Development of metaphor and metonymy comprehension: Receptive vocabulary and conceptual knowledge

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Figurative language, such as metaphor and metonymy are common in our daily communication. This is one of the first studies to investigate metaphor and metonymy comprehension using a developmental approach. Forty-five typically developing individuals participated in a metaphor–metonymy verbal comprehension task incorporating 20 short picture-stories. Cross-sectional trajectory analyses linking task performance to either chronological age or receptive vocabulary (mental age, MA) were used to compare the development of metaphor and metonymy. Results showed that development of metaphor and metonymy comprehension is strongly linked with chronological and MA, but metaphor comprehension develops at a slower rate compared to metonymy. It was also found that participants, across all ages, consistently showed around 21% better performance on metonymy. The relationship between metaphor and metonymy comprehension is discussed in terms of linguistic and cognitive models of figurative language comprehension arguing that metonymy is cognitively more basic than metaphor.

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