USA) was used to store and analyze data. Afterwards, data were thoroughly checked to exclude the existence of any outliers or data entry errors in order to delimit any possible confounding effects they might have on the results obtained. Calculations were carried out using statistical software packages, namely, Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS). Data were then tabulated and statistically analyzed as follows.

Descriptive statistics

For each group under study, the following were obtained for each subtest involved in the study: arithmetic mean scores (as a measure of central tendency), SD, minimum, and maximum scores (from which the range, the difference between the smallest and the largest observation, was deduced and was used as a measure of dispersion for the obtained scores), in addition to the upper and lower bounds (confidence limits) at a 95% confidence interval [Table 1].
Table 1 Results of descriptive statistical studies for all groups: mean values, SD, confidence limits at 95% confidence interval, and minimum and maximum values for each of the tested parameters

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Comparative studies

One-way analysis of variance was used to compare the means obtained by all groups for all the subtests under study [Table 2]. Analysis of variance was followed by the post-hoc Tukey test to determine which group, of the compared groups, obtained higher values [Table 3]. Results were considered nonsignificant at a P-value of more than 0.05 and significant at a P-value of less than 0.05.
Table 2 Comparison between the scores obtained for all groups using the analysis of variance test

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Table 3 Comparison between the scores obtained for all groups using the post-hoc Tukey test

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Correlation studies

Correlation studies were carried out to determine whether the studied parameters (variables) were related to one another or not. The correlation between variables was assessed using the Pearson correlation test. This test detects whether the changes in one variable are accompanied by a corresponding change in the other variable. A significant correlation may be positive, indicating that the change in the two variables is in the same direction, or negative, indicating that the change in the two variables is in the opposite direction. When r is close to 0, it means that there is a weak relationship between the variables tested and when it is close to 1, it means that there is a strong relationship between the tested variables.

Reliability studies

For reliability studies, weighted mean scores were used in order to avoid any bias that could be produced secondary to the unequal number of items constituting each subtest. Reliability studies used included Cronbach’s α, Spearman–Brown coefficient, and Guttman’s split-half coefficient [Table 4]. In addition, correlation between various subtests was also studied as a measure of the internal consistency of the test [Table 5].
Table 4 Reliability studies

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Table 5 Intercorrelation studies between all subtests in the study

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Validity studies

  1. Correlation between tested parameters and age of the participants [Table 6] as an indicator of construct validity (the construct/theory that psycholinguistic skills, like any other developmental skill, are expected to develop with age and thus scores obtained should be positively correlated with age).
  2. Correlation between various subtests involved in the study (intercorrelation study) [Table 5] as a measure of convergent validity (convergent validity refers to the degree to which a measure is correlated with other measures that it is theoretically predicted to correlate with).
  3. Content validity: this is a nonstatistical type of validity that involves a systematic examination of the test content to determine whether it covers a representative sample of the behavior domain to be measured 17.
Table 6 Correlation between the scores obtained for all subtests in the study, age of the participants involved in the study, and overall score

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  Discussion Top


This work aimed at designing an Arabic psycholinguistic Screening Tool and testing it on a group of typically developing Egyptian children aged 7 through 9, 11 years old (primary grade 1 through primary grade 4) considering the importance of learning potential and foundations in these early school years for building future academic achievement.

The development of this screening tool was based on the theoretical information gathered and on the results of research and critique that were previously carried out on psycholinguistic screening and assessment tools taking into consideration the crucial modifications required in order to make the tool applicable to Arabic-speaking children as regards their community, culture, and the unique features of their language across all linguistic areas: semantics, syntax, morphology, phonology, and orthography.

Psycholinguistic skills sampled using this screening tool are well documented in the literature. They include oral similarity/analogy, syntactic/morphological closure, proper word and nonsense word repetition 5, phonological deletion and phonological rhyming, sight decoding, decoding by sound 11, and sound spelling 12.

