Children's difficulty in learning homonyms

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Mazzocco (1997) claimed that children have persistent difficulty in learning pseudo-homonyms - words like rope used to refer to a novel object (e.g. spade). Because the novel objects were familiar, the pseudo-homonyms in her study were also synonyms (i.e. rope and spade both now mean spade). The results could therefore be due to children's well-known difficulties in learning synonyms. In Experiment 1, 55 six- to ten-year-olds used story context to select referents for pseudo-homonyms from picture sets containing the intended referents, with primary referents amongst the distractors. Children were equally poor when the intended referents were familiar (e.g. spade) as when they were unfamiliar (e.g. tapir) - 35 and 38% correct, respectively. This indicates that familiarity of referent does not account for children's difficulties. In Experiment 2, 64 five- to ten-year-olds received instruction about homonymy, then a story set without pictures of the primary referents, in order to make the experimenter's intentions clear. Children were then shown one of the story sets from Experiment 1. Performance was just as poor (38% correct), indicating that misunderstanding of task demands did not account for failure. The conclusion is that Mazzocco's findings represent a psychologically interesting developmental difficulty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-214
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2004

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