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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