Psycholinguistic skills may be directly related to the construct being measured or the linguistic skills that contribute to the performance of a specific task. The process of learning includes the ability to access semantic knowledge, as in an oral similarity subtest. Participation in the involved tasks requires the ability to access appropriate syntactic rules and use morphological rules as in the morphological closure subtest, adequate phonological awareness as in the phonological rhyming, production and deletion subtests, efficient auditory memory skills as well as auditory sequential memory skills as in word repetition tasks, vocabulary as in the written and spoken vocabulary tasks, identification and appropriate use of pertinent information as in sequencing events as well as reading and spelling skills as in the decoding and spelling tasks, respectively. In addition to these tasks, which are directly related to the skills measured, participation in the constituent tasks indirectly necessitates appropriate activity level, attention, cooperation, and ability to participate in the required tasks. All these skills are essential for studying and following classroom instructions.

After designing the Arabic Screening Tool and applying it on the intended age groups, the results were statistically analyzed. Among the studied statistical parameters were the confidence interval and limits. For consistency, obtained data were reported using a cut-off value, often less than −2 and more than +2 Z-scores. The rationale for using this statistical method was to obtain a more accurate view of the ‘normal’ range of the parameters measured for each of the age groups studied. In other words, confidence interval was used to determine the range of the values that would be expected to be obtained by the normal population. A wide interval indicated that the estimate was a less precise estimate whereas a narrow one indicated a more precise one. Thus, the confidence limits obtained for spoken vocabulary, for example, by Group III [23],[24] reflected a more precise estimate of the normal population mean for this age range than the limits obtained for Group II 18-21 and Group I 15-20.

Comparative statistical analyses were also included in the study; the lowest scores for the oral similarity subtest were obtained by group I, whereas the highest scores were obtained by group III. This shows that the child’s analogical skills, like other developmental skills, are expected to develop as the child grows. This could be attributed not only to an increase in the vocabulary the child is expected to acquire but also to the development of verbal reasoning and cognitive skills as a whole.v

In this study, the lowest scores for morphological closure subtest were obtained by group I. However, the highest scores were obtained by group III. However, it should be noted that despite the fact that most of the basic grammatical/syntactic rules are expected to be fully acquired by the age of four and half, some of the children in the study seemed to have difficulties with using some of the grammatical rules, although syntax did not informally seem to be an area of concern. This could be attributed to the fact that the difficulties exhibited by these children were due to their inability to understand what was actually required from them rather than being related to a true syntactic difficulty. Prompts were required to help some children properly respond, a fact that should be taken into consideration while applying the screening tool and/or revising its constituent items and scores.

Comparison between the results obtained by the different groups under study for the nonsense word repetition subtest revealed nonsignificant differences between all the groups under study as opposed to the significant differences obtained between the groups for the other subtests. This could be partially related to the innate difficulty of the task in addition to the small size of the sample studied. Thus, it is essential to study the test on a larger sample before considering it as a standardized valid test.

On comparing the performance of the children under study as regards their ability to repeat meaningful words versus nonsense words, participants obtained better results on tasks with meaningful verbal sequences (proper word repetition) than they did on those with nonsense word repetitions. These results should be taken into account while carrying out similar future studies on auditory–verbal sequential abilities in school-aged children as some of the children may be able to repeat the introduced words using some strategies such as chunking/phonemic similarity instead of solely relying on an efficient phonological processing foundation.

There is now a growing consensus that the relationship between phonological skills and reading development is a reciprocal one. Phonological skills contribute to successful reading and reading development also contributes to successful phonological skills 18. In this study, phonological deletion skills were studied and the results revealed an obvious discrepancy between the groups under study. This could be related to the fact that in the youngest group, children solely depend on their phonological loop of the working memory to deal with this task. As children start to learn how to read in early preschool years, they gain an additional skill in conjunction to their phonological loop: what is known as symbol imagery. Using these two strategies together can aid in promoting and highly enhancing phonological deletion skills in early readers.

