Comprehension and production of figurative language by Afrikaans-speaking children with and without specific language impairment

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2012.693708
Author(s): Kristin van der MerweDepartment of English Language and Linguistics, South Africa, RalphD AdendorffDepartment of English Language and Linguistics, South Africa


This article reports on the comprehension and production of figurative language, namely idioms and similes, in first language Afrikaans-speaking (AFR) boys, ages eight to 10 years, and first language Afrikaans-speaking boys with specific language impairment (SLI), also ages eight to 10. It draws on a larger study by Van der Merwe (2007; see also Van der Merwe & Southwood, 2008). Testing of the comprehension and production abilities of the children was conducted verbally and individually and elicited their understanding of 25 idioms and 25 similes. The idioms were first presented without context; if the child gave an incorrect interpretation, the idiom was placed in context. Raw scores show that the SLI group performed marginally more poorly than the AFR group, but there was no statistically significant difference between the comprehension of idioms by the two groups. The same can be said for the number of literal interpretations provided by the groups. Placing the idioms in context was beneficial to both groups. The simile completion task required the children to provide the last word of each simile. For both groups, the similes task proved to be easier than the idioms task but there was again no statistically significant difference found between the two groups. The results seem to imply that children at this developmental phase, aged eight to 10, whether language impaired or not, have not yet fully grasped figurative language as a concept and need explicit instructions on figurative language. The article ends with a reflection on the suitability of idioms and similes as particular categories of figurative language in studies of this nature.

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