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Non-literal speech comprehension in preschool children – an example from a study on verbal irony
The study aims to answer questions about the developmental trajectories of irony comprehension. The research focuses on the problem of the age at which ironic utterances can first be understood. The link between ironic utterance comprehension and early Theory of Mind (ToM) is examined as well. In order to approach the topic, 46 preschool children were tested with the Irony Comprehension Task (Banasik & Bokus, 2013) and the Reflection on Thinking Test (Białecka-Pikul, 2012) in three age groups: four-year-olds, five-year-olds and six-year-olds. The study showed no age effect in the Irony Comprehension Task and a significant effect in the Reflection on Thinking Test. On some of the measures, irony comprehension correlates with theory of mind. Also, an analysis of children’s narratives was conducted to observe how children explain the intention of the speaker who uttered the ironic statement. The children’s responses fall into four categories, one of which involves a function similar to a white lie being ascribed to the utterance.