Phonological rhyming skills are crucial for effective learning skills. In the current study, analysis of the results obtained for phonological rhyming awareness and phonological rhyming production subtests showed that the lowest scores were obtained by group I and the highest scores were obtained by groups III. However, the differences between groups were found to be statistically nonsignificant. This could be related to the nature of the Arabic national curriculum, which is devoid of activities that focus on practicing and enhancing these skills.

As for written vocabulary, some students under study seemed to be more specific in using peculiar creative referents while filling in the blanks, whereas others used more general words and/or words from well-known memorized phrases. Nevertheless, they both obtained a score of 1. This did not allow sufficient grading according to the children’s performance, a fact that should be taken into consideration when carrying out further studies.

Children’s sequencing skills are expected to emerge and develop with age. This can be attributed not only to vocabulary enrichment, which is expected to occur as the child grows, but also to the development of reading skills and understanding as a whole.

For some children, sight and sound decoding skills seemed to be related to the word being presented in an isolated form. It is expected that some of these children would have been able to overcome such difficulties if the words had been presented within a text where the children can depend on other cues such as syntactic and auditory closure to remember the correct sequence of words, an assumption that should be taken into consideration while designing similar Arabic decoding subtests.

In this study, sight spelling and sound spelling subtests were used to test the ability of the child to spell words by sight or by decoded segmentation, respectively. It was obvious that many of these children mainly depended on sight spelling while writing down the dictated words and, thus, they faced major difficulties when sound spelling was introduced and their performance obviously deteriorated.

Significant differences were found between the studied groups for sound spelling. As for sight spelling, nonsignificant differences were found between the groups under study. This could be related to the inherent difficulty of the introduced item or the lack of exposure to tasks that would enhance such skills in the national Arabic curriculum applied in Egypt.

From the above findings, it is obvious that the differences between all groups were statistically significant for oral similarity, morphological closure, proper word and nonsense word repetition, phonological deletion, phonological rhyming awareness and production, spoken and written vocabulary, sequencing events, sight and sound decoding as well as sight and sound spelling. On carrying out the post-hoc Tukey test, the results revealed higher values for the older age group with regard to all subtests measured. This implies that the older the students are, the better their performance is expected to be. However, this was not observed in nonsense word repetition, phonological rhyming awareness, phonological rhyming production, and sight spelling subtests. This might be related to the fact that these tasks are rarely practiced in the national Arabic curriculum during early school years. Therefore, the content and difficulty level of these subtests need to be revised.

Reliability refers to the consistency of a set of measurements or of a measuring instrument 19. For reliability testing, weighted mean scores were used in order to avoid the bias that might develop secondary to the difference in the number of items constituting each subtest. Internal consistency was measured by studying the correlation between different subtests in order to determine whether they all measure the same general construct that they are proposed to measure, namely, psycholinguistics.

The constituent items of any reliable tool should be highly correlated with each other (internally consistent) but still each of them should contribute some unique information as well. Otherwise, the test would be considered a redundant one. To test the internal consistency of the designed tool, split-half reliability and Cronbach’s α were used. Split-half reliability was determined by showing that the response to the items on one part of the test was correlated with the response given to the items on the other part of the test. However, Cronbach’s α was calculated from the correlations between different items.

Cronbach’s α generally increases as the intercorrelations among test items increase, and is thus known as an internal consistency and reliability. Intercorrelations among test items are maximized when all items measure the same construct 20–22. Cronbach’s α is widely used to indirectly indicate the degree to which a set of items measures different substantive areas within a single construct 23,24. The values obtained for Cronbach’s α in the current study were between 0.8 and 0.9, indicating good internal consistency, and also reflected nonredundancy.

