Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Developmental Psychology


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Alexandra Gottardo

Advisor Role


Second Advisor

Dr. Eileen Wood

Advisor Role

Dissertation Committee member

Third Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Jones

Advisor Role

Dissertation Committee member


Research on relationships across literacy skills for multiple languages suggests the need for a complex framework that includes linguistic typology as well as cognitive and cultural variables (Schwartz, Geva, Share, & Leikin, 2007). Literature shows that bilinguals activate both languages they know for all linguistic tasks regardless of which language is being used at the time (Kroll & Bialystok, 2013). In that case, learning a third or any additional language is qualitatively different than second language (L2) acquisition. Findings for readers of Roman scripts demonstrate that L1 reading and L2 proficiency influences L2 reading (Cummins, 1979). The current research examined the learning processes for bilinguals learning English as their second language and one of three languages as their first language, Urdu, Arabic and Hindi. These languages were selected because they share either scripts (Urdu & Arabic) or linguistic typologies (Urdu & Hindi). No previous research has examined the effects of learning to read two or three languages where vocabulary, script, morphological and syntactic structures are either shared or dissimilar in terms of different components. Data are presented in three studies. The first study explored how Urdu-English bilinguals perform on L2 (English) word reading when they learn to read English prior to learning to speak English in Pakistan as compared to Urdu-English bilinguals in Canada who learn to speak English prior to learning to read English. The second study explored whether Urdu-English bilinguals take advantage of learning Arabic (similar script as in Urdu language) as another language simultaneously while learning to read English (as L2) over Arabic-English bilinguals. The third study compared Urdu-English and Hindi-English bilinguals in Canada whose oral languages are mutually intelligible. All language groups were compared to each other to determine which factors; shared script, vocabulary, or morphological structure has the strongest influence on second language (English) reading acquisition in these bilingual children. The findings of the first study showed different patterns for the Urdu-English bilinguals in Canada and in Pakistan. In Canada, there was transfer from L1 measures to L2 reading, while there was no transfer for the sample from Pakistan. The second study showed that the Urdu-English bilinguals had higher scores than the Arabic-English bilinguals on most measures across comparable locations. Therefore, it seems that Urdu-English speakers benefit from another language in similar script as their L1. The findings of the last study showed that L1 reading skills transfer to L2 only in alphabetic languages as compared to if L1 is an alpha-syllabic language in Urdu-English and Hindi-English speakers in Canada. The overall findings show effects of context of language learning and effects of L1 on variables related to English reading performance. They suggest that theories developed for English L2 learners in North America might not apply to English L2 learners in other linguistic contexts.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season