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Figurative Language Development Research and Popular Children’s Literature: Why We Should Know, “Where the Wild Things Are” Kathleen Ahrens.

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Presentation on theme: "Figurative Language Development Research and Popular Children’s Literature: Why We Should Know, “Where the Wild Things Are” Kathleen Ahrens."— Presentation transcript:

1 Figurative Language Development Research and Popular Children’s Literature: Why We Should Know, “Where the Wild Things Are” Kathleen Ahrens

2 Recap Previous studies suggest children do not generally exhibit complete adult proficiency in metaphor comprehension until 7 or 8 years of age Children’s figurative language processing capacities is often underestimated Concerns have arisen over the methodologies and materials used to evaluate children’s figurative language comprehension abilities (metaphorical comprehension ability)

3 Recap Understanding the nature of the popular children’s literature and its figurative language content is important to understand the development of complex language processing This study aims at evaluating the children’s literature commonly available in U.S. public libraries takes place across three variables as in historical (before and after 1950), genre (fiction and nonfiction) and target audience (targeted younger and older than 8 years old)

4 Results The overall frequency of metaphors per 1000 words of text was and ranged from to 80.40

5 Results The factor that has the most significant numbers of metaphors are from Fiction (70.32 metaphors per 1000 words)

6 Discussion The results we report enable a better collective understanding of nature of figurative language in children’s literature. They include: a)Children’s literature provides the source of information about the kinds of figurative language children encounter b)Children’s literature provides insights into children’s figurative language comprehension abilities

7 Discussion c)Children’s literature is an important backdrop in which children’s language development takes place – knowledge about the linguistic content of this literature would be an important piece of information for researchers to fully understand the context in which real world language development takes place d)There are potential opportunity costs if the degree of complexity of figurative language in popular children’s literature does not cohere with the development of children's comprehension skills

8 Discussion Metaphorical language in the popular children’s literature 1.An average of 54 metaphors per 1,000 words of text was found in this study 2.Graesser, Mio & Millis (1989) revealed 40 unique metaphors per 1,000 words of discourse in adult language Metaphorical language in children’s literature (5.4%) > in adult language (4%)

9 Discussion The kinds of metaphors in the samples are not identical - Only novel metaphors included in Graesser et al. (1989)’s study - Conceptual metaphors, nominal metaphors and similes included in this study No adequate adult text comparison is offered in this study Previous literatures depicting the amount of metaphors in adult language were beyond the scope and intent of this study

10 Discussion This comparison indicates the incidence of metaphor in children’s literature is not trivial This prevalence of metaphor in children’s literature holds no matter what audience age is considered - Books targeted at very young children contain as much metaphorical language as books aimed at older children

11 Discussion This high metaphorical prevalence is not an old historical leftover - Books initially published after 1950 contain as much metaphorical language as books published prior to 1950 Metaphorical content varies depending on the type of book assessed - Fiction books contain significantly more metaphorical language than

12 Questions for discussion Why does the popular children’s literature not reflect young children’s metaphorical language processing capabilities? Why do books written for younger children contain as much metaphorical language as those in adult language? Why has there been no change in understanding the limitations in younger children’s ability to comprehend metaphor over the recent decades?

13 Discussion Ability-literature mismatch The level of language in children’s literature would not perfectly adhere to young children’s language processing abilities - Reasons: Children’s literature is written, created, purchased by adults. As long as adults are pleased with the product and children are entertained by it, children’s comprehension abilities are not an issue

14 Discussion Ability-literature mismatch - Two possibilities: The metaphorical language in texts for younger children is too difficult. This adversely affects children’s enthusiasm and success, discouraging them from reading The metaphorical language in texts for older children is too easy because it is the same as that found in books for younger children. The language fails to stretch children's metaphorical processing abilities

15 Discussion Ability-literature mismatch - Solutions: Suitable level of difficulty: i+1 level (level of language difficulty that slightly exceeds children’s current abilities but that does not go too far beyond the children's skills is the optimal level) Rich visual information accompanying younger texts enables the metaphorical language to be comprehended by young children but the same level of metaphorical language is appropriate for older children without the visual support

16 Summary Mismatch possibilities are located  opportunity cost is at work Once, the popular literature fits more precisely with what children are capable of understanding at different ages by matching children’s skill level or better still by slightly exceeding that level, children’s literature may be a better learning tool than it currently is

17 Discussion Ability underestimation - Two possibilities Young children are also capable of comprehending very sophisticated metaphorical language even in the topic they are not familiar with Similar level/amount of metaphor was found across target audience age in both old and recent publications

18 Discussion Ability underestimation (unfamiliar topics)  Previous literature suggests young children demonstrate some degree of metaphor comprehension if it deals with topics children are familiar with  Young children’s metaphorical abilities requires familiar topics  The familiarity of the nonfiction topics would enable more metaphorical language to be used in that genre

19 Discussion Ability underestimation (unfamiliar topics)  This claim could be problematic  This study demonstrated more metaphorical language in books for younger children with fictional topics (i.e. personified planets which is less familiar to children) than nonfictional ones (i.e. going to the doctor, parties, etc. which are more familiar to children)

20 Discussion Ability underestimation (unfamiliar topics) The nature of the metaphorical language in the popular children’s literature suggests that young children’s comprehension capacity might in fact be more sophisticated for fanciful and imaginative topics It is necessary to have even more creative paradigms to assess the true status of figurative language comprehension development in very young children

21 Discussion Ability underestimation (similar amount of metaphor between ages) Popular literature has tapped into very young children’s abilities Many components of children’s early cognitive behavior could be underpinnings to sophisticated figurative language processing (i.e. via role playing, etc) Full adult competency in using figurative language as a communicative form only require the development of on additional component (i.e. empathy, etc)

22 Discussion In this study, different amount of metaphorical language found across genre itself Expository nonfiction texts demand comprehension to be successful at what they do, they may be more likely to fit with young children’s abilities Fiction books may not be as accountable to comprehension

23 Discussion  This finding leads to the discussion of different kinds of language comprehension in young children (propositional acquisition for non fiction VS gist acquisition for fiction) Future research is necessary

24 Discussion Ability underestimation (similar level of metaphors between ages) An average of 54 metaphors per 1,000 words of text was found in this study Graesser, Mio & Millis (1989) revealed 40 unique metaphors per 1,000 words of discourse in adult language Metaphorical language in children’s literature (5.4%) > in adult language (4%)

25 Discussion Only novel metaphors included in Graesser et al. (1989)’s study Conceptual metaphors, nominal metaphors and similes included in this study The presence of any reasonable amount of sophisticated metaphorical language in books targeted to very young children is noteworthy given what is currently believed about young children’s metaphorical processing abilities ties relative to older children

26 Summary The very existence of different amounts of metaphorical language across different genres points out that children’s literature has a complex relation with children’s language comprehension abilities and should not be overlooked in understanding language comprehension development Children’s literature is a major influence on children’s language development

27 Q & A session


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