Lydia Gunning: Assessing homonymic awareness in children from diverse linguistic background

Assessing homonymic awareness in children from diverse linguistic backgrounds

Lydia Gunning (University of Leeds)

Homonymous words are defined as those which have multiple, unrelated meanings, but each meaning of the word has identical spelling and pronunciation. Whilst homonyms are rife within the English language, there is a paucity of research exploring homonymic awareness in children, especially within children who speak more than one language. This may, in part, be attributed to the lack of measures able to sufficiently assess such. The current research developed a novel method of measuring homonymic understanding in primary school-aged children whilst investigating the factors contributing to this knowledge. Participants included 127 British children aged 7 to 8 (n=65) or 10 to 11 years (n=62). Within the sample, 64% of children spoke more than one language (n=80) and their degree of exposure to English was assessed via questionnaire. Participants completed the novel measure of homonymic knowledge alongside measures of receptive language, expressive language, and cognitive ability. Results indicated that age, Socio-economic Status and receptive language skills were significant contributors to children’s homonymic knowledge. Whilst exposure to more than one language impacted the type of responses children provided, children’s degree of exposure to English had no significant effect on their awareness of homonymic words. The method in which homonyms were tested also had a substantial impact on children’s accuracy rates. This research contributes to the limited literature regarding children’s understanding of homonymic words and the factors which influence this. Furthermore, it suggests that interventions targeting receptive language may improve homonymic knowledge.

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