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Psychology of Language and Communication

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Non-literal speech comprehension in preschool children – an example from a study on verbal irony

Natalia Banasik
Published Online: 2013-12-31 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/plc-2013-0020


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.

Keywords: verbal irony; non-literal language; pragmatic competence

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About the article

Published Online: 2013-12-31

Published in Print: 2013-12-01

Citation Information: Psychology of Language and Communication, Volume 17, Issue 3, Pages 309–324, ISSN (Print) 1234-2238, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/plc-2013-0020.

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