Correlation analysis was used to measure the degree of associations between variables. A significant positive correlation was found between oral similarity and morphological closure. This might be related to the nature of the tasks involved in these two subtests and the skills needed to perform these tasks. Both require intact inferential skills, the ability to draw comparisons between the two presented items, the ability to retrieve required information and, accordingly, the ability to respond in a relevant manner.

A significant positive correlation was also found between oral similarity and spoken vocabulary. Oral similarity tasks require the ability to retrieve words from memory. For words to be retrieved, they have to be available in one’s lexicon.

Spoken vocabulary and written vocabulary were also found to be positively correlated with each other, suggesting a relationship between one’s oral and written lexicons. The positive correlation obtained between the ability to sequence events and sight decoding could be partially attributed to the temporal processing skills that both tasks require in order to be efficiently carried out. Sight decoding was also found to be positively correlated with sound decoding and each of them was positively correlated with sight spelling and sound spelling, reflecting a relationship between reading and spelling skills.

Evidence for content validity is based on the degree to which the items adequately represent and relate to the construct being measured. The content should reflect the concepts being measured and relate to the proposed application and interpretation of the test. Content validity of the test was examined by reviewing all the tasks in the study and comparing them with those available in the literature 5.

The content of subtests used with children must appropriately reflect developmental aspects of the concepts being measured. Inappropriate content (both construct related and social appropriateness), item rewording, or item construction (administration rules and wording of instructions) may confound the interpretation and usefulness of test scores. All these factors were taken into consideration while revising the content of the designed tool in order to exclude the existence of any possible bias.

The goal of content revision in the current study was also to ensure that the tasks involved adequately sample the psycholinguistic domains, with particular attention to the age group involved in the study. Comprehensiveness, level of vocabulary used, level of abstract versus concreteness, level of ambiguity, and the syntactic structure of the items involved in the test were also taken into consideration while reviewing its content.

Patterns of subtest intercorrelations reflect the degree to which the subtests are related. Subtests that measure similar abilities are expected to have moderate-to-high correlations. Significant intercorrelations obtained between most of the subtest scores, for example, between oral similarity and vocabulary reflected convergent validity of the Psycholinguistic Screening Tool.

Whereas convergent validity refers to the degree to which the test items are intercorrelated, construct validity is the extent to which the test measures a theoretical construct or trait. As such, it related to the degree to which the underlying traits of the test can be identified and the extent to which these traits reflect the theoretical model on which the test is based. Three basic concepts were chosen and studied to serve as bases for the construct validity of the Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool. These included the following: (a) studying the correlation between age and the scores obtained [Table 6] because linguistic abilities are developmental in nature and thus are expected to develop with age, (b) because the tool was designed to measure various aspects of language, most of its items should correlate significantly with each other. This was proven by the correlation studies carried out between various subtest scores [Table 5], and (c) because the subtests measure psycholinguistic scores, the scores obtained for each subtest should be highly correlated with the total psycholinguistic score obtained. This was proven by the correlation studies carried out between the total score and the subtest scores, [Table 6].


  Conclusion and recommendations Top


  1. The results of the current study prove the internal consistency and validity of the Arabic Psycholinguistic Screening Tool for children aged 7 through 9; 11 years old. However, further studies including inter-rater and intra-rater reliability measures as well as predictive validity need to be carried out on a larger group of children and on a wider scale. This will ensure internal consistency of the test.
  2. On using any psycholinguistic screening tool, it is essential to qualitatively analyze the child’s performance rather than merely depend on the numerical results and quantitative analysis.
  3. Studies using this screening tool should be carried out on a group of children with learning disabilities to examine the diagnostic sensitivity of this screening tool in diagnosing children who have or are at risk of developing learning disability (in conjunction with cognitive and educational assessments).
  4. The nonsense word repetition, phonological rhyming awareness, phonological rhyming production, and sight spelling subtests and their constituent items should be revised taking into consideration the Arabic educational curriculum applied in Egyptian schools.



  Acknowledgements Top


 
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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]



 

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