Metaphor understanding in school-aged children: from a good-enough to a very good understanding? - Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2023

Metaphor understanding in school-aged children: from a good-enough to a very good understanding?


Understanding implicit meaning, such as in metaphor, is an essential competence to language, social development and academic success. While some authors have shown that children understand metaphors from 3 years old (e.g., Pouscoulous & Tomasello, 2020), others have found a later understanding, around 8 years old (e.g., Deckert et al., 2019). This divergence could be explained by distinguishing several levels of understanding for metaphorical statements. This is in line with the “goodenough” theory of language comprehension proposed by Ferreira (2002) according to which adults often process language with heuristics which allowed them to apprehend utterances meaning in a “good enough” way. Understanding would not be either correct or incorrect: some representations incomplete and imprecise are correct enough. In the present study, we studied the development of metaphor comprehension during the school period within this theoretical framework. We investigated if the distinction between a “good” and a “good-enough” comprehension could reconcile the proponents of an early understanding of metaphors with those of a late understanding. The participants ( 350 children between 5 and 11 years old) heard short stories ending with a metaphor. Then we asked them to judge the extent to which an utterance adequately rephrased the target metaphor on a 5-point scale. For each metaphorical statement (e.g., "A butterfly is a rainbow"), two types of acceptable reformulations were distinguished: the "metaphorical" reformulations conveyed accurately the meaning of the metaphor (e.g., “butterflies are full of colors”) while the “situational” reformulations meaning was acceptable regarding the whole situation but not really accurate (e.g., “butterflies are very beautiful insects”). The results showed an interaction between the age (continuous variable, from 5 to 11 years) and type of reformulations (metaphorical vs. situational). While older children found metaphorical reformulations to be significantly more adequate in reformulations metaphors than situational reformulations, which showed a good understanding, this difference is much smaller and non-significant in younger children, which suggests that they were satisfied with a good-enough understanding of metaphors. These results suggest that metaphor comprehension not only improves during childhood, but also that it probably changes in nature, with young children less likely to engage in fine processing of metaphors meaning, the only way to enable them to distinguish metaphorical reformulation from situational reformulation. How this capacity to engage in “fine” processing of metaphors is encouraged and exploited by school learning remains to be explored.
No file

Dates and versions

hal-04236351 , version 1 (10-10-2023)




  • HAL Id : hal-04236351 , version 1


Sarah Ferrara, Marc Aguert, Christelle Declercq. Metaphor understanding in school-aged children: from a good-enough to a very good understanding?. European Conference on Developmental Psychology (ECDP), European Association on Developmental Psychology, Aug 2023, Turku, Finland. ⟨hal-04236351⟩
14 View
0 Download


Gmail Facebook X LinkedIn More