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Soile Loukusa and Eeva Leinonen

Development of comprehension of ironic utterances in 3- to 9-year-old Finnish-speaking children

This study explores the comprehension of simple ironic utterances in 210 Finnish children aged from 3 to 9 years. If the child answered the question correctly, he/she was asked to explain correct answers. The results indicated that there was large individual variation within age groups both in answers and explanations. In terms of correct answers there was a significant difference between 6- and 7-year-olds and in correct explanations between age groups of 3-4, 6-7 and 7-8. Analysis of incorrect answers showed that literal interpretation of an utterance was the most common incorrect answer type in all age groups. Totally irrelevant answers occurred only in children aged 3 and 4. In terms of incorrect explanations, "turntaking" and "incorrect focus" categories were the most common incorrect explanation types. Contrary to previous studies, in this study already some of the 3- and 4-year-olds showed an emerging ability to comprehend irony.

Open access

Soile Loukusa, Leena Mäkinen, Ilaria Gabbatore, Päivi Laukkanen-Nevala and Eeva Leinonen

Abstract

This study examined the development of social-pragmatic comprehension in 170 Finnish four- to eight-year-old children. The children were asked to respond to socially and contextually demanding questions targeting their social-pragmatic language processing, and to explain their correct answers in order to elicit their awareness of how they had derived the answers from the context. The results showed that the number of correct answers increased especially between the ages of four and seven years. We found that questions demanding contextual processing without mind-reading were the easiest to understand, followed by questions demanding processing of feelings of others and false beliefs. The questions demanding understanding of relevant language use and processing of contextual factors including mental states and intentions were the most challenging for the children. Between four and five years of age there was a remarkable developmental phase in children’s ability to give proper explanations.