Proverb Explanation Through the Lifespan A Developmental Study of Adolescents and Adults Research Article
Research Article  |   April 01, 1997
Proverb Explanation Through the Lifespan
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Marilyn A. Nippold
    Communication Disorders and Sciences Program University of Oregon Eugene
  • Linda D. Uhden
    Communication Disorders and Sciences Program University of Oregon Eugene
  • Ilsa E. Schwarz
    Communication Disorders and Sciences Program University of Oregon Eugene
Article Information
Development / Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / School-Based Settings / Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Normal Language Processing / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   April 01, 1997
Proverb Explanation Through the Lifespan
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 1997, Vol. 40, 245-253. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4002.245
History: Received January 30, 1996 , Accepted September 16, 1996
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 1997, Vol. 40, 245-253. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4002.245
History: Received January 30, 1996; Accepted September 16, 1996

A proverb explanation task consisting of 24 low-familiarity expressions was administered to 353 individuals ranging in age from 13 through 79 years. Half the proverbs were composed of concrete nouns ("A caged bird longs for the clouds") and half were composed of abstract nouns ("Humility often gains more than pride"). The task was designed to examine how patterns of language growth in adults compare to those observed in adolescents. It also served as a tool for examining the "metasemantic hypothesis," the view that complex semantic units, such as proverbs, are learned through active analysis of the words they contain. Performance on the task improved markedly during adolescence and into early adulthood. It reached a plateau during the 20s, remained stable during the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and began a slight decline during the 60s that reached statistical significance during the 70s. Concrete proverbs were easier to explain than abstract proverbs for adolescents and for adults in their 20s, but the two proverb types did not differ for adults in their 30s and older. Thus, the metasemantic hypothesis was supported for adolescents and young adults. For the adults, performance on the proverb explanation task was related to the number of years of formal education they had completed.

Acknowledgments
The authors express their appreciation to the adolescents and adults who participated as subjects in this research project, to the public school personnel who granted permission to conduct the study and helped to schedule the testing, and to the graduate students who assisted with data collection.
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