The comprehension of metaphor by preschool children: Implications for a theory of lexicon

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Interdepartmental Studies

First Committee Member

D. Kimbrough Oller - Committee Chair


Comprehension of metaphor in preschoolers was studied through an elicited repetition task. Subjects were 52 children ages 3;0 to 5;2. Repetition performance on metaphors was compared to repetitions of semantically well-formed literal sentences as well as semantically anomalous sentences, all matched for length, vocabulary and sentence structure. Accuracy on literal and metaphoric stimuli were comparable and both were significantly better than performance on anomalous sentences. There were no effects for age or sex. It was shown that the metaphors were not semantically anomalous to the children and that they were processed on a par with literal language. The argument is advanced from a review of the literature that imitation implicates understanding of the material imitated.If metaphor is thus shown to emerge early in the child's linguistic repertory, figurative language, it may be argued, occupies a more central position in linguistic theory than it has been accorded.The implications of this reassessment of the role of figurative language were examined in the framework of the philosophy of language and of computational linguistics, and the argument for a dynamic lexicon was put forward.


Language, Linguistics; Education, Early Childhood

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