Publication details [#3173]

Cacciari, Cristina and Chiara Maria Levorato. 1998. The effect of semantic analyzability of idioms in metalinguistic tasks. Metaphor and Symbol 13 (3) : 159–177. 19 pp.
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Article in journal
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Fifth graders' and adults' abilities to assign an interpretation and explain and motivate an idiom's meaning were investigated with idioms characterized by different degrees of semantic analyzability. By semantic analyzability, we mean the extent to which the meanings of the words forming an idiom contribute to its figurative interpretation. Forty-five Italian 5th graders and 15 adults participated in this study and were asked to (a) provide a paraphrase of idiom meanings, (b) explain the reasons motivating the meaning of idioms, (c) answer whether a 1st grader (i.e., a 6-year-old child) might understand the idioms, and (d) indicate what a 6-year-old can do to understand them. The results showed that semantic analyzability indeed affected the ways in which children and adults explained and motivated an idiom's meaning. Children often paraphrase an idiom by providing a figurative interpretation that is strictly incorrect but does not reflect the literal meaning of the idiom string. The results suggest that children possess a figurative competence based on multiple sources of linguistic information, among which the semantic transparency of the idiom string indeed plays a major role. (Cristina Cacciari,and Maria Chiara Levorato)