Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics VIAL

Mila Vulchanova (1), Valentin Vulchanov (1) and Margarita Stankova (2): Idiom comprehension in the first language: a developmental study. VIAL. Number 8/2011: 206-234


While adult idiom comprehension has been addressed fairly extensively in experimental research across languages, developmental studies have emerged more recently and have primarily addressed English and few other languages. In this study we tested for the first time idiomatic knowledge in younger children (preschoolers), and older children (third-graders) with Bulgarian as L1, compared to adults. Our main hypothesis was that around age ten children’s knowledge of idioms starts approximating adult-like knowledge (Kempler et al., 1999). We hypothesise that the ability to work with figurative language (including idioms) correlates with age and years of schooling and is linked to other linguistic abilities, e.g., meta-linguistic awareness, and the ability to infer from context (Benneli et al., 2006; Levorato & Cacciari, 2002). Our hypotheses were confirmed. While idiom comprehension is scarce among the younger group, the older children display advanced linguistic skills in the comprehension and interpretation of idioms. Our study also provides independent evidence of usage-based theories of language acquisition (Tomasello 1992, 2003), and embodied perspectives on language (Barsalou et al. 2003).

Keywords: Idiom comprehension, lexical development, age of acquisition, deep biological background for language, meta-linguistic awareness.

(1) Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Norway.
(2) New Bulgarian University, Bulgary.

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