Semantic Analyzability in Children’s Understanding of Idioms This study investigated the role of semantic analyzability in children’s understanding of idioms. Kindergartners and first, third, and fourth graders listened to idiomatic expressions either alone or at the end of short story contexts. Their task was to explain verbally the intended meanings of these phrases and then to choose ... Research Article
Research Article  |   June 01, 1991
Semantic Analyzability in Children’s Understanding of Idioms
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr.
    University of California, Santa Cruz Program in Experimental Psychology Santa Cruz, CA
  • Requests for reprints should be sent to Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., PhD, Program in Experimental Psychology, Clark Kerr Hall, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064.
Article Information
Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   June 01, 1991
Semantic Analyzability in Children’s Understanding of Idioms
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1991, Vol. 34, 613-620. doi:10.1044/jshr.3403.613
History: Received March 13, 1990 , Accepted September 27, 1990
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1991, Vol. 34, 613-620. doi:10.1044/jshr.3403.613
History: Received March 13, 1990; Accepted September 27, 1990

This study investigated the role of semantic analyzability in children’s understanding of idioms. Kindergartners and first, third, and fourth graders listened to idiomatic expressions either alone or at the end of short story contexts. Their task was to explain verbally the intended meanings of these phrases and then to choose their correct idiomatic interpretations. The idioms presented to the children differed in their degree of analyzability. Some idioms were highly analyzable or decomposable, with the meanings of their parts contributing independently to their overall figurative meanings. Other idioms were nondecomposable because it was difficult to see any relation between a phrase’s individual components and the idiom’s figurative meaning. The results showed that younger children (kindergartners and first graders) understood decomposable idioms better than they did nondecomposable phrases. Older children (third and fourth graders) understood both kinds of idioms equally well in supporting contexts, but were better at interpreting decomposable idioms than they were at understanding nondecomposable idioms without contextual information. These findings demonstrate that young children better understand idiomatic phrases whose individual parts independently contribute to their overall figurative meanings.

Acknowledgments
Preparation of this article was supported by Grant MH42980 from the National Institute of Mental Health and by a Faculty Research Grant from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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