Judgments of Idiom Familiarity and Transparency: A Comparison of Children and Adolescents

Nippold, Marilyn A.; Taylor, Catherine L.
April 2002
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Apr2002, Vol. 45 Issue 2, p384
Academic Journal
Idioms (e.g., go by the book, keep a straight face) are figurative expressions that frequently occur in the English language. Given the pervasiveness of these expressions, it is important that young people can understand their meanings. Developmental studies have shown that idioms that are higher in familiarity and transparency (e.g., blow off some steam) are generally easier for children and adolescents to understand than those that are less familiar and more opaque (e.g., pull up one's socks). In those studies, judgments of idiom familiarity and transparency were based on the perceptions of individuals who were older than the study participants. In the present study, 11-year-old children (n = 50) and 16-year-old adolescents (n = 50) were asked to judge the familiarity and transparency of a set of 20 idioms. Their comprehension of the same expressions was also examined. The results indicated that the children were less familiar with the idioms and had greater difficulty comprehending them than did the adolescents. However, the children's transparency judgments did not differ from those of the adolescents. For the children, the easiest idioms were also more familiar and transparent than the most difficult expressions. For the adolescents, the easiest idioms were more transparent than the most difficult ones, but the two types did not differ in familiarity. Suggestions are offered for conducting future studies of the development of idiom understanding in youth.


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