Qualitative Developments in the Content and Form of Children's Definitions This research examined qualitative developments in school-age children’s (N = 96) expressible knowledge of a sample of 434 words selected to represent the contents of a large unabridged dictionary. Definitions were classified according to the quality of both semantic content and syntactic form. Analyses revealed developmental increases in the proportions ... Research Article
Research Article  |   June 01, 1995
Qualitative Developments in the Content and Form of Children's Definitions
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Carla J. Johnson
    University of Toronto Toronto, Canada
  • Jeremy M. Anglin
    University of Waterloo Waterloo, Canada
  • Contact author: Carla J. Johnson, PhD, Graduate Department of Speech Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 6 Queen’s Park Cresent West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1A8.
    Contact author: Carla J. Johnson, PhD, Graduate Department of Speech Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 6 Queen’s Park Cresent West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1A8.×
Article Information
Development / School-Based Settings / Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   June 01, 1995
Qualitative Developments in the Content and Form of Children's Definitions
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1995, Vol. 38, 612-629. doi:10.1044/jshr.3803.612
History: Received April 29, 1994 , Accepted November 30, 1994
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1995, Vol. 38, 612-629. doi:10.1044/jshr.3803.612
History: Received April 29, 1994; Accepted November 30, 1994

This research examined qualitative developments in school-age children’s (N = 96) expressible knowledge of a sample of 434 words selected to represent the contents of a large unabridged dictionary. Definitions were classified according to the quality of both semantic content and syntactic form. Analyses revealed developmental increases in the proportions of known words and in the relative proportions of definitions credited for high-quality content and/or form. Children generally were more successful in expressing precise semantic content than in using conventional syntactic form. The word characteristics of part of speech and morphological composition also affected definitional quality, with coordination of high-quality content and form achieved earlier for root and compound nouns than for inflected and derived nouns or for verbs and adjectives of all morphological types. Both lexical organization and differential experience may support the earlier use of conventional definitional form for root and compound nouns than for other word types. The results provide a more complete picture of the development of definitional skills.

Acknowledgments
This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank Julie Perks for her careful help in conducting reliability analyses and Jim Clark, Luigi Girolametto, Associate Editor Martin Fujiki, and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. Portions of this research were presented at the 1991 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in Atlanta, GA